Steam/Hot Factor: So-so, lots of possibilities, but only 3 out of 5 stars, despite the attempt
Genres: New Adult (NA)-Contemp, Erotica, Wanna-be BDSM (mostly S-M with light bondage)
NOT RECOMMENDED, unless you like reading FSOG knock-offs
An ARC (advanced reader's copy) of this book was provided by the publishers and Netgalley in exchange for my honest review. These opinions and this review are strictly my own.
Sorry, but this book just doesn't do it for me. It's supposed to be book 1 of a trilogy. But it's just too... weird. And by weird, I'm not talking about the kind-of BDSM or kinkiness that's going on. I mean weird in terms of characters, plot, and phrasing. Here's an example:
His eyes are lowered over his cocktail as if he's a soothsayer examining the entrails of a goat.
That's how the main character, Serena (Rena) describes the hunky, hot man she's just met in the Halloween fog. This is what she's thinking as she saunters back from the ladies' room towards him, as he sits at the bar waiting. Really?
There are a lot of unrelated scenes in this book, like her cousin Polly's boyfriends' Halloween party, which is as much about Serena's feeling out of place and her turning down sex with a random hunky American rich guy wearing a toga. The point of this entire scene seems to be that Serena is hot watching Polly and Pierre do their thing in public, but Serena can't get off with anyone other than her new found mystery man, Gustav. Who initially thought she was a boy, spying on little girls dressed as witches as they made their way to a Halloween party.
The constant imagery of chains lingers...
There's a chain spanning the space between us, a rope between ship and shore; no more like a jailor's thick chain jangling with keyas and handcuffs. Except this is woven thin like a spider's web, so delicate, so invisible it only occasionally catches the light. I don't know which one of us holds it. Which one is caught.
This description comes as Serena is leaving the bar after 1 drink with the mysterious, dark Gustav. But it's important, because the author is obviously foreshadowing the silver bracelet (like handcuffs or a BDSM collar) that Gustav places around Serena's wrist, and the long silver chain that he uses to connect that bracelet to him - whenever he chooses: in public or private.
The whole idea here is that 20 year old Serena is a photographer who now has the money to travel the world and take pictures. The people who adopted her are dead, and without a proper will, she inherited everything. They aren't her parents, and they never acted like parents. They emotionally and physically abused her all her life. Serena is damaged in many ways. But she's a fighter, and she's used her camera and her spunk to find her own light and her own way.
On Halloween night, Serena is in the London fog, snapping pictures of a bunch of little witches headed to a child's Halloween party. She's tucked her luxurious, long red hair up under a cap, and she's dressed in her usual shapeless clothes. Serena is interrupted by a tall, dark, handsome stranger, who mistakes her for a boy or a young man - thinking that she's some sort of Peeping Tom or child predator. Then he realizes he's a she, and she's taking photos... and I kept wondering if I should pick up on the suggestion that Gustav was originally attracted based on thinking Serena was a boy/man? But no. That supposition doesn't come into play in the rest of the story.
Because the 'rest of the story' is really about Gustav being a late 30-something billionaire who's prime interest is in galleries... and he offers Serena a contract: he'll mount and promote her photos in his gallery, and until the collection is 100% sold, Serena belongs to him - in any way that he likes, including sexually. The silver chain bracelet is her "bond" to him.
But there's so much mystery surrounding Gustav's past, mostly his dominatrix wife, Margot, and his younger brother. Gustav is, without a doubt, damaged; he's the first to admit it. And yet, he's not a very good Dom, because he doesn't know how to communicate with Serena and he's not very good at punishments when she doesn't comply. And Serena usually asserts her own will more often than not. And yes, Serena's sexual experience is limited to her hometown, high-school boyfriend, who usually went straight to the missionary position and wham-bam!
What should be a tantalizing, dark tale of a sexual awakening for Serena and some sort of healing or at least building of what's plaguing Gustav is muddled, dark, sordid, and just plain confusing. I didn't connect to either Serena or Gustav. They were constantly hurting one another. Serena was constantly throwing a hissy fit, over-reacting when Gustav didn't behave as she thought he should; but she doesn't KNOW him, and he doesn't know her, as she's quick to point out. So I can only guess at her immaturity.
Then, there's the BDSM angle, which should be seductive, but it isn't. This author seems to be in the camp that people who've been abused need to work out their anger through sex - specifically through bondage and spanking or whipping. It's offensive. She could have made it work, but she didn't. She simply asserted that Gustav thinks Serena needs to be spanked/whipped to work out how her adopted mommy and daddy ill-treated her. What about Gustav? He's obviously damaged by his wife's actions; yet he never offers to have Serena whip him.
What's worse, Serena gets off on the spanking and whipping. There's a highly charged set of scenes at the beginning that have to do with some photos Serena captured while hiding in a Venetian nunnery - nuns flagellating themselves, as penitence for their sins. That's kind of hot. But when we get to the Gustav-Serena stuff, it falls flat. Especially when Serena blunders into dressing up as Gustav's ex-wife in her dominatrix outfit, somehow thinking that she can determine if he's still in love with his ex if she (Serena) is dressed like her. What?
Serena is longing for love, true. But there's no real love in this story, which is why I can't even categorize it as a Romance. Serena falls for Gustav without knowing a thing about him. She expects him to treat her like a lover, when she's entered into a sexual contract with him - selling herself to get establish herself in the art world. She reacts too often like a horny teenager, rather than show any signs of maturity or understanding.
And at the end of the book, we're supposed to be able to picture the next stage in this relationship. Yet, for me, the trilogy is over. I can't take another round, much less 2.