And Whatever the Cost, at times, had me questioning just how strong a man really needs to be, because, gods, there’s finding strength through adversity, and then there’s just a point where life and circumstances beat a person down so entirely that it forces you to examine whether he’s entirely broken beyond the point of survival, let alone repair. There’s making your characters suffer for the sake of great conflict, and then there’s making your readers suffer death-by-fiction. Slowly. One chapter at a time.
On the surface, this novel doesn’t appear to be terribly complex. It’s the story of two high-end prostitutes, Liam and Jacen, who fall in love with each other and decide their lives, as they’d lived them up to that point, could not continue. Sex was just sex, an act, a paid performance complete with costumes and props and all the right lines, until, that is, Liam and Jacen’s bodies each imprinted the touch of the other. They began to need, to want something more than the physical, to demand that no one else be allowed access to the most intimate parts of themselves save for the one who owned his heart.
But that’s the simple recap of the plot, and it’s not until you look at this book from the standpoint of the characters and their afflictions that you realize there’s much more to it than just a couple of whores who find love amidst the emotional disconnect of their jobs. In fact, this really could be reviewed as two separate books because the story that begins and the story that ends are about men who become so many different variations of themselves along the way that it’s difficult to cipher who each man truly is beneath the façade of practiced seduction and role playing they’ve become accustomed to. The first half of the book is filled with the erotic tension of their attraction; the second half is an exploration of their dissociation with what it means to just…be.
There is a metaphor in the book, in the concept of role playing, that whores are merely accomplished actors who get paid for having sex rather than for their thespian skills. The heart of the issue for both Liam and Jacen is that they’ve spent so long becoming whomever the client pays them to be that they have no idea whom they truly are as people. They work for The Company: go where The Company tells them to go, do what The Company tells them to do, be whom The Company tells them to be, give as much and as often as The Company tells them to give, and endure whatever The Company demands they endure, including being forced to have sex with each other while a wealthy female client watches, a situation that nearly ruins Liam but is the catalyst for everything that follows.
It’s difficult to be your own man when you’re an owned man, and that’s the crux of the problem for Liam and Jacen when they finally decide to run and once again find themselves assuming new and different identities. Liam is such a fragmented and fractured personality that he has no idea which of the many characters he’s played over the years he truly is, and Jacen, who is gay-for-pay but truly does love Liam, has a difficult time being who and what Liam needs him to be, partly because Liam himself doesn’t even know, but also because Jacen has a difficult time being on the receiving end of sex (unless he’s being paid), which is something that causes no small amount of conflict because Liam desperately needs to top in order to feel in control of this one important aspect of his life. They are both men who suddenly find they’re fighting for control and facing choices they’d never had before, and that fight nearly tears them apart in the process, until Liam finally begins to understand he doesn’t have to be who he believes Jacen needs and wants him to be, and can complete himself and make himself whole again by becoming an amalgamation of some of the more comfortable roles he’s played, including Leah, the only woman Jacen needs in his life, and the only part of Liam that will allow him to give Jacen even a fraction of control.
The conflict and danger the two men face which keeps them looking over their shoulders with the sure knowledge that each morsel of contentment they find is tainted by the fact they are still, on paper, owned by The Company, supplies a good bit of tension to the story. The angst is entirely in the relationship between the two men, their histories, and the relationship with themselves when they must become reacquainted with whom they are.
There is evil, there is horror, there is recovery, and there is salvation in the end, as both Liam and Jacen find purpose and promise in a future carved from the detritus of misery. If you’re looking for a light and easy read, this is definitely not the book to pick up. This is melodrama in its purest form, but not in a way that felt at all gratuitous to me. It ultimately is a story of the triumph of love and the strength these two men find in themselves and in each other.
Writing the book in the omniscient 3rd person, present tense worked really well for me, within the concept of the actors playing their roles. The style choice places the reader firmly in the moment, in each and every scene, as the author directs the characters’ thoughts and actions. The only thing that caused some minor difficulties for me were the proofreading issues that were glaring enough that I couldn’t seem to overcome them affecting my reading experience, though overall, I very much enjoyed the journey these two men traveled to find happiness in their own little corner of the world.