by Ann Somerville
Volume 1 of Remastering Jerna
Remastering Jerna is a really dark tale of suffering and redemption. In it, the author has created an alternate world not unlike our own, but with significant small differences. She spends many pages drawing this world and the main characters in rich detail, making everything three dimensional and very real in a very readable style that gradually draws you in.
The title character, Jerna, is a teacher in a temple school with a wife and two daughters. While he loves his wife and children, Jerna harbors desires he has suppressed and kept secret for many years. He was once a submissive with an incredible capacity for pain, who served a master. But then an innocent favor for his old master results in Jerna being falsely accused and convicted of a crime.
In Jerna's world, prisoners are a source of cheap labor, and criminals are sentenced not to a term of years, but to a value of recompense. Jerna's sentence will take years to pay off, under some of the most cruel circumstances. He seriously considers suicide, but then his family would be saddled with his debt, and his honor won't allow that. Even if he does manage to earn enough to end his sentence, it's doubtful he could ever return to his family due to the scandal of his conviction.
Just when it all seems completely hopeless, Jerna gains a position that gives him some respite from the backbreaking work of the factories. But this new job reawakens Jerna's old submissive desires, and soon he's drawn into a relationship that may pull him further away from his family.
The author has a knack for putting her lead characters in situations where there's no obvious way they can escape, and be happy, without making impossible sacrifices. She keeps you guessing, and reading - I can easily be drawn into reading her work into the wee hours of the morning, trying - and failing - to figure out where the story is going.
Aside from the author's masterful world-building and character development, what I found really interesting in this novel was the frank discussion of the sado-masochistic scene and the proper training of dominants. Although it doesn't necessarily give us any insights into why someone needs to be a dominant or submissive, it does give some very useful information for those curious about this world, in a very entertaining and readable style.