Book Review: A Face without a Heart by Rick R. Reed

When Gary says one day that he would trade his soul in order to stay young forever and let the hologram his friend and artist Liam created bear the signs of his age and life, he doesn't expect that wish to come true, but that's exactly what happens. He attempts to immerse himself in parties, drugs, sex, and the finest things money can buy, but, in doing so, loses his humanity, and by the time he realizes it, it might be too late to save himself.

Title: A Face without a Heart
Pages: 188
My Rating: 3 Stars
More Info: Goodreads, Amazon, Publisher


*I received an ecopy of this book from the publisher. This has not influenced my review.*

To be honest, I probably should’ve stopped reading this after the first few pages because I could tell it wasn’t for me. But a Dorian Gray retelling! I had to keep reading because that’s one of the only classics I’ve ever loved, plus it’s just got a great premise with lots of potential, and I really wanted to see how this author would put his own spin on it.

Unfortunately, it seemed like this book was trying too hard to BE the original story rather than a unique retelling. Sure the book was set in present day America rather than 1800s England, the character of Henry was a drag queen rather than whatever Henry was, the artwork was a hologram rather than a painting, the character of Sybil was a stripper instead of an actress, etc., but those things are all just minor details. The plot was almost exactly the same (not just the general idea, but conversations the characters had and everything), and the characters had the same personality traits, right down to Henrietta’s love for giving paradoxical advice. Even some of her quotes were almost exactly the same as Henry’s just with more modern words/ideas. I can concede however that this disappointment might just be on me for having certain expectations—I personally prefer retellings to have more of a twist, or to have something unique to them, or to explore something from the original more in depth—so other people may like the fact that it was pretty much the exact same story, just modernized, especially if you haven’t read the original and don’t already know what’s going to happen.

Another problem I had though was that the characters felt flat. Gary (Dorian) was a jerk, which was to be expected. Liam (Basil) was reserved and kind of pathetic. Henrietta (Henry) was loud-mouthed and opinionated. But that’s kind of all they were. And the way their new identities were forced to mesh with the traits and situations of the originals felt unnatural. Some of the thoughts, feelings, actions, motivations, speech, etc. of the characters didn’t fit with the modern world or the new identities.

That being said, somehow the book got a little better around halfway through. It was still basically the same plot, but it stuck to the modern aspect more and showed more of the actual depravity (you know, all those parts the original skipped over).

But because of all that depravity, this book is not for the faint of heart. There was *TRIGGER WARNING* murder, death, suicide, graphic (but not particularly erotic because it wasn’t supposed to be) M/M and M/F sex, sexual assault/rape, and lots of drug use. *END TRIGGER WARNING* I’m not sure I’d classify this as LGBT though, despite the M/M sex. Yeah, the protagonist had sex with men sometimes, but he didn’t identify as gay or bisexual; he simply had sex with men when he was so high that he didn’t care and was physically incapable of doing it with women. The two main side characters were gay though, and there were brief M/M sex scenes on screen, so I guess that’s why it’s considered LGBT.

So overall, I was disappointed that the story wasn’t more original, and I guess the book just wasn’t quite for me.


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  1. Di @ Book Reviews by Di

    I actually came here SPECIFICALLY to read this review when I saw that it was a Dorian Gray retelling…. Well colour me disappointed. It doesn’t sound like this is going to be something I would enjoy so I’m just going to leave it at that.

    Thanks so much for the in depth and honest review as always and I’m sorry that this one wasn’t a better fit for you (or me!).

    1. Kristen Burns

      I feel the same way. I specifically read it because it was a Dorian Gray retelling, so I was disappointed too :-/

      Thanks, I’m glad you found my review helpful 🙂

  2. Bookworm Brandee

    Hmm, I think this one might not be for me either, mostly because I like retellings to be more “original” as well. I like to see an author put their own mark on a classic story. So I’m sorry this fell a bit short in that area as well as any real character development, it seems. Obviously there was something you ended up enjoying though – the darkness – and I’m glad because that means the read wasn’t a complete waste of time. 🙂

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yeah, I just wanted it to be more original. Or even if it had done a better job of really developing and exploring the characters… I mean, Gary’s character did get explored some, how numb he felt and why he eventually wanted to change, but it wasn’t enough to truly save the book or make it different enough for me. The darkness though… I like emotional darkness, and this was more just sex and drugs and murder. But I can still recognize that other people may like the book more.

  3. Danya @ Fine Print

    Dorian Gray is one of my favourite classics, too! I’ve never read a retelling of it, but I definitely get the appeal. Unfortunately this one doesn’t sound like it’s for me…personally, I like my retellings on the surprising side with a few good twists and turns. Sorry this one didn’t work better for you, Kristen!

    1. Kristen Burns

      To be honest, I didn’t enjoy Dorian Gray as much the second time I read it (as an adult), but it was my favorite book as a teen. But I’d still love to read an original retelling of it! This was, yeah, just too much the same for me. Thanks!

  4. Let's Get Beyond Tolerance

    I saw this one and was really interested because I love Dorian Gray too, but I’m glad I didn’t read it now. I think I’d be a bit annoyed too. I love the original, like I said, but with retellings, you are supposed to take the main idea and then twist it somehow. Having it all stay the same – with some of the same dialogue – just seems a bit “lazy” in a sense, and not as exciting.


    1. Kristen Burns

      I guess maybe he was literally just trying to take the original story and put in a modern setting, but that wasn’t what I wanted. It did make it unexciting for me. If I wanted to read a story in which I knew every single thing that would happen, I’d have reread the original :-/

  5. verushka

    This is disappointing 🙁 I was excited to see that it was a Dorian Grey retelling, which I haven’t seen before, but with a retelling I expect the broad strokes to follow the original, but the story itself to be new and different.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Disappointed was exactly how I felt :-/ I agree, I like the important points of the original to be in a retelling but for there to be different spins on it.

  6. Dragonfly

    Omg This cover seems straight out of a clown nightmare! You know K, those I have about circuses! I don’t think I liked the original story too much sooooo ?

    1. Kristen Burns

      Well the book has literally nothing even remotely to do with clowns or circuses, so you should be safe lol. But if you didn’t like the original story, then you might not like this either.

  7. Wattle

    I have like, three versions of Dorian Gray floating around on my shelves. For some reason I’ve never been able to actually read it lol but I really want to *sigh* one day, sooner rather than later, I hope.

    It sounds like this was a bit of a miss, I don’t really dig retellings that…well don’t retell the story with a creative and interesting twist; following the original seems lazy.

    1. Kristen Burns

      So you’re just collecting Dorian Gray books? Haha. The story does have a very interesting premise, and it’s full of lots of amazing quotes (the original).

      I do like retellings, but yeah, I wanted it to be more different :-/

  8. Lola

    That’s the reason why I pick up very little retellings as I always find it hard to enjoy them when they are too similar to the original story and I’ve found it hard to find books that strike the right balance of being inspired by, but not too similar to the original story (or the Disney version as the case might be at times). I’ve never read Dorian Grey though, but it sounds like this one was a tad too similar to the original tale.

    Just like you I prefer retelings to be a bit more different that I can recognize the original tale, but it not be too obvious or too much the same. I also have been wondering if sometimes a retelling might be more fun if you haven’t read the original or don’t remember as much from it. I can understand why this one didn’t fully work for you. I don’t think this would be a book for me either. Well written review!

    1. Kristen Burns

      I’ve never read one that was too similar before. I did read one Little Mermaid one that followed the same plot, but it really expanded on things, adding in emotions and experiences and a few little twists that weren’t in the original, so I enjoyed that.

      I like to read the original before reading retellings because I love finding the little references and seeing the unique ways that authors twist and change things. But in this case, I think this book might be better suited for anyone who hasn’t read the original. Thanks!

  9. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    It sucks when retellings just fail epically at being their own story. I agree, when I read a retelling I want it to be more inspired by than anything else because otherwise I might as well read the original. If the characters aren’t going to be unique and the story altered to suit the modern world and these new characters then it’s not going to keep my interest. A Dorian Gray would be pretty awesome although this may not be the one to look forward to. I’m sure a better retelling will be done eventually.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I’ve never had this happen before. Except I don’t like the inspired-by thing either. I just want stories that take the main facets of the original but then create something unique with it. Apparently that’s too much to ask lol.

      Actually, I’ve seen another Dorian retelling, but it was supposedly literally the same text but with a werewolf? Idk what’s going on with Dorian Gray retellings, man. We should write one together 😉