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.