Brilliantly Subversive, Deliberately Horrific (aka: read the freaking subtext)
It took me a long time and a couple read-throughs to digest this book enough to collate my thoughts into the ability to write a review, which I felt really moved to do because I think a lot of people miss the point of this book, both on the positive and the negative end of the spectrum.
If your first reaction to this book is "OMG HAWT I WANT IT" or "OMG AWFUL HOW DARE THEY" - STOP. Stop right now. Step away from the keyboard. Think about it for a while. If those are your first reactions, you have entirely missed the subtext of what is going on here. Go back, re-read, and pay closer attention.
Let's get one thing straight. As a practitioner of BDSM, I cannot in any way, shape or form call what happens in this book BDSM. BDSM is a consensual practice, and for anyone with a modicum of common sense, "consent" actually means "informed consent.
" I mean, let's look at the acronym RACK: Risk-Aware Consensual Kink
. At what point in this process was Bran ever truly "aware" of anything?
Much less the risk of what was going on? Since Bran was in no way, shape, or form informed enough to give true consent, I can't call this BDSM.
Which is the entire freaking point. Calling this a book about BDSM should rightfully offend any practitioner of BDSM. People who practice RACK should be appalled by what happens in this book, because it is a perversion of everything we hold dear. I sure as hell was. But I was appalled with a purpose.
So while parts of this book were undoubtedly erotic, they were erotic on the level of torture porn, not on the level of BDSM and there is a big, big difference.
But it's so much more than torture porn. It's an object lesson
in why communication is so important in a BDSM and how without communication, BDSM is just abuse. Without communication, there can be no A in RACK. And without the A, there can be no C.
I can't presuppose the authors' intent, but it seems very obvious to me, due to the number of subtle-yet-undeniable parallels, that this book was deliberately constructed to be the anti-50SoG. And by that, I don't mean this is "50SoG done right" as a number of people have called it, because it's not
done right. Not by a long shot. Let's be very clear about that. In absolutely no sane world should this be considering "right." If you think this is something to aspire to in your own kinky life and if you're not horrified by what happens in this book, you've absolutely missed the point
. Put the book down and educate yourself before you get seriously injured.
This book isn't a "here's how it's really
done" gesture of one-upsmanship. It's far more subversive and subtle. This book conducts a study, by compare and contrast, of why 50SoG DOESN'T AND WOULD NEVER WORK.
Let's examine just a few of the parallels between the two books.
1) In 50SoG, Anastasia is an ignorant virgin who knows almost nothing about the world.
Okay, Bran isn't technically a "virgin" but he is very sexually unaware. Up until this point in his life, sex has been merely the scratching of a biological itch. He hasn't had sex so much as he's masturbated using other people's hands and mouths rather than his own fist. He is also, because he's so busy working and because he doesn't have a lot of money, very unaware of the world around him. He exists to go to work to buy food to keep existing to go back to work.
2) Billionaire businessman playboy. That one's easy.
3) A contract. In neither book is the "contract" legally binding because under the law, you can't consent to be enslaved. Yet both books pass it off as such.
4) Stalker billionaire, whee!! Having met our Ana/Bran once, the billionaire playboy subsequently becomes rather creepily fixated upon her/him.
5) Denial of information. In 50SoG, Christian Grey deliberately and explicitly refuses Ana permission to research the BDSM lifestyle and inform herself about what she's getting into. In this book, Jonathan denies Bran permission to become informed by 1) assuming he knows more than he does already and 2) denying him the ability to communicate effectively from the get-go.
6) Isolating the sub. In 50SoG, Christian begins to interfere with Ana's other social relationships, isolating her and keeping her focus upon him. In this book, Jonathan simply cuts Bran off from the world entirely by moving him in.
7) Sub who doesn't know she/he is a sub who is traumatized by the early S&M activities because he/she doesn't enjoy it, because it's forced upon them.
8) Christian ignores Ana's safeword. Jonathan punishes Bran for using his because he thinks he "knows" whether or not Bran means it (clearly when he went to Dom school, no one ever taught Jonathan that the safeword is there not only for physical but also for emotional distress.)
Okay. That's just in the first, what, 25% of the book? Eight rather obvious parallels. That needs to tell us something. The parallels are handled subtly enough so that they're not immediately apparent or obviously derivative, but they are unmistakably present, and this book is far too well written for that to have been an accident.
The parallels are deliberate. Why are they there? Because the authors are playing Mythbusters. Don't know what that is? Basically, it's a TV show that takes urban legends/myths and uses science to deconstruct them by trying to recreate them exactly as they are described and seeing whether or not they work. If they can replicate the results, the myth is confirmed. If they can't, it's busted.
With me so far?
In this case, instead of using science to deconstruct the myth of 50SoG, the authors use their real world BDSM knowledge. They recreate the 50SoG scenario and then they absolutely shred it with a cold, hard dose of reality.
One disaster at a time, they show why 50SoG wouldn't work given the set-up of the situation. And most of that lesson hinges on the absence of communication.
At the end of the book, Bran tells Jonathan "we stopped talking" but what he's saying there is "we stopped communicating." Jonathan didn't allow Bran to communicate at all, and Jonathan didn't communicate, he pontificated. And without that communication, what you're left with is abuse. It's not BDSM, it's abuse.
This book is not romantic. If it titillates, it should only do so on the most base, crude, voyeuristic level. This book should be considered intellectually horrific (as should 50SoG) and anyone reading it should be deeply, deeply disturbed by it, whether or not they know the first thing about BDSM.
It's a book about how BDSM without communication is just abuse. Without communication, there can be no informed consent, and without consent, anything that happens is abuse. It simply is. What this book shows us is just how terrible 50SoG is, because it takes that abuse and tries to make it pretty and romantic. In this book, the abuse is not pretty and romantic, and it strips away the pretty, romantic mask from what happens in 50SoG and reveals the ugly underside of what is really going on.
Then it goes on, in the sequel, to turn this lesson on its head and show the flip side, how once communication is established, everything falls into place and works. Once and only once there's communication, trust and even love can develop, and a beautiful relationship can evolve. But that's a review for another time.
It's a brilliant construction, it truly is, and I have to give Ms. Haimowitz and Ms. Grant mad props for being so deftly subversive. I'm only giving four stars because it still makes me cringe and want to read with a hand over my eyes while peering out of the slits between my fingers, but the writing, and the lesson it teaches, is absolutely top-notch.