- A Face Without A Heart by Rick R. Reed Release Day Review
A Face Without A Heart by Rick R. Reed Release Day ReviewHot
A beautiful young man bargains his soul away to remain young and handsome forever, while his holographic portrait mirrors his aging and decay and reflects every sin and each nightmarish step deeper into depravity... even cold-blooded murder. Prepare yourself for a compelling tour of the darkest sides of greed, lust, addiction, and violence.
First Edition paperback published by Design Image Group, 2000.
Second Edition paperback published by iUniverse/Back in Print, 2006.
First Edition eBook published by Bristlecone Press, 2009.
Disclosure: I haven't read the original The Picture of Dorian Gray,
This was an interesting read. Dark, but not in the worst ways. I've definitely read darker and more psychologically twisted books, but this one did its job and became a very intriguing read from very early on.
Now, this isn't a book you “love” or even “like”. It's an experience. What happens between page 1 and The End is not something you're going to forget, but it's also not something fluffy and happy. You won't close this book thinking “well, I really enjoyed it”, because they're nothing enjoyable about it. But there is plenty to appreciate and respect; lots to think about and take your interest.
The POV is a tricky thing, when working with 1st person, but I can see what Reed did here and I can understand why. Not only does the 1st person allow for a much closer connection between the reader and our protagonists, but it allows us to see the thoughts, feelings and experiences first hand.
The best thing that Reed did when writing this was to label each chapter with the POV that would follow, so instead of a title chapter you have Gary, Henrietta, Liam and so forth, to label which 1st person POV you're going to be reading. This was soo helpful.
At the same time, however, we need multi-POV to show us the things that our MC can't see. Such is the case for how we first meet Gary, our MC, as that needs to be told through Liam's POV. Gary and Henrietta's friendship can be explored with both, as can Liam and Henrietta's friendship, but it's really those in between moments that require Henrietta's POV, because she's a lot more cynical that the others. Her POV gives us a sort of mediator between Liam's hopeful everything-will-work-out, hard-work attitude and the slow progression from Gary's innocent-and-idealistic personality to nothing-matters-but-myself attitude later on. Also, without Henrietta, we wouldn't get that last so-important chapter which is utterly crucial to the story.
When it comes to the characters of this story, I was in a bit of a tailspin for most of the book.
Gary is our protagonist and main character; the one that we follow throughout the entire story. He begins all light and fluffy – the innocent idealist who believes in love and the soul and goodness. He's a kind, gentle person who has never been loved so is a little more naïve than others his age. Which is what gets him into trouble, because he's flattered by Liam's wish to make a hologram of him and sits for the artist. However, it's really Henrietta's dark view on life that changes him the most. One conversation with her and his innocent naïvety are not only challenged but somehow twisted. Combined with the physical display of his perfect, he allows her words to go to his head, makes a deal he doesn't believe in and heads on a downward spiral that never ends.
Liam is the one that starts it all. He's the one who sees the shining beauty in Gary and wants to mark that perfection for all time in a hologram. However, despite being as much of an idealist as Gary, he's also a realist in many ways. Liam believes in love and the soul, spirit and God, but he's also aware of the darker side of the world, making art from misery and holograms of serial killers. For me, Liam is the balance and the only saviour Gary ever had.
Henrietta is the bane of my – and Gary's – existence. To be quite honest, I never liked her. Not a little. Right from the start, her brash, abrasive attitude and remarks made my teeth itch. I actually noted the following on Henrietta and feel that there's little that needs to be added after that:
When Gary first entered the story, he was this adorable fluff-ball of innocence and morality that was exactly what Liam needed to pick him up and pull him out of his overworked life. Liam was a little bit stuffy, but was also the only one who ever had his head screwed on straight and made sense. He's the only one who ever came across as a fully-formed human being with compassion, realistic expectations and desires and a hard working attitude. Compared to the narcissistic and vapid Henrietta, Liam was the normal one of the three. That never changed for me, except to like him more. As Gary grew in the wake of the curse and became more like Henrietta, more angry and violent and uncaring, the part of me which had loved him began to pity him. Not because he was hard-done-by, but because his life could have been so different if he hadn't allowed Henrietta's bad influence and vanity make him question everything his life had ever been built on. If Liam had been allowed to mount an intervention before the Zoe incident, his life would have been so different. Instead, Henrietta got her claws into him and nothing was ever the same for him again.
Now, though this is an MM book, it's not technically an MM book. In which I mean that our MC, Gary, is not gay. Or LGBT. He's straight as they come until the drugs take effect and then he'll toy with anyone who is willing, as long as they're pretty. Henrietta is a drag queen who does have MM sex, and Liam is very gay, but they are really the only prominent LGBT characters in the story.
However, this is not an MM romance by any stretch of the imagination. This is a literary story, general fiction, that just happens to have two strong LGBT characters. And I love that. I love that this didn't try to make Liam gay even though he never started out that way. I love that we didn't just end up with a gay re-telling of The Picture of Dorian Gray.
When it comes to the execution, this was a brilliantly plotted and executed piece of writing. Not only were the characters explored to a realistic expectation without dragging with too many details or covering unimportant events, but it showed us the most soul-forming and -destroying aspects of Gary's life without offering a biased towards his new unrealistic world view. Again, Liam's POV and his overall characterisation was so well written as to offer a counter-view and a balance that we could all see Gary desperately needed but which went ignored, because he just wasn't exciting enough to be the bosom buddy that Henrietta was.
There are a few odd, old fashioned phrasing, such as: “I laughed, but his words chilled me. It seemed he was speaking them seriously.” However, they were few and far between and didn't really hamper the reading of the story.
When I first saw the book being offered for review, I read the blurb which included this review:
But, at the same time, I feel like it did shy away from making us hate Gary too deeply. There was a strong emphasis on inspiring pity in the second half of the book, with an added essence of Gary inspiring to change his fate and fix his life. He mentioned so many times that he regretted his choices that it really made me believe that he hated the way his life had spiraled. Yet, it felt like an inability to accept responsibility, because he thought the 'curse' was doing this to him and not a realisation that he'd allowed the curse to get to his head and make him ignorant of the cost of his fortune.
In the end, I docked a mark for the fact that it didn't go further. I expected a lot of darkness and really there was only a lot of young-corruption that ended badly, with heartlessness and one real act of violent brutality, when I'd expected more. I think the story could have managed to go further with it, without suffering. But I ended the book feeling relieved for Gary and glad that he's gotten his wish.
Liam, for me, was the ray of sunshine. I absolutely loved that he was one the who gave Gary his big epiphany. Not through lecturing or any of the rest of it, but through the love he offered Gary so freely, without ever expecting anything in return. Though he wasn't in the book nearly enough for my liking – and, again, I believe more could have been made of his part – he was the single most important character of the story and finally got that recognition from Gary in the end.
Last of all, I really want to mention this one quote → “I have stolen a life so that my own might continue. There is something vampiric in that, isn't there?” Now, although it isn't mentioned in the book, I have to applaud this little tidbit offered in the Prologue, because it is so true. Not for the 'vampire' of Dracula, but because back in the day of The Picture of Dorian Gray, vampire was a word used to describe a serial killer, referencing their need for blood. It was utter genius of Reed to include this play on the theme right here and not spell out just how appropriate it could have been.
A really good read that took the reader to some dark places, but could have gone further. The characters were relatable and likable in different ways, as well as often being as repellent as they were intriguing. The plot was brilliantly written and expertly crafted, rolling together characterisation, world building and the original tale into something modern and believable.
“It seemed as if Gary and I, the both of us, were on a collision course with disaster. I didn't know where it would end.”