The Saturnalia Effect by Heidi Belleau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Storm Moon Press continues to publish thought provoking, edgy, and very compelling stories. The Saturnalia Effect is no different and offers an absorbing and clever novella. It’s the perfect length to tease the reader but could easily have been longer and more involved. The short scene at the end attests to how much more the story still has to say. Nonetheless, TSE is a great quick tale that excites, engages, and leaves you wondering. My only criticisms are that the characters could have been explored more and the ending, which is both genius and a cop out.
Troy is a young man recently incarcerated for an exceptionally long time. He has no real chance at getting out of prison anytime soon and is struggling to find a way to survive. He’s young, pretty, gay, and non-violent so his options are pretty limited. Almost immediately he’s intimidated and threatened by an ex-mob boss that wants another man dead. Troy is to kill Daniel to save himself from rape and possibly torture. Yet Troy falls for Daniel and is torn on what to do. With no hope for a happy ending, Troy and Daniel struggle against fate and their situation.
Prison stories are rough to read. They tend to be hopeless just by their very circumstances and the reality of the situation can be depressing or tough to read. TSE doesn’t shirk either reality or the details that go along with that. In this way, the story offers a compelling and fascinating peek into the life of an inmate and the struggle to survive inside prison. The characters are complex and well crafted but definitely could have used more time and space to develop. Troy’s backstory of being a twin and the various illegal antics could have used more space in the story. I definitely wanted to know more of how it all came about and how Troy, the quieter follower, ended up in the situation he did. We’re told the basic details but a more developed understanding is needed. Likewise losing his twin must have had a devastating effect on Troy, but that’s glossed over and not really explored.
Daniel is an interesting character but feels like he has more depth than we’re shown. His past as an ex-mobster who had a daughter at an extremely young age and also his actions in prison could have used more space on the page. I would have loved to know more about Daniel’s past and how he came to be the man he is and his relationship to Troy. Since the story is told from Troy’s perspective, Daniel is only seen through Troy’s biased view and while that makes their relationship intense and engaging, it also leaves out considerable details.
What works so incredibly well here is the writing itself. The prison setting is so real and chilling that it gives you goose bumps. The violence included feels authentic but never lets the reader forget the very terror and real danger that Troy lives in every single day. The details are never gratuitous even if they’re graphic. Instead they fit the tone and story incredibly well. My only other criticism would be the ending. Without giving any spoilers the novella heads into a supernatural element that doesn’t really fit. It clearly begins as a delusion but offers the appearance, and perhaps reality, of a happy ending.
I’m torn on this ending for two reasons. On the one hand I like happy endings and giving the appearance of one is not a bad idea. It’s a nice alternative to the reality of the situation, which is much more authentic. The ending feels a bit like a cop out. It’s thought provoking and clever but it also takes the fear and edge away that the story excels in creating. So on the one hand it’s a nice choice but it also takes away the hard-hitting impact of the story. It’s a double-edged sword that I don’t envy the authors in figuring out and if nothing else, it definitely keeps the story at the front of my mind.
Once again SMP has delivered a great edgy story that you won’t want to put down. It’s very well written, edgy, and interesting from beginning to end. The subtle metaphors throughout blend well with the use of D/s, which is not only fitting but also expected in a story like this. This is easily a story I’d read again and I look forward to reading this duo again.
3 thoughts on “Review: The Saturnalia Effect”
I’ve only ever read one prison story – a book by Scarlet Blackwell. I was edging towards this until I read the words ‘supernatural element’. I prefer books that either go there completely or don’t…I’m not usually into dabblers. Well, the current series I’m reading an exception 🙂
Thanks! I can understand your feelings and often I feel the same. I’d rather it be full on or not at all. That’s why I have mixed feelings about this ending. I wanted the supernatural for the happy ending but really? It’s unrealistic and a way to give a happy ending that’s a cop out. But still it’s a great story. It’s definitely a dilemma but give it a try and see what you think.