Death’s the discharge of our debt of sorrow. – Lucius Annaeus Seneca
I first became familiar with Dusk Peterson’s work a couple of years ago when I read the book Life Prison. It’s more than a bit of an understatement to say I was impressed with it. It’s more closely accurate to say I was blown away by it. This is an excerpt from my review of that book:
Written in the first person, Life Prison is a dark, eloquent, and absorbing psychological tale that delves into the mind of a killer who, perhaps incongruously, manages to evolve into a sympathetic character in spite of the horror of his crime.
The setting of this story is desolate, the atmosphere devoid of hope, yet the ending leaves the reader with the belief in the transformative power of, yes, mercy and compassion.
With only a few minor revisions, I could easily say the same things about Debt Price. This story is told in the third person rather than the first, but is, in one point of similarity, the story of a sympathetic killer who’s known for nearly the entirety of the book only as the young man.
The young man is an orphan who plays little more than the nameless pawn in the game of others’ whims, first in the orphanage, then in the Commoners’ Army, where he becomes an assassin simply because it was the debt he owed to the one who’d saved his life, but the accumulation of damages against the young man’s karmic ledger becomes a debt he may never be able to erase.
Captured and tried and convicted for a crime he believed he was justified in committing because it served the greater good of the common man, the young man is sentenced to debtor’s prison, where his life becomes a solitary confine of unimaginable horrors perpetuated upon his body and soul by the guards and lords and lord-kin—and soon seemingly anyone else who would take advantage of the opportunity to use and abuse him—as penance and restitution for his transgressions. The young man, at first proud and resolute, is quickly broken by the helplessness of his circumstances, broken in mind and spirit, and, disease ridden, broken in body.
There is one lord, however, one who is different from all the others, who comes to the prison with the intent to collect on his portion of the debt the young man owes, though the lord leaves not only with that debt unsatisfied but now owing his own debt to the young man. When that lord buys the young man’s way out of prison and brings him to his estate, it becomes a story of the young man’s struggles to recover and to understand his place in a world that doesn’t seem to want him.
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Then Debt Price, in the end, becomes a story that shows it’s not only death that discharges our debts and sorrows, but forgiveness and mercy and compassion, as well.
This book is not an easy read, nor is it in any way what would be described as a traditional romance. The young man endures months of rape and beatings, and suffers the emotional and physical aftermath of abuse at the hands of his jailers and those who would demand their pound of flesh. It’s a book that follows the logic that love doesn’t always conform to convention, nor is there always a clear-cut answer to the question, why?
I’m such a big fan of books that make me think and feel, and this book, without question, did both. It is short on hope and long on despair, but in contrast, is also a story of love and compassion and, ultimately, is a promise that sometimes the intent to sacrifice is equal to succeeding in that sacrifice in order to honor a debt.