"Where are we?" Max inquired, having kept silent for the entire trip. The outline of a stately mansion came into view as they approached a massive black security gate.
Stella glanced at Rocco without offering an explanation.
Rocco peered over his shoulder and gave Max a comforting look before stating, "Home."
Max wanted to blurt out with a laugh, but then she remembered the situation was all too serious.
"She lives here?" asked Max.
The car rolled to a stop in an area of the driveway where several expensive cars were parked under protective awnings. Ignition off, Rocco answered, "Yes, Max. This is where Sumera lives. It is also where your mother and I..." He cleared his throat before finishing the sentence, "where Stella and I met twenty years ago."
Max's mind was racing, noticing an attractive Asian woman riding a horse through the gardens in the distance. A younger fair-skinned man walked beside her, appearing to be attached by a leash that went from his neck to the woman's hand. She was dressed in black and brought the horse to a halt so she could wave at Stella and Rocco.
"Who's that?" Max asked. "Am I related to her, too?"
"No," Stella assured, "that's Marielle and her..."
Stella blurted, "Trainee..."
Okay, before we begin...spoiler alert. Imagine growing up all your life as a normal girl, going to school, having friends, and living an otherwise normal life in the suburbs when all of a sudden on your eighteenth birthday...
...you learn your parents are...
...wealthy billionaires and you never knew?
...wizards from a secret school of magic?
No, let's try mixing the Legion of Doom with the Fetish Society, throw a dark castle in there, and for your coming-of-age party you learn your parents are a slaves to "Sex Luthoress" super-villainess and you are somehow the new princess of a perverted house of twisted desire. Really, that is the vibe I got, and I blame myself watching the Justice League trailer over and over again because I like Jack White and hoping against hope for a Legion of Doom origin story movie...but that is beside the point.
But a Legion of Doom group of super-villains who do kinky fetish stuff?
Let's come together. With myself as the woman in the cat-suit. See you, that is going to last for a whole week's worth of bed-time fantasies. Okay, back. Whew. Those still have some staying power. Let's begin again.
"More like a tour guide than a father," Rocco said, "Those who belong here are allowed entrance. That key was designed for you, and only for you, and not to be shared with anyone, Maxie."I would say jumping tracks onto a pair of seemingly unconnected story-lines of two other couples at the manor. This is a minor complaint, honestly, but I felt a bit jarred at the sudden jump away from the 'story of Max' here. The beginning of the story so solidly sells Max and her predicament that following her was the only thing I wanted to do. I found myself so lost in Max's coming-of-age and new life that all I wanted to see was Max exploring this new world, finding the secrets of what goes on in this house herself, and slowly uncovering the mystery of her true lineage and with every page we dive deeper into the perverse and twisted nature of this Fetish Society and what goes on in this house.
"Uh, okay." The bizarreness was inescapable, like getting an unexpected and long-lasting hug from a stranger. Max asked, "So, the birthday gift comes with rules, too? What if I lose it?"
Rocco and Stella slipped into their secret language again, conversing without uttering a word. Then Rocco answered, "A lost key is punishable."
Stella added, "And you're not the irresponsible type, Max. We raised you to be accountable and conscientious."
"What's the punishment?"
Max's story is sold and delivered upon very strongly. The reason why I feel the disconnected jump is not because of a negative quality to the work, it is because the central story was delivered upon so wonderfully that I didn't want to break away. It is the mark of a well-crafted plot, but there are also feelings that develop when you have such a strong central character.
We become attached, which is not a bad thing, but feelings can develop when our attention is diverted elsewhere. I blame my unpracticed patience for these feelings of impatience.
The side stories themselves are very well-done and kinky as all hell, and I enjoyed them very much - but I wanted Max in them. I wanted Maxina, the nubile, inexperienced, fish-out-of-water girl discovering who she is, to be the reader's eyes. I wanted her to peek through the curtains and watch these couples. I wanted her to have that strange feeling in her loins as she realizes this is, no, this can't be, who she is. I wanted that moment of rebellion. I wanted that rejection of her true nature. I wanted that strange suspicion and question in her mind of, "what if this turns me on?"
And all that comes from this single moment.
Perhaps we get that in coming books, perhaps, and I am being impatient again. I have always said the mark of a great book is if the reader is sitting there frustrated wanting more, flipping pages, writing negative reviews, and screaming at the writer for not giving them what they want. Great writers never give the reader what they want. But on a more basic, storytelling level, I wanted Max to be involved with these other couples. I know it is a bit trite to have the other actress in the erotic movie "peek in" on a couple doing their thing, but this is a larger metaphor for how we, as humans, are exposed to a new world of sensuality and lust...and love. We all have that "peek in" moment in our lives, and I don't fault it as a literary device since it is a basic and natural experience for us as humans.
I come back to this review and think my original feelings a bit demanding, and re-reading these parts gave me a new appreciation for being able to peek into the bedrooms and parlors of this forbidden place. The 'peeking in' trope also has been done to death in adult movies so my suggestions are admittedly a bit trite, but that voyeurism remains a strong and motivating factor - and one that is familiar to our fantasies and desires. These are feelings though, and I guess in my original stream of thoughts I would want Max more connected to these parts - and thus more connected to the guests and inhabitants in some forbidden and voyeuristic way.
I search and feel because there is a need and desire there. If I get strong feelings about a book in direction and style it is usually a good one. Great books ignite blazing passions of debate.
And I should say there is a very brave start on this one. We get a three or four chapter long introduction just building relationships. I need to say these were very well done, and the feeling of anticipation and curiosity I got from this long, slow burn kept me on the edge of my seat. Normally I like books to start with a bang, but this one lit the fuse and let us savor in watching it burn. Nothing was revealed, things were teased at, and I was sitting there wondering if her parents really weren't vampires or wizards the way they were acting. It is a wonderfully done piece of writing, very nuanced and layered, and worthy of great regard in the crafting and execution.
And when it was revealed her parents were into some seriously kinky shit?
Yes, that worked for me. Of course, in my mind I am a bit twisted and imagining this is something much more strange and comic-book villainous, but those are just my fantasies, and a great book always inspires us to imagine we could be somehow a part. And I did. The characters feel like they are are ripped out of some kinky, Game of Thrones type fetish show, they have some seriously real weight and presence to them, and I could imagine them being played by some serious acting types. Really, yes, the writing has this gravitas to it that thrills me, and the 'acting' in this book blew my mind in the way it was written and slowly revealed in the central plot.
This is an amazing work which stirred some very powerful and compelling feelings within me. Perhaps my initial responses are wrong and the next book in the series will explain more, I am not a perfect reader and I know the joy of being a submissive to a dominant writer. We need to learn patience. Why things were done the way they were. Perhaps we are too quick to judge, and we need to give things a chance and time.
We need more understanding and calm in these times, for sure.
Or I need a reading mistress to teach me.
Highly recommended. A strange and mysterious journey into womanhood, dominance, fetish, and self-discovery. There is rebellion here, and a wonderfully sold and delivered cast of characters who grab our attention.
And in the center stands Max.
And the question of who she is, and the choices she shall make.
I am ready for book two.
And that, my friends, is the mark of a good book.