Natural Law by Joey W. Hill

Here it is. It isn’t a review, really, because I couldn’t get myself organized enough for that. More a plot summary (small spoilers, I think) and my rambling thoughts.

Okay, confession: the vast majority of the BDSM erotic romance I’ve read (not a huge number, admittedly) hasn’t worked for me. More alpha males dominating women, this time sexually. Woo hoo. Way to break the mold and be innovative. Not. Spanking, D/s, manacles, dungeons — slighly risque sex, sure, but nothing new or divergent from the typical stereotyped gender roles. Little or no exploration of the why, except in Lora Leigh’s books: she seems to treat BDSM preferences as a coat to take on or off (the last SEAL book) or as an aberration forced by whatever dysfunction or abuse the characters suffered in their youths (August series).

Female dominants in erotic romance seems to be the exception rather than the rule.. The first femdom book I read, The Melinoe Project, left me cold and vaguely squicked. It was clinical and boring, and some of the stuff that was done to the “hero” as part of a science project veered into torture territory for me. There was a nominal attempt to establish a relationship, but it was hard to believe given the context and came very late in the book. Really, better to label it as a male sub book than a femdom, because the POV is almost entirely the man’s as he’s subjected to various experiments to test his limits. I had read good things, though, about Natural Law, so I picked up a copy while browsing over at Ellora’s Cave. Hadn’t been there in a long time.

Mackenzie “Mac” Nighthorse is a highly respected homicide detective and a career cop. There isn’t a dangerous situation that can back him down. However, the personal becomes uncomfortably entangled in the professional when he goes undercover in a high class BDSM club as a male submissive to find a Dominatrix who is winning the trust and then murdering her chosen partners. When his path crosses Violet Siemanski’s, he realizes he’s found a Mistress willing to be his ally in finding the murderess. But Violet is also going to shatter Mac’s shields and make him question who he is and what he wants, a challenge more disturbing than any case he’s ever worked.

NL really worked for me, primarily because the romance between the heroine and hero worked for me. And because the D/s *worked* in the story — it wasn’t added to make the sex hot or freaky, it is a part of the h/h lives, something they have struggled to integrate with their “public” faces (shown in the backstory and ongoing plot). Violet is a baby Domme. But she knows what she wants: someone who can play with her an dblong in her real life. She isn’t playing at D/s — she’s finally reached equilibrium in terms of what she needs. Though she’s new, she fits the adage that the best Mistresses are born, not made. Mac is an alpha male in public — cop, sailor, biker — who is a sub sexually. Which is quite a departure from the average alpha hero who is all alpha all the time, always in control.

The heart of the conflict or tension between the two of them is the regular relationship establishment struggle, but refracted through the prism of D/s. Their struggle isn’t about The (usual) Words; it’s about control — who has it? who gives it up? Violet, as Domme, has it or should, ostensibly. And Mac, a sub, should be giving it up. Except he never really has before; while subbing on the surface, he’s never really let go, he just charmed his earlier Mistresses into thinking they were pushing his boundaries, when in reality he has never left his comfort zone. He has no safeword and no limits, purportedly. In reality, he’s just never been pushed to them, which is what Violet wants — to break down all barriers between the two of them. So she assigns him a safeword and sets out to find his real boundaries. The scary thing, for Violet and for Mac, is that even Mac doesn’t know exactly where/what they are (I think) when they set out.

I liked that pairing up didn’t “cure” them of their “perversion”.

I liked that the careful line they have to walk between their public and private lives is demonstrated in NL. A lot of authors who include a bit of kink seem to pretend that it doesn’t reverberate in the characters’ lives outside of the sex…unless the kink is a plot mechanism to set up the Bad Guy.

I was not so impressed with the suspense plot, TBH. It receives short shrift, disappearing for a large chunk of the middle of the book, and reappears suddenly at the end. Felt a little tacked on and not well planned.

Noticed a couple of words used oddly and one continuity break. Once, Mac thinks about how Violet is “cozening” him as she pampers him. I’m thinking Hill meant cosseting, because cozening is cheating or perpetrating a fraud. A dessert is described as chocolate gnoche; I kept thinking of chocolate potato gnocchi, which is just gross. I googled the term, which is the Italian translation of ganache. Okay. The continuity break is related to the gnoche — in one scene Violet scrapes all of the gnoche from the cake on her plate and spreads it on Mac…then later in the same scene she goes back to the same plate for more. Um, did more magically appear?

It’s interesting to me, especially in the context of the recent Claiming the Courtesan-based discussions of rape vs. forced seduction, that Bam thought that one scene could arguably be called rape. That *never* occurred to me as a I read it, and I have a very broad personal definition of rape. Mac has a safeword — he says “please don’t”, but he never uses the safeword…until afterward. If I read the same scene in any other context, in any other genre of fiction, it absolutely would be rape in my mind, but the dynamic established earlier precludes that for me. Mac has choice and exercises it by staying silent.

B+ from me, verging on an A-. The only thing keeping this from being an A for me is the suspense plot.

9 Comments

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9 responses to “Natural Law by Joey W. Hill

  1. Anonymous

    From Carrie http://lovelysalome.blogspot.com
    I really enjoyed this book, primarily because of the erotic blend of sex and romance. The power struggle between them did good things for my imagination, which is rarely the case with me when I read erotica. The limited erotica I’ve read winds up boring me, and I skip large chunks in search of the missing plot. In NL, I relished the sexual scenes and the power dynamic of their relationship. And you’re 100% correct, that the thriller intrigue storyline dragged the book down. Unbalanced, superfluous, rather trite — or perhaps those are just my impressions based on the expertly handled romantic relationship. Parts of the finale even confused me, whereas I couldn’t tell who had been shot, etc., in the hospital. Hill certainly has a better grasp on the mental intricacies of her characters, less so of action sequences and genuine intrigue.
    And yes, the ganache / gnoche thing really bothered me. But then, I read their kitchen scene just waiting for them to heat up again. Hill handled their relationship, sexually and romantically, so well that I became impatient when she veered into other territory. And Violet’s daytime profession? Sigh… too contrived.
    I enjoyed, too, how h/h expressed their love and commitment to each other differently than non-BDSM characters. The safe words became the “I love you” of this story, and the cuffs she buys for him became the wedding rings. Does that make sense? Hill made sure that where they placed value in their private lives continued through the narrative.
    And I agree that what Violet did to Mac on a number of occasions would be considered rape if he hadn’t given her carte blanche permission up front. He told her that he didn’t believe in safe words because he had no boundaries. She said here’s your damn safe word. Those were their ground rules. When he didn’t use the safe words, he gave his consent.
    Two of my favorite scenes: when she hands him the cat o’ nine tails (the power reversal, forcing him to make a choice as to how far he would obey her), and the dinner party scene where he gets stroppy and talks back (where he tries to be an alpha and protect his territory, his woman, but struggles with her demand that he obey). Good stuff.
    I’d go for a B grade, mostly because of how uneven the whole package proved in the end.

  2. Definitely not rape because of BDSM context. She asked him about his safe word and he refused to use it–therefore consent. Great discussion!
    I love her Holding the Cards, but most of her other stories (mostly maledom) don’t do as much for me.

  3. Anonymous

    Oh, I’m so glad you reviewed this, JMC, as I’ve been waffling on buying it — not particularly into or familiar with the BDSM stuff — even though so many people have recommended it. You’ve definitely helped me decide to give it a try.
    Robin

    • My BDSM exposure began via romance but switched to more nonfiction sources. Most of the treatment in romance frustrates me because it is either window dressing only (Lora Leigh) or it is just another way for male characters to dominate female characters (bleh), without any examination of the relationship dynamic. I liked that it was essential to these characters, and that it involved power and role reversals from the normal romance roles.
      Hope you enjoy NL, and I’d love to hear your opinion of it.

  4. Anonymous

    I’ve attempted a lot of BDSM, but a lot of it hasn’t worked for me. Either it was just two people getting adventurous, or rather squicky “slave” stuff that was too much for my sensibilities. Hill does a great job of exploring how the power dynamic works, the give and take. Her characters are also well fleshed out (for erotic romance in general). They’re adults with careers and interests and lives, not sexbots.
    I liked Natural Law the best, but I enjoyed The Ice Queen and Mirror of my Soul quite a bit. They’re rather heavy, and there is a suspense plot that is very tacked on, but they’re good.
    Devon

    • I looked at those at Ellora’s Cave, but was confused by the blurbs. The first one read as if there was an HEA of sorts, but then the same h/h were back again for a second book, and the second blurb made it seem as if that HEA was in danger.

  5. Thanks for this review! I think I’ll be giving it a shot, especially because your first couple of paragraphs could have been written by me, so I think you probably came to this book from the same direction I’ll be coming.

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