book reviews · m/m romance

Book Review: Ann Somerville’s “Hidden Faults” (2011)

11958498It’s been a long time since I’ve read a whole book in one sitting. Even if I wanted to, who has the time to do that these days?! Well, with this book I had no choice: I kept reading, and it was 4:34 am by the time I finished. …oops? But I’m sure I won’t be the only one compelled to keep reading and reading this story, and then feel bereft when it’s over.

Hidden Faults is set within Somerville’s vast (truly vast) “Periter” series, which spans centuries and jumps from one continent to another from book to book (and sometimes within books). I love visiting this world, but I don’t think readers will need to have read the others to become immersed in this story. Savvy readers will get right on board with the standard dystopian-like, repressive-manipulative government that the characters are fighting against here. If you have read other stories in this ‘verse, though, then this story will be a welcome addition, and a logical progression in its timeline.

In Hidden Faults we have a world where “paranormals”, the staple group of characters for stories in this ‘verse, are greatly repressed and controlled, as are, incidentally, “deevs”, including homosexuals- which is a timely and all-too-believable reminder that a government inclined to persecute one group within society is very likely to go after many more. As such, Hidden Faults is one of the few Somerville stories to explore homophobia in any real detail. I can’t say I enjoyed that element of the story, as I’ve been spoiled rotten by the unquestioned openness and support in her other stories. But truly did enjoy this book and Somerville’s enviable writing and world-building skills.

This is not a light-hearted read. As with many of Somerville’s main characters, things go from bad to worse for Jodi, and things gets very dark before there’s any sign of light. Among the usual Somerville-staples of rape and abuse, and the twisted complexities of survival and healing, is a discussion of consent and choice. Particularly, on the very meaning and value of “choice” when all of your choices are just as morbid and evil as each other. And indeed, what choices are given to victims of abuse once they are “rescued”? What autonomy do they have, what freedom do they have to shape their own narrative, their own futures?

Yes, it’s a dark story; yet none of the violence or manipulation that Jodi suffers- whether physical, emotional, or physiological- is treated lightly. After reading only a few of Somerville’s works I had complete faith in the reverence she holds for her characters and their journeys.  Her respect, admiration, and empathy for survivors is clear in all of her works.

As a final note, this is also a very clever book. Somerville has gone against her usual habit here and restricted the POV to a single character- and what’s more, Jodi is a very compromised narrator. His whole life- his personality, his attitudes and beliefs, even his physical memories and emotions- are being manipulated by those around him. It’s a difficult way to tell a story; difficult to convey to the reader what is real and what is not, and to describe events as Jodi experiences them and still give the reader the information they need to understand the story- indeed, to understand more than Jodi himself does. I look forward to reading this book again to study how Somerville pulls it off. This is clever storytelling, and something I very much aspire to myself.

{Summary from Amazon.com:}
In a world where paranormals are persecuted, medical researcher Jodimai hon Belwin works to find a ‘cure’ for paranormality so ‘paras’ can lead normal lives again. His society is dominated by religious bigotry as much as paranoia over paranomal abilities, so he struggles to keep his homosexuality secret for the sake of his family and his career. But unbeknownst to him, he has another secret, and when that secret is suddenly uncovered, his comfortable life comes to a horrifying end. Now his fate rests with the much-hated paranormals, and in particular, a mysterious dark-eyed man with powers Jodi can barely comprehend, and many shocking secrets of his own.

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