June 30, 2012

Review: Pleasure Bound by Kat Black

Adam has it all planned - he's going to whisk his girlfriend Sam off for a fabulous, romantic weekend and indulge his possessive side by asking her to marry him and giving her a huge rock as a sign of his ownership love. But an impulsive text saying that he will give her anything she wants, that is within his power to give her, is his downfall. Because Sam wants to scratch an itch that has been bothering her. Sam wants to be in control in bed.

Her image of the weekend:
Adam's big body spread-eagle beneath her, trembling and helpless under her touch while his blue eyes bored into hers, desperate, hot and pleading. 
His image of the weekend:
...the perfect chance to fulfill his deepest desire and at last get Sam just where he wanted her - bound to him, physically, emotionally and legally, for as long as they both shall live. 
Adam has always taken the dominant role in the relationship, so this sets up an exciting conflict: he wants to control her by tying her down in marriage; she has a more physical tying down in mind for him. This is hugely promising: a battle of wills between two strong characters. It's a frequent complaint that submissive men in books aren't alpha and manly, and here we have Adam:
Successful, powerful and wealthy, he didn't get where he was today without also being touch and ruthless and, frankly, bossy as hell. 
Dangerously close to being an alpha-hole, I would say. Sam loves him, but wants to even things up a bit by having him submit to her for a change. So far, so good.

The problem with this novella is not what is in it, so much as what isn't in it.  The gaps in the emotional plot are, for me, large and annoying. There's a really brilliant, complex negotiation of two people's needs and desires set up and then we don't see how it is resolved, we're just told that it is.

I vacillated all the way through reading this novella. One moment I'm disappointed, the next I'm on edge, with a big grin. Let me give you an example:

When they meet up, the first thing that happens is that Adam comes over all dominant and makes a protesting Sam come in the back of his car on the way to the airport. So Sam submits to Adam and Adam is all rich and manly. <Sigh> Then, on the plane, Sam comes straight out and says that she wants to dominate him and tie him up. <Yay!> Adam just blank says no, and they begin to argue <Okay, this is interesting.> Then instead of a continuation of the argument, we get this:
He continued to argue, of course, accusing her of seeking to objectify him, of cheapening their relationship for the sake of titillation, but Sam persevered, making sure he understood that this was about deeper thing like trust and equality, and letting her have her own way for once, damn it!
Seeking to objectify him, of cheapening their relationship for the sake of titillation. This is the man, who, the previous chapter, was wondering if he could interest her in a bit of mile-high fellatio on the plane, who internally refers to his marriage proposal as the most exciting acquisition he'd ever contemplated, gropes Sam in the back of the car while his driver could watch, and who, when she thanks him for arranging a weekend away, says:
 "You're welcome. But be warned. Once I've got you all alone and at my mercy, I'm going to tie you down and make you thank me again. Properly."
To recap - she wants to tie him down and she's objectifying him and cheapening their relationship. He wants to tie her down and that's normal. So he's being a hypocritical idiot. That would possibly be okay if it was part of a conversation where we saw that Adam was grasping as straws because he's scared to let go of control (as we discover later). But, instead Sam doesn't call him on his hypocrisy and we have a throw-away half a paragraph on a potentially interesting and key conflict. That theme of terse half paragraphs which summarize conversations where really you want to see the whole conversation recurs in this novella, and it's very unsatisfying.


Adam sulks for the rest of the journey. When they arrive at the most amazing, luxurious place ever, they discuss Sam being dominant again and Adam goes off into another sulk when Sam says that it's important to her. They arrive at their room and Sam leaves Adam with the cuffs, rope and blindfold she has brought while she goes to the bathroom. When Sam emerges, she finds Adam in the cuffs, with an erection. Welcome as this scene is in so many ways, I couldn't help feeling that I really couldn't understand his sudden change of heart, as we see all of this from Sam's point of view.

The scene that follows, where Sam ties up and then teases Adam while Adam struggles to allow her and tries to regain control, is beautifully written, arousing and sensuous. It's great. I'm even okay with it when after Sam unties him, Adam snaps and pounds into her roughly, claiming back his dominance. It seems totally in character, and not in an hypocritical alpha-male way, but in a scared of his own feelings way which I can sympathize with.

But the next morning, Adam makes unnecessary conflict. He's soooo guilty about how brutal and mean and out of control he was. He must have hurt her unforgivably. Sam protests that she's fine and he totally ignores her, won't touch her and sulks with her for the rest of the day. A rational response to this sort of silliness would be to want to beat Adam around the head with a tree trunk, but again, Sam is so patient. He's being really unreasonable and uncommunicative, so she gives him a blow job to smooth things over. But even after that, and some cunnilingus, Adam continues to be grumpy through their romantic dinner under the stars. Afterwards, they finally get around to talking about it and we get this breakthrough:
"The submitting, the bondage, the helplessness-" He paused to give an uncomfortable shrug. "It excited me, Sam. Against everything I'd thought and said, I found myself liking it. And that realization made me so angry, so fucking furious with myself I couldn't see straight. How could I? How could someone like me enjoy the act of surrender, of leaving myself weak and powerless?"
<Yay!> He asks if she can still love him, she reassures him, he proposes and there's still enough of the book left to have another scene where she takes advantage of her new found knowledge. Great, yeh?

So next we get a scene where Adam pours champagne over Sam's clit and generally teases her. It's disappointing. In the post orgasm pillow talk, there's a bit to hold up the cliches about male submissives:
"Adam, even if you turn out to be the most pitiful wimp of a submissive ever, I'll still love you."
As happy as he was to hear that, Adam snorted. "Like that's ever going to happen." In a flash he had her on her back.
And then the next day, he ties her up. Of course.  <Yawn>

In the epilogue, after their wedding, there's a nice bit about how Adam has discovered that surrender can make you stronger. It's mentioned in passing that they've experimented. I wanted so much to see that emotional and erotic journey, rather than be told about it in the epilogue.

The end is a short, sweet moment of surrender for Adam. It was a good and appropriate ending and I was happy that it ended on a high.

***End Spoilers***

All in all, it's a very mixed story. In some places, elegantly and wonderfully executed. In other places, reminiscent of a Harlequin Presents, with its silly, uncommunicative hero and unrealistically understanding heroine. I didn't realize when I saw that this was a Ellora's Cave Moderne title that it was going to be like a Mills and Boon Modern. It should have had a title like Tying down the Billionaire Tycoon, and I would have realized what I was getting myself in to. The Adam that is worried that Sam won't love him because he likes being dominated and who loves and lusts after Sam to distraction, I can like. The cardboard cutout of a Alpha-Male Greek Billionaire Tycoon that he hides behind has no attraction to me at all. Actually, it repulses me.

TL,DR: Quite good in the middle when the blurb's premise is realized, otherwise prone to gender cliches and skipping over the interesting conflict in favor of alpha male 3-year-old posturing. 

For all my snark and annoyance about a lot of this novella, the middle bit where Sam gets her domme on was great. The tension was palpable, the conflict was brilliant and the whole scenario was really very hot, even Adam's trying to wrest back control. The concept is inspired. Sam and Adam are good characters when they're being human. The rest of it. Meh.


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