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R. - The Book Butterfly
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
4 to 4 1/2 stars
This is a fascinating and often uncomfortable tale, which is written in a rather unique style that took me some time to become accustomed to. Once I adapted, I came to better appreciate the characters, the depth and intricacy of the world building, as well as the complex societal and relationship dynamics.
The heroine, Lilian, is an apprentice to Lucius Mercio (addressed by her only as 'milord') which makes her his property, mentally, physically and sexually. The fact that she does find pleasure and escape in his arms makes her circumstances more bearable/acceptable to her, but had she hated it and/or he been brutal or a monster in disguise, her life and her choices are still dictated by another person under threat of punishment and possible death. Though I was relieved that she experienced moments of kindness, support and understanding along the way (amidst constant harassment and public persecution), it doesn't change the fact that any and all forms of slavery push my buttons big time. And though one could argue that she agreed to this, I would argue that choices like these are no choice at all:
"Should you ask her, Trevelyan, I believe Lilian will tell you she far prefers this path to her other alternative."
"A pretty choice for a girl of twenty-four, Trial by Ordeal or death for crimes not her own." Trevelyan's tone is equally sharp.
"This is an old argument and one where neither of us will be swayed." Lucius ends the discussion without heat. His spymaster's views are well known to Lucius.
Lucius is a very powerful man who has plans and secrets of his own that Lilian is not privy to. My feelings towards him are mixed to say the least. I acknowledge that had he been a different kind of man (or had she been apprenticed to someone else), things could have been so much worse for her and she would have had no say in the matter. But Lilian is at his mercy until she proves her bond over a period of years. The author did her job because I was certainly not detached from Lilian's experiences or from my ambivalence towards Lucius. Let me be clear that this is not a romance. The fact of the matter is that Lucius is married with children. Although he admires and likes Lilian, is often intrigued and even confounded by her, at the end of the day, she was acquired for a purpose and he currently views her as his property. I cannot say if this aspect will change in future as there are many more books to come.
I found myself rooting for Lilian whose indentured status and constant trials were a source of frustration for me as she did what was necessary for the good of her family and for her own survival. Despite her brilliance and persistent diligence, she made understandable mistakes along the way, and I found myself worrying right along with her about what the consequences might be. Her friend, Chrys, gives her words of wisdom after she errs that help to bring her some comfort on this score:
"Minor violations of will are corrected with rebuke and mayhap humiliation. It is impossible to avoid such. No one, no matter how clever or disciplined, can truly give over his or her will to another."
Certain of Lilian's attention, Chrys continues. "The system is devised to be be so. Impossible. Minor transgressions against will, offer the opportunity to reinforce the apprentice bond. [...]"
Listening to Chrys, the sick knot that has lodged in Lilian's midsection since midday begins to loosen. Finally, Lillian whispers, "I did put my will before monsignor's."
Chrys' response is gentle. "Of course you did. You must. You cannot manage a day otherwise. That is why it is impossible. Think you they know it not? It will become easier with time."
Chrys' quiet confidence and assurance eases Lilian's spirit.
The fact that she is innocent of the crimes she is being punished for is irrelevant in this society. I struggled with this and the fact that she was persecuted for the sins of her father. There are many cruel and unfair aspects to this society, regardless of the explanations given for them. Those with power or in higher positions are able to get away with far more than they should (a reflection of our own reality).
So, whenever the balance actually shifted in Lilian's favor (or in favor of those in similar positions/circumstances), it provided a sense of relief, justice and triumph (as well as some occasionally delicious vengeance) to the equation that I was thankful for.
It is made clear that life is not always fair and that we have to work with what we're given, but that doesn't mean I have to like it:
"Discover a means." This from Lilian. "That is what we call it, the Apprentice Protocol. Thirty-six strictures and they all equate to the same stricture. Do not ask, do not complain, discover a means."
That being said, there are moments of light, moving interactions, spaces and places where we are privy to the goodness of people in the face of so much unkindness, and that creates hope. For Lilian and for those like her. It is that hope for her (to see her way clear of the challenges in this role, to achieve her eventual freedom, etc.) that all but guarantees I will read the next book in this series.