A Wickedness Unforgiven
As gloom as the reality is, sexual violence is one of those things that have persisted throughout the ages and across all cultures throughout the world. It is, quite sadly, one of the few factors that unite all of our races and ethnicities together. While some of us may have the fortune of living in a place on Earth where such crimes are rather uncommon, there are countless people out there who aren’t nearly as lucky, especially those living in countries with absurd disparities between the poor and the powerful. What’s even worse, these acts are committed by the last person you would expect just as often as they are by the most obvious suspects. Rape is an insidious and damnable crime in every respect, one that merits punishment at all costs, something our hero, Bryce Ackerman, discovers in his life-changing journey in Bittersweet by p.d.r. Lindsay.
Without spoiling anything, the story takes place during the early 1870s in the British Raj, a period when the British Crown ruled on the Indian subcontinent. We are introduced to the afore-mentioned Bryce Ackerman, a magistrate who finds himself on a most uncomfortable mission: avenge the dishonor of his fiancee, Aimee. Once slated to marry, their plans fell through when Aimee had been brutally raped by some so-called noble English soldiers. Upon learning and receiving confirmation that these men were predators in a very disgusting competition with each other (Aimee wasn’t their only victim), Bryce decides to track them down by his own means and bring death to the one who commanded those men. Needless to say, it’s a task much easier said than done: to accuse influential and highly-reputed men of such sinister crimes is a most dangerous task, one that puts Bryce on a collision course with some truly powerful and ruthless villains.
An Eye-Opening Window Into Another Culture
There are a few things to discuss about Bittersweet, but first I would like to direct the attention towards the author’s ability to recreate a world from the past and suck us deep into it. A lot of effort and research was quite obviously put into the creation of the setting, with all the noises, sights, sounds and smells painting vivid and unforgettable pictures of 1870s India. The descriptions are quite deep and even touch on the atmospheres and mentalities that permeated the air in those times, and while I can’t exactly check them for accuracy, they feel quite genuine and help you feel as if you’re a part of the world, rather than being a close observer.
This world-building turns out to be quite useful in helping us understand the characters, what they are going through, what fears and desires and manipulate their whims, and by what customs and standards they are measuring their actions.
A Cast with some Spark
Speaking of the characters, the story is populated by a fair amount of them, with there being a central core of supporting characters around Bryce, the villainous soldiers, as well as plenty of others who come and go as the plot progresses. The narration is told from Bryce’s perspective, and so we are privy to his most personal, intimate and innermost thoughts. As things unfold he turns out to be quite a clever and capable thinker, a man who wrestles with inner turmoil as much as anyone else out there. His delivery is often simple, concise, and to the point, making the story quite easy to follow.
On the other hand, the villains are everything we need our bad guys to be. They are deceitful, prey on the young and weak, get away scott-free because of their place in society, and basically show no remorse in what they are doing, even convincing themselves they are actually in the right. In other words, there are no doubts about who you should be rooting for and it doesn’t take much motivation to see them as the devil incarnate. There is a slight reproach to make however, and it’s that there are a few sequences in which the villain’s dialogue feels slightly dry and perhaps a bit unnatural, but those aren’t prominent enough to become a real problem.
A Story that Sticks with You
Looking at the plot itself, I have no problem in characterizing it as one of those stories that will stay with you for a long time to come. You’ll find yourself thinking about the events, mulling them over in your head, wondering what the messages, implications and consequences might be. While a few of the chapters and passages are on the slower and tamer side, much of the novel is about the evil that men do under the shadows of wealth and privilege. It’s the kind of story where things don’t always work out, and just like in life, a happy ending is anything but guaranteed. There are a few truly jolting moments and twists that really keep you hooked in and increasingly worried for the fates of the heroes.
As you might have gathered from the rest of the review, the story is full of very dark and heavy themes, touching on rape and dangerous kinds of lust. The author wrote it with a certain free-flowing honesty where ugly truths are addressed as they truly are, rather than sugar-coated with euphemisms. While for some of the messages seem like common sense to many of us, I assure you there are still countless people in the world who have yet to learn them (and unfortunately, I find it doubtful they’ll read Bittersweet). p.d.r. Lindsay doesn’t shy away from sharing her opinions and points of view on the matter, and they are definitely deserving of some pondering.
The Final Verdict
Looking at everything from A to Z, Bittersweet is a book that definitely deserves some more recognition. It has a truly fascinating and enthralling world, interesting and memorable characters, a story that entertains you with its twists but also makes you contemplate on some of the darker aspects of the human condition, namely lust, violence and power. The premise is delivered in a unique way that really makes the novel stand out from its counterparts, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone looking for a top-notch historical drama seasoned with mystery and vengeance.
P.D.R. Lindsay is an Irish writer living in New Zealand best known for Tizzie, Jacob’s Justice and Bittersweet. She is a learned author with a love for history and has spent a considerable amount of time traveling the world, a fact heavily reflected by her stories that often take us abroad into the countless places hiding right beneath the surface, harbouring the invisible amongst us.