“Bel didn’t even know what the hell he meant by trying to help Whitlock, what he planned to do, or whether it would work. He just knew he had to try.”
In a word: Read the thing! But oh holy hell be careful because this one is dark (still totally loved it though). This is definitely a romance story, but there is so much more going on here. The whole situation, and a lot of the characters, are really screwed up. It makes for some intense reading. I got sucked into the story and just could not bring myself to put this book down for anything. It’s close to 400 pages long and I got through it in one day, I just had to keep reading to see what would happen next. Daniel and Bel’s relationship is the farthest thing from easy considering all the shit they have to deal with, both from the people around them and each other. Daniel is hated by pretty much everyone in town, including his family, for things he doesn’t have any control over. He appears to be close to reaching the end of his rope at the beginning of the story; and he probably would have had it not been for Bel. The great part about Bel’s effect on Daniel is that Bel doesn’t technically ‘save’ him. Daniel at the end of the book is leagues better than Daniel at the beginning, but his problems are still very present and very real. Bel’s love doesn’t cure anything, but it does help Daniel to realize that he’s worth something as a person and that he doesn’t deserve to be constantly drowning in guilt. Bel also goes through his own development, because he can’t love Daniel and be the same person he was before he really got to know him. Their relationship is sometimes beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking (and sometimes cheesy), and it’s quite the read to see them from point A to point B. This might be a difficult book for some people to get through, because the dark stuff is pretty dark and all of Daniel and Bel’s successes are hard won, but I like to think that the ending is all worth it.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Trigger Warning: This book contains homophobia, hate speech, psychological issues, victim blaming, and rape.
The Couple: Joe ‘Bel’ Belman is a police officer in his tiny hometown of Logan, South Carolina. Bel is an all-around good guy, and a good cop. He’s close with his family, fairly well-respected among the community, and generally satisfied with life. (Also he’s more or less in the closet, but that’s just one of those things people don’t really talk about in Logan.) Daniel Whitlock is a complete mess. He’s nearly completed his three years of probation after spending eight months in jail for burning down a house with the owner still inside. He’s known around Logan as a former problem child, drug addict, known gay man, and cold-blooded killer. Bel is completely confident in also believing those things, so it throws him a bit when he finds out that none of those things are actually true (aside from the gay thing, Daniel is most definitely gay). In reality, Daniel is actually a deeply broken individual who lives in constant fear of himself and others. His sleepwalking, and the way his family dealt with it, has made him an outcast among the town. College was a brief respite, but sadly that didn’t last. Things have always been bad for him, but never so bad as after he accidentally killed someone. After getting out of prison he isolated himself from everyone and tried to deal with his sleepwalking the best he could on his own (which mostly involves actually chaining himself to his bed at night). He’s drowning in guilt most of the time and most of his energy is spent trying to keep himself awake because he knows that only bad things happen when he lets himself fall asleep. The romance between him and Bel takes a while to actually get off the ground, and it isn’t actually a romance at first. They’re both attracted to each other, but Bel can’t really stand Daniel and Daniel is in no real place to make himself emotionally available for someone else. They start off with an arrangement where Bel stays with Daniel at night to make sure that he can’t wander off while he’s asleep (and to keep people from setting his cabin on fire, again). Which isn’t completely ideal but much better than the alternative Daniel had lined up before this. Even when they add sex into things, I don’t feel like it actually becomes romantic right away. Bel started off as really hating Daniel (which I think actually mostly comes from his feelings of guilt for having a crush on him before he accidentally killed someone) and, even though he finds out early in the book that a lot of what he believed might actually be wrong, it takes him a while to work through it and be okay with caring about Daniel as a person. On Daniel’s end, he needs very specific things in order to be able to function, and he can’t be with Bel if Bel can’t help provide those specific things. Bel learns quickly that Daniel is a high maintenance partner with a lot of baggage and that pursuing a relationship with him will not be easy and will require a lot of work. Luckily for Daniel, Bel is determined to be up to the task.
The Sleepwalking: Daniel has had issues with sleepwalking since he was a young child. A few specific things that were mentioned were that he once painted the family living room neon green, and he used to sneak out and peek through the window of a boy he had a crush on. Now, he was 100% asleep and not in control when he did those things, and he never remembered in the morning. It made things very difficult at home, especially since his parents didn’t handle it well. What really helps the tone of the story is that Daniel’s sleepwalking isn’t portrayed as some weird character quirk Daniel has that makes him funny or cute. Sometimes, when he’s more settled with Bel, there are scenes were Daniel is sleepwalking and he does do fairly harmless and endearing things (he draws beautifully while asleep). But there are always reminders that Daniel suffers from a real disorder that affects every part of his life and makes everything difficult for him. Daniel has absolutely no control over what he does while he’s sleepwalking, and he’s now terrified of going to sleep for fear of what he’ll do. He’s already killed a man; he doesn’t want to take any chances that he could do it again. The thing about Daniel’s sleepwalking is that it’s actually hard to tell that he’s actually asleep while he does it. Everyone in town thinks he’s on meth, or some kind of drug, because that’s what he looks like when he’s sleepwalking. He’s surprisingly functional, but that just makes things more difficult for him in the long run. The only reason Bel starts to believe that there is more going on is something that happens completely by chance when he has a sleepwalking Daniel in his patrol car and accidentally wakes him up. The difference between Daniel going from sleepwalking to actually awake is so jarring that Bel can’t help but to start questioning everything he ever knew about Daniel and that’s what kick starts their relationship. (There’s a trigger warning for rape for this book because Daniel talks about how he sometimes ends up having sex with people while he’s sleepwalking and then doesn’t remember it in the morning. He’s technically asleep when this happens so he’s not actually consenting. There’s also a scene where a sleepwalking Daniel tries to give a sleeping Bel a blow job.)
The Victim: We all know going in that Daniel’s killed someone. That someone is Kenny Cooper, who was apparently well-loved among the Logan townsfolk. Though it becomes apparent that the only reason Kenny is so loved after death is because he was murdered by the town outcast that most people couldn’t stand. It’s Bel that points this out to us. It’s also Bel that lets us know that Kenny was actually a terrible person. We never see anything of Kenny Cooper so all we know of him is what the other characters have to say about him. That and through Daniel’s flashbacks of the time Kenny almost beat him to death because Daniel’s gay. Yeah, there’s a lot more to this than meets the eye and the more you (and Bel, really) think on it the angrier you get and the more horrified you are (at least, I was) about how the whole town treated Daniel. Absolutely nothing was done to Kenny over what he did to Daniel. Many people actually thought that Daniel deserved what he got for goading Kenny on. I would expand on that, but it doesn’t matter because Daniel being gay, or expressing interest in someone who happens to be straight, is no excuse for beating him nearly to death. And Kenny probably would have actually killed Daniel if someone else had not come along and scared him off. So I really have no sympathy for what happened to Kenny. Dying in a fire is a horrible way to go, but so is being beaten to death. So while Kenny was technically the victim of a crime, I feel that the real victim in this whole thing is actually Daniel.
The Town: This story takes place in the town of Logan, South Carolina (which I don’t think is actually a real place). It’s a dying one-horse town filled with mostly horrible people, as I see it. Bel and Daniel have lived there all their lives and the place has treated them both wildly differently. Pretty much all of the side characters are locals. Daniel’s family still lives in town and have basically disowned Daniel; frankly he’s much better off without them. He has a somewhat less complicated relationship with his younger sister Casey, but there’s a lot of room for improvement there. We actually see a lot more of Bel’s family. We don’t really see much of his parents or oldest brother, but his other brother Jim is married to Daniel’s parole officer, Dav. Dav is actually an interesting contrast to the rest of the town because she’s not actually from Logan. She’s pretty much the only one who genuinely believes Daniel’s story and only wants to see him able to move on with his life. Bel’s Uncle Joe, who he was named after, is the town sheriff and is probably the only other sympathetic figure in Bel’s family. Kenny Cooper is now, after death, the town darling, and his tormenting of Daniel still lives on in his best friends Clayton, Brock, and R. J.. All these men think they’re hot shit, though they’re really just bullies who peaked in high school and don’t seem to be going anywhere in life. There are some other characters of questionable moralities and they are the drunks and drug addicts to frequent the town’s closest thing to a gay bar, Greenducks, where Daniel often ends up while sleepwalking. Then there’s Mr Roan, an elderly gay man who lives in the cabin closest to Daniel’s. He comes off as a bit senile and he’s about the closest thing Daniel has to a friend before Bel comes along. Two other side characters of note aren’t from town, one of them isn’t even really in the story, they are Master Beau and Marcus. Marcus was Daniel’s boyfriend in college and his introduction into the world of BDSM. Daniel’s issues saw to it that they weren’t able to make the relationship work, but it was probably the healthiest relationship Daniel ever had. Master Beau is someone Daniel met online and a terrible person and a measure of just how far Daniel was willing to go to keep himself under control (also probably a measure into just how much Daniel actually hates himself).
The Sex: There is a lot of sex in this book. Like, so much. A good part of it is BDSM related. Daniel’s relationship with sex is a bit of a mess because he does sometimes get off to pain, but most of the time he uses pain to abuse himself and keep himself awake and aware. Sex and scening with Bel is a bit of a balancing act between figuring out a way to enjoy himself while also not going so far as to actually hurt himself. Bel himself is a near complete stranger to BDSM before he starts researching it so he can do it with Daniel. The two of them are a good fit together, and they do have some good times, but the problem is that neither of them really know what they’re doing. I don’t think safewords were even brought up at any point. They do muddle their way through and genuinely enjoy themselves. I’m pretty sure this is the healthiest sexual relationship Daniel’s ever had. BDSM the way these two are doing it (painplay and the like) isn’t really my thing, so I mostly got tired of the sex scenes unless something emotional or plot relevant was also happening. Also there was one especially memorable scene that took place in an apple orchard that I found more confusing than anything else, but Daniel and Bel seemed to really enjoy it.
The Writing: Lisa Henry and J. A. Rock’s writing is always good. I knew that going into this. There isn’t really much I can say without sounding like an obsessed fangirl. The tone in this is amazing; the characters are amazing; the layers to everything are amazing; and the emotions are amazing. The story is told in both Bel’s and Daniel’s point of views and they both have very different voices. We also get some parts from a sleepwalking Daniel’s point of view, which was a very pleasant surprise and gave some insight to Daniel’s subconscious thought process. If I have one complaint it’s that I felt there were too many sex scenes, but that’s hardly a slight on the authors because they were well written, they just weren’t my thing so I wasn’t really all that into them.
[When All the World Sleeps was published March 24, 2014, by Riptide Publishing, it is available both in print and as an ebook]