A good premise and blurb, and a half decent character in Wesley, but huge inconsistencies and a serious issue handled with a sledgehammer make this book hard to swallow.
Full review to come on Jessewave October 2nd.
I'll admit it right now, I’m no expert on BDSM. I haven’t read a huge amount of it, and I went into this book prepared to face things my ignorance would prevent me from immediately understanding. However, given the lack of trigger warning, I was sorely unprepared for the appallingly handled scenes of sexual violence.
More of that later.
Let me start with the aspects of the book I enjoyed. Wesley. Despite his propensity to burst into tears at any given moment, I liked Wesley. The kid was sweet and shy, awkward and slightly ridiculous. Some of my favorite things. His insta-love feelings for Scotty are slightly simpering, but I got over it.
I also enjoyed the ‘scene’ between the other MC, Scotty, and another ‘sub’ Kevin. Despite Scotty’s inner monologue trying (and failing) to convince me that cheating is only cheating if penetration is involved, the dynamic felt right, and managed to shine through the dodgy writing.
Unfortunately, the positives ended there, for me at least, and the first warning sign that this book wasn’t going to work for me came when Scotty, a librarian, first lays eyes on Wesley, a young student he worries (given how hot he thinks he is) might still be in high school.
Now, my issue with this sequence is difficult to explain, because Scotty doesn’t exactly think anything would stand up in court, but the tone of the scene left a really bad taste in my mouth. It set Scotty up as creepy, and slightly sleazy, and it was a sensation that stayed with me throughout the book. This feeling increased with every page, especially when I realized every single sex scene in this book is performed without a jot of preparation. Even the consensual ones.
The setup of the BDSM club, Barringers, is all wrong too. Like I said, I’m no expert, but from what I know of BDSM, the clubs are stringently managed, with the safety of sub and doms alike, absolutely paramount. Not so in Barringers. In this place, doms seem to be permitted to ‘get a bit rough’ with subs with no security or consequences. The atmosphere is not one of erotically charged submission, but more one of crass bullying.
Sticking with the BDSM theme, this where Scotty becomes a thoroughly dislikable character. I know some people find it hard to connect with doms in general. I’m not one of them–I get it, I just don’t do it–but I challenge anyone to connect with Scotty. Hell, I don’t think the dude even likes himself, or the lifestyle he chooses to be so deeply involved in.
When I read BDSM, I enjoy an MC describing a lifestyle they are truly passionate about. A lifestyle they believe in, and showing me a world I know little about. But here, the general impression I get is that Scotty is thoroughly disillusioned with the whole thing. Also, stilted dialogue and a brattish internal voice paint him as a whiny control freak. I usually get epic feels for MCs with tortured pasts. Not here. Here it seemed a license for Scotty to be an asshole, and I didn’t like it. To me, it felt like sexual abuse was being used as a crude plot device, and not used well.
Which brings me to my next point. The rape scenes. I just…no. Not only did the first one smack me in the face right in the middle of some mindboggling headhopping, but it also left the very serious issue of nonconsensual sex…rape…trivialized and sidelined in a way that is utterly unforgivable.
‘It wasn’t like he’d been raped.’
Wasn’t it? I think it was, and the fact that Dustin, a secondary character, didn’t seem to comprehend what had happened to him was written in such a way that by the end of the chapter, I was left feeling as though this was because it didn’t really matter. That rape was something that just happened in every book. No need to explain, or take the time to explore the devastating emotions. Just throw it in and blunder on.
Keeping with the rape theme. Later in the book, Wesley is assaulted by the same man. Beaten, broken and on the verge of another violent rape scene. He’s rescued eventually, but what follows is probably one of the most vile things I’ve ever read. Scotty takes Wesley home and proceeds to throw a tantrum about his perceived loss of ‘control’. The whole thing was…hideous. And not just because the issues at hand are controversial. The technical quality of the writing and editing is also very poor. The character POV’s switch from sentence to sentence with no warning at all, and at times I had no idea whose perspective I was supposed to be interpreting.
By the time the death of another character, Jesse, is glossed over without little reaction from Wesley (they are supposed to be close friends), I’d just about lost my wits, or the inclination to care.
There is a lot going in this book. Perhaps too much, and as a result, nothing is explored properly, or well. The BDSM theme is patchy, and inconsistent. The numerous scenes of sexual violence swing between blasé and grotesque, and the actual romance of the book is lost in the ego of a thoroughly unlikable MC.
Rant over. I didn’t enjoy this book, and I didn’t enjoy writing this review. I picked it up because the blurb intrigued me. Persevered because I liked Wesley and I hoped some clumsy handling of sensitive themes would get better. It didn’t. Shame, because with a more likeable MC than Scotty, some stronger writing and edited to be coherent, this book could’ve been good. Maybe.
Unfortunately, it was not. One star.