Review: Passion Play
Teenage Therez lives a life of luxury, her father a successful merchant. But business has its own politics and her father must ‘sell’ her in marriage to further his ambitions. Rather than marry a cruel older man Therez runs away, but is she running away to a worse fate?
PASSION PLAY (Amazon) starts out cliche enough, but readers will learn quickly that Beth Bernobich doesn’t pull any punches. Therez is a girl with no knowledge of the world, and as a result is too trusting. She purchases a seat on a caravan traveling to the capital where she hopes to earn her own living. However, everything does wrong en route and she very quickly she turns from innocent girl into distrusting woman.
She escapes, and after much hardship arrives at a city and lands a position in a brothel–but as a scullery maid. This opportunity will further change her life more than she can guess.
Told from Therez’s refined PoV, the prose is smooth and crisply descriptive, while also moving the story steadily forward. Therez’s growth from girl to woman is painful and disturbing, but she faces her problems and refuses to run away from them again–she’s already learned that running away isn’t necessarily the best solution. She makes new friends, including the common sense Kathe, and discovers an advocate in her employer Lord Kosenmark, a lord exiled from court. But Therez is too clever for her own good and becomes involved in Kosenmark’s intrigues–which are dangerous, even if they are for a just cause.
Therez starts the story at fifteen years old, and this short book covers two years of her life. But what starts as a coming-of-age romance turns into a political story. The turnabout wouldn’t have bothered me if the political aspects had been more immediate instead of referencing people we never see and countries that mean little other than a foreign language I have to learn. Because of intrigue via letters and couriers and secret meetings, not a whole lot actually happens and by the abrupt ending I wondered what I was supposed to have learned. I really hope I don’t have to retain all that for the sequel…
Remember how Therez starts out the book at fifteen? And only gets to seventeen? Strangely enough, Lord Kosenmark relies on her cleverness and honesty, and uses her advice more than once. I wasn’t really clear on how old he was (in his thirties?), but seeing this hardened courtier listen seriously to a teenage girl–a girl half his age, whose sole ‘experience’ in life was to read books and pick out dresses–is what really makes this book a fantasy.
PASSION is set in a kind of Renaissance Europe, where magic plays a small role, and isn’t used for much other than as a convenience; Bernobich only scratches the surface, hinting that we’ll learn more later in the series. Religion is referenced but there’s little depth to it. Many questions are raised during the book yet by the end remain unanswered. And while the main characters are intriguing, other than Therez they don’t experience much growth. All of these problems are the result of a too-short book and limited PoV for an ambitious world and large cast. Oh and I can’t forget my petty complaint: the love story aspect got pretty sappy by the end.
Bernobich wins points for beginning a realistic story and creating an interesting group of characters beyond the usual stereotypes. However, the political intrigue grows burdensome and by the end it feels like she’s running out of steam, simply moving the story along to set up for the books that follow. These problems, however, can be repaired in the sequels, all the elements are there if Bernobich will use them–and if she does there’s potential here for a compelling series.
PASSION PLAY is the first of a projected five-book series.
- Recommended Age: 16+ for sexual content
- Language: A handful of instances early in the book, as well as crude language
- Violence: Minor
- Sex: Yes, and it's detailed. Don't forget, either, that Therez ends up working in a brothel.