REVIEW: Alyx by Lolah Burford

They were enslaved in a place where lust knew no bounds-and only love was forbidden. They were two white slaves thrown together in the darkness of the breeding hut. She, Alyx de Vere, a virginal, sixteen-year-old beauty carried off to nightmare captivity on a Caribbean sugar plantation. He, Simon, handsome, young, once heir to a noble title. He felt no desire for this anonymous woman who was forced upon him. And she knew only fearful hatred for this stranger who was about to violate her youthful innocence. But as night after night of tremulous, fevered mating passed, something forbidden grew between these two desire-damned lovers-a rapturous passion that drove them to dare any peril to free each other from this savage world of bondage and brutal submission. And it was then that Alyx and Simon swore that no power-even death itself-would ever overcome their eternal bond of flaming, all-conquering love.

Warnings: slavery, rape/noncon, forced drug usage, depictions of abuse, racism, sexism, violence, psuedo-incest

Category: M/F, F/M, M/M

Alyx is, from a modern perspective, an incredibly difficult book to review. Written in 1977, it is uncomfortable in a myriad of ways, hard to really stomach, and hard to talk about. I’m going to try to be as frank as I can about it and its content; this is a romance depicting real-world slavery. While it doesn’t beautify or romantasize slavery, it does use it as a torture-porny melodrama backdrop, which may be equally upsetting to many readers. Considered ‘taboo’ even in it’s own time, this is a piece of fiction that many will consider deserving of being lost to time, and certainly wouldn’t be written today.

WRITING
So to be quite upfront, this is a book about slavery, and not a fantasy world parallel of the concept but real-world historical sugar plantation slavery. While it is billed as a romance novel, it’s really more of an exploration of the horrors of slavery and graphic abuse. As such it will not be a book that many can stomach reading. The story follows a slave named Simon, who has been tasked as a stud to breed the female slaves. This, then, is how he meets Alyx, who is young and a virgin. He and Alyx begin to form a bond in the breeding hut, comforting each other and getting to know one another despite this being strictly forbidden. From there on, Simon decides that he must find a way to escape, and make Alyx his wife, and reclaim his title as Earl from his uncle who had had him kidnapped to get him out of the way when he was young. He tries to hatch this scheme, but there are pitfalls at every turn, as his master and mistress both have designs on him and keep him very occupied, both with sex and with harsh punishments when he slips up. As dramas go, it is certainly an effective one, and I was glued to the pages. The author’s style of prose is a little matter-of-fact, not very flowery, but rather dry and to the point, but the dialogue is written quite well and the story takes unexpected turn after unexpected turn.

EMOTIONAL ENGAGEMENT
The author fleshes Simon out in a particularly brilliant fashion. We don’t know a lot about him as a person at first, and while he is with Alyx in the breeding hut he is as much a mystery to us as he is to her, even though it is through his eyes. This is because the extreme subjugation that he has been put through has worn him down so that by the time the story begins, he is a shell of who he once was. Meeting and falling in love with Alyx awakens himself to his own mind once again, and we see his personality gradually begin to creep into his voice as a character, and in his interactions with others. That said, we don’t really get to know Alyx in much of any capacity. She is simply a triggering presence to spur Simon back into action, to give him a reason to fight again. As such there is little actual connection we have to her as readers, or to their building relationship, which is much more told than shown. What is a lot more well explored and emotionally lingered on is Simon’s relationship with both his master and mistress. They both use him for sex on a regular basis as well, and his dynamics with them are fascinatingly displayed and… horrible. As I said, this does not romantasize slavery at all, instead bringing us through horror after horror with Simon at the hands of these incredibly cruel and capricious people. The relationship with his master is at once grotesque and fascinating in the same breath; a Stockholm Syndrome kind of reaction to repeated conditioning. It made me absolutely shudder.

WORLDBUILDING
The two leads of this story are white slaves, and I am not certain if that makes this story more or less problematic. While it is not historically inaccurate that white slaves existed, there is certainly a sense of privilege that the characters possess even amidst all the strife and abuse that does befall them, and I think that is an important thing to understand to truly grapple with this narrative. Because, while they are horribly abused, they also both come not only from white parentage but also are of the upper-class. They are only in this unfortunate situation due to terrible circumstances (Simon was kidnapped and sold by a jealous uncle who wanted his title and Alyx was arrested for petty crimes as a teenager) and they indeed get to go back to their rich, pampered lives as upper-class gentry when all is said and done. Slavery may be a horrible portion of their lives to be sure, but only a portion of their lives after which they get to be reinstated. The author does make note that this story was inspired by real life events, so it isn’t that this sort of thing never happened, but it still seems rather cheap to co-opt what were experiences most predominantly of people of colour for the sake of following some temporary drama in the lives of white characters. There is also racism subtly prevalent in the text in so far as why Simon, who has been made to breed many other slave women, falls in love with Alyx: he says it is because he ‘recognized that she was like him’. While we could give him the benefit of the doubt that he meant upper-class raised, it’s more likely that he means white, or worse, that the two things are in fact connected.

STEAMINESS
There is a lot of sex in this book, the first few chapters taking place exclusively in the breeding hut. But while Alyx is the woman he falls in love with, the middle portion of the book is all taken up with rape scenes in which he is made to service his owners. His mistress demands fairly ‘normal’ sexual performance from him, but his master is a sadistic bastard who derives his pleasure from drugging him into compliance, choking him to unconsciousness, and cutting him with a knife. These scenes are absolutely brutal and hard to look away from. Its a page turner, and full of the kind of content that gets my heart racing in fear and anxiety, and I actually found that very satisfying to read because I like that horror aspect to a sexual narrative. There is a strange dynamic too where his master wants to adopt him as his son and wishes that Simon would see him as a father figure. The power imbalance sat heavy on all of their interactions, a kind of terrifying tension that hung between them in every scene they shared, in every dialogue. It made me yearn for Simon to snap and turn on him, to become violent and kill his master, and I kept wondering if he would.

Alas, the ending is a little more disappointing than that, and though it does land on the eventual happily ever after, it doesn’t feel as satisfying as I’d have liked it to be. Overall I feel very torn on this novel. It is clearly a very well written book, but I feel like its also intensely problematic in ways that I feel uncomfortable with. Its a horrible read and a hard one, but at the very least it made me feel a lot of emotions, which is a mark of good writing. But I’m just not sure if it’s good as a whole, as it really can feel more dismissive of real life atrocities than it should.

Have you read Alyx? Let me know what you thought by leaving me a comment!

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