I don’t even know where to start. You guys, this one is going to be tough.
First, let me just state that I love Kresley Cole. I’ve read all the books in her Immortals After Dark series. I own Poison Princess. I’ve even dipped into her historicals. I would probably bid on Ebay for a lock of her hair. So of course, I was curious when she announced her plans to do something more contemporary.
Cue The Professional.
Just a brief warning that this probably isn't a book for everyone. There's a difference between good WTFery and bad WTFery. I firmly believe some people won't make it a quarter of the way in because they can't get on board with the heroine just being totes okay with the whole kidnapping shenanigans while she's in her bathrobe and, I think, enjoying this book definitely lies in the suspension of disbelief.
Originally, the book was released digitally in three parts, then compiled into a full print edition.
It was hard to suss out WHAT this book was exactly. It sounded contemporary, but also with hints of romantic suspense. Reviewers commented on the “steaminess” of it, throwing it into erotica territory. BDSM was bandied about. Needless to say, I was more than a little confused, but interested.
To put any inquiring minds at ease, it’s erotica. Less than forty pages in…it’s erotica. So there you go. And I’ve found that, in most erotica, sometimes things get a little ridiculous. Like a Siberian man kidnapping a woman to meet her biological father, who happens to be a Russian mob boss. I’m going to say this right now: it’s ridiculous. As I mentioned before, if you’re a reader who wants realism and slightly less camp, this might not be for you. But if you overlook its case of the weirds and WTF-IS-HAPPENING-RIGHT-NOW undertones, you’ll be fine.
Truthfully, there’s a lot to this book. And, unless you want your eyes to start bleeding with my switching rants and praises, I’ll probably just stick to the larger points.
But let’s start on a good note. Then we'll ease into the weirdness.
Our heroine, Natalie, is a PhD student and, as someone currently pursuing an advanced degree, I related easily with Nat. It’s also told from Nat’s POV, which deviates from the IAD series. I’m not a first person fan, but it won me over:
Another round of tequila shooters arrived, sent by a trio of frat boys a few tables away. We raised our glasses, then dutifully licked, pounded, and sucked. The tequila, not the boys.
I’m a fan of innuendos and this book has it in spades, mostly coming from the mouths of a bunch of grad school girls. Right out of the gate, we’re doing pretty well.
Our hero, Aleks Sevastyan, has spent quite a bit of time surveilling Nat, keeping her safe from assassins that want her dead, though circumstances change and he needs to get her to Russia, stat!
And how does he initiate this squirreling away? By breaking into her home while she’s masturbating in the tub. Talk about timing.
Of course, Nat winds up on that plane going to Russia with minimal fuss…save for Sevastyan chasing her down in a cornfield and the two of them almost boning in the Nebraskan moonlight. I should also mention that the threat of danger is so close, that he just scoops her up and takes her while she’s wearing a bathrobe. Just a bathrobe. Hence the cornfield dry humping.
On the plane, things are explained to Nat and there’s some obvious sexual tension, aided by the fact that he interrupted that poor woman’s me time. Sevastyan does his best to warn her away, assuring her that his tastes were too dark for her liking. NATURALLY. But she keeps pushing and Sevastyan believes the only way to deter her is to show her. CUE AIRPLANE 69-ING!
Now, this is my first problematic sexual instance in the book. I get being worried that your kinks might be perceived as deviant or scary by someone who thinks they know better, but wanting to go into a situation hoping to turn off your partner seems…counterproductive. Of course, Nat enjoys every minute of it and Sevastyan has the nerve to be pissed off that she actually enjoyed it.
But let’s be honest, he’s just mad that he’s now under the spell of Nat’s magic vagina. One that is still virginal, I should mention, though I honestly have no problem with that. Nat presents herself as a sexually informed woman. She’s had other sexual experiences, she masturbates, she owns toys, so good for her. And good for Cole for making a woman who’s confident in her sexuality. Later on, as Nat comes to terms with Sevastyan's BDSM tendencies, she takes everything with stride and there’s some really great sex-positive soundbites. But more on that later.
Since this is erotica. There’s sex. Lots and lots of sex. In all sorts of places. With all sorts of bells and whistles. After teasing Sevastyan throughout dinner, via the foot-on-the-crotch trick, Nat is pulled into a linen closet and he masturbates onto her ladybits. As you do. Because when you’re fighting attraction for someone and you SHOULDN’T have sex with them, it’s probably the next best thing, right?
Sevastyan not only struggles with the fact that Nat is his boss’ daughter, but he struggles with his sexual tastes, and, oh yeah, having sex with Nat means they essentially have to be married according to the 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Long-Lost Mob Daughter.
My main grievance with Sevastyan is similar to my grievances with Christian Grey, though on a much lesser scale. His BDSM preferences are linked to a very traumatic childhood and unfortunate series of events. On a personal level, I’m not a fan of the “sexual deviancy borne of trauma” trope. Why can’t we get a well-adjusted Dom?! Blue collar, white collar – I don’t care. Just someone with a relatively sane childhood.
And I do think there should have been more progression along that relationship between Sevastyan and Natalie. He doesn’t believe her when she tells him it's what SHE wants. Instead, he “tests” her, by taking her to a BDSM sex club, because of course that’s the FIRST thing you want to do when introducing someone to this sort of thing.
Let's just pause right there. Her first actual taste of BDSM is at a sex club and one of her tests includes letting an orgy of people (and I do literally mean an orgy here, though they are separated by a pane of glass) watch her and her Siberian doing their BDSM business. When Natalie doesn't back down, he turns into a big possessive pisspants at the fact that people are actually watching her and using her as fodder for their…orgasms (because yes, it's noted that one special gentleman does get off due to Natalie and Sevastyan. It's kind of like a weirdly sexual The Price is Right. Or maybe Oprah – “You get an orgasm! And you get an orgasm! Everyone gets an orgasm!”).
But in a bright beaming moment, Sevastyan realizes that he should have trusted Nat with knowing her own body.
“My fantasy made flesh. I should never have doubted you to know your own mind.”
There’s also some adorable, tender scenes of aftercare between the two of them.
More often than not, I find myself liking the heroes more than heroines in romances. This was not the case here. Though Nat could be a little too curious at times, pushing when she should have exercised some patience, her insights into relationships and sexuality formed her into an intelligent, progressive, and modern woman. She’s also hilarious, especially when paired with her friend Jess.
Onward we rode. In movies, getting caught in the rain with a hot guy was always sexy. I was freezing, certain I looked like a drenched cat, and terrified of being electrocuted. To add insult to injury, my riding pants were creeping up my ass by uncomfortable degrees.
I wasn’t a big fan of women trying to fix men, to change them. I always figured there were guys enough out there, so I should look for a total package that was already fully Ikea-assembled—or go without.
“You don’t have to be broken to like kink. Look at me. I had the most idyllic upbringing ever, and I can’t stop thinking about it with you.”
And my favorite:
“You know you’re probably going to have to cut this loose, Nat. I think you’re hoping that I’ll tell you to stick it out through thick and thin, through all his wank moppet damage. Wrong. Sometimes self-preservation means preservation of self.”
“That’s deep, Jess.” And it was exactly where I was failing: keeping the Natalie in Natalie. “Where’d you hear that?”
“Read it in a twatting romance novel.”
While some of the events are, to put it plainly, fucking insane, I honestly didn’t care. It was a fun read and I had plenty of laughs recounting the scenes to my friends. Lots of CAPSLOCK were used. And, while the hero does display some problematic and dickwad tendencies, he does show growth…mainly through Nat’s insights. His sexual experience meets up with her emotional experience. Natalie made this book for me.
Kresley Cole’s gorgeous one-liners certainly helped.
Sevastyan looked at me like a man plummeting toward death would look at a pair of wings.