Passion Play by Beth Bernobich
Reading level: Adult
Hardcover: 367 pages
Publisher: Macmillan (Tor Books)
Release date: October 12, 2010
Series: River of Souls #1
Source: Personal Shelf
Reviewed by: Stéphanie
Ilse Zhalina is the daughter of one of Melnek’s more prominent merchants. She has lived most of her life surrounded by the trappings of wealth and privilege. Many would consider hers a happy lot. But there are dark secrets, especially in the best of families. Ilse has learned that for a young woman of her beauty and social station, to be passive and silent is the best way to survive.
When Ilse finally meets the older man she is to marry, she realizes he is far crueler and more deadly than her father could ever be. Ilse chooses to run. This choice will change her life forever.
And it will lead her to Raul Kosenmark, master of one of the land’s most notorious pleasure houses…and who is, as Ilse discovers, a puppetmaster of a different sort altogether. Ilse discovers a world where every pleasure has a price and there are levels of magic and intrigue she once thought unimaginable. She also finds the other half of her heart.
PASSION PLAY is one of those rare fantasy books that I read from cover to cover, barely stopping for a breather. It has everything I love in a book: intrigue, magic, romance and of course, a wonderfully developed world.
In this first book of the series, Beth Bernobich introduced us to a great cast of characters. The main character, Therez, went through so much that it’s hard not to feel for her. We first met her as a delicate daughter of a wealthy merchant/trader, who refused to marry the cruel man her father chose for her. Only fifteen, she knew she could do little to alter her father’s mind, so she decided to change her name to Ilse and run away from her home town. With very little money and no street smarts, she soon discovered that life on the road with a caravan of men isn’t easy. Forever needing to give more money to them, just for some peace, and then being accused of stealing, what happened next is very hard to describe. This part of the book is not for the faint of heart since Ilse is more or less forced to give herself (in other words, whore herself out) to the group of men, instead of being sent back home to her father.
I really admired Ilse’s tenacity through this dark period of her journey, and I especially admired her optimism since she never gave up of hope of gaining back her freedom. Eventually, she was able to escape and become the secretary of Lord Raul Kosenmark’s wealthy household/pleasure house, where love between a man and another man and between a woman and another woman, is as normal as love between a man and a woman. Obviously, owning a pleasure house makes Lord Kosenmark an atypical lord, and one could say he’s atypical in every way. At first, I wasn’t too sure if he was being honest with Ilse, but the air of mystery that followed him was obviously because of the many political secrets he kept to himself. Through Lord Kosenmark, Ilse became more and more involved in the politics of this fantasy world which meant more and more danger began to creep into her life. Although, some might feel like this part of the story was slow and might voice that the story came to a standstill, I believe it was necessary to understand more about everything happening in politics. Personally, it felt like the eye of the storm, where everything was calm, but I knew something big was about to happen and change the course of the story.
So many interesting things happened in this book. You really have to pay attention while you’re reading because you never know when something important will happen. At times, it’s hard to see this book as a fantasy because so many political opinions on war are discussed, but behind the intrigue and the backstabbing politics are layers of magic and myth. Throughout the book, we see Ilse grow more adept in controlling magic and we can only imagine that she’ll continue to train in the following installments, in order to help herself and her new lover in their quest for peace.
Beth Bernobich has only touched the surface of her story and following installment promises so many answers to questions that have been present throughout the book. I hate that the story ended so abruptly, but fortunately, the sequel is coming out very soon (July 17, 2012). Also, a prequel of sorts, that introduces us to the fantasy world, is also available online.