Legal notice: I was given an ARC (advance review copy) of this book by the publisher. Nonetheless, this review represents my own opinion and wasn’t influenced by the author or the publisher in any way. No monetary compensation was paid in exchange for this review.
Title: Fighting Attraction (Redemption #4)
Author: Sarah Castille
Genre: Erotic Romance / BDSM Romance
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Date of Publication: April 4, 2017
Price: US$6.70 (Kindle)
About Sarah Castille
Sarah Castille is a Canadian NYTimes and USA Today Bestselling author. She writes contemporary erotic romance and romantic suspense novels. Many of her books feature strong alpha males, or are set in the realm of BDSM or D/s fiction.
Jack “Rampage” Caldwell is Redemption’s top heavyweight fighter. But he has a secret nobody can ever know about, and he hates himself for it. Twice a week, Rampage transforms into Master Jack, a notorious sadist only the most hard-core submissives will play with.
Penny Worthington wants him. Beneath her prim British exterior beats a tortured heart. But can she be the submissive Master Jack is looking for?
There were many things I really loved about this book, and others–which had mainly to do with the representation of BDSM or the characters–that I didn’t like. Overall, the romance between Jack and Penny is beautiful and convincing, and their characters certainly have chemistry. Each one deals with their own problems and conflicts: Jack has an issue with being a sadist, Penny has self-confidence problems and psychological issues. In other words, they’re not the perfect hero and heroine that you find in other romances.
For better structure, I will break my thoughts down into two sections, one where I go more into the formal details, and a second section, in which I go into the BDSM part.
Style and Plot
I will start with the positives.
- This book has two very strong POVs, and although it was written in first person present tense (which I normally hate as a narrative perspective, especially for erotic romance or erotica) the author managed to draw me in, and that is quite an accomplishment. I love her fluent style, her internal monologue, and the humor in the character’s unique voices.
- No wordiness. This book was a joy to read. No run-on sentences. No superfluous adverbs. No incessant use of dialogue tags. Style-wise, this author is a joy, and I am certainly learning a thing or two of her style.
- Conflict and Plot: Overall they are sound, and most conflicts are resolved at the end. (One isn’t, but I’ll refer to that in the BDSM section later.)
There aren’t many negatives for me when it comes to style. Mainly one actually:
I feel that this book should have been shorter. Many scenes in the last half of the book seem repetitive or redundant, and sadly, yes, even some sex scenes.
I looked again at the plot, wondering why, as a reader, I felt that way. In my opinion, the reason for why I found myself skimming over parts in the second half is, that there is either no conflict, or the conflict feels forced or repetitive.
The redundant sex scenes offer no new character development, no resolution of any issue or conflict, and therefore seem like filler-scenes to which there is no purpose. Which I can forgive. I know many people like reading erotic romances for the abundance of sex scenes–whether there is purpose for them or not. I guess I was just surprised to find these in an erotic romance book, since they are usually only used in erotica.
Personally, I enjoy it more when sex (especially in BDSM) serves some purpose–either the characters learn something new about each other, or limits are being discovered or expanded upon, etc. But that’s just personal preference, and should not deter you from reading and thoroughly enjoying this book.
As most of you know, I have a strong interest in a healthy and authentic portrayal of BDSM in BDSM romances, so this is an aspect I will make an own section from now on whenever I review BDSM romances.
I love the conflict of Jack, who, as a sadist has a deeply seated conflict with his needs, and I absolutely adored the solution the protagonists came up with in the end. I will put this under a spoiler tag:
Also, I really liked that Jack plays with male submissives. Bravo! The author is not afraid to let her kickass alpha-Dom play with male submissives without the character (or other characters) questioning his sexuality or gender identity. In fact, it is just accepted as a fact without even asking questions. Very sex-positive. Just beautiful.
Thirdly, I very much enjoy that this book makes an attempt at showing that sex and BDSM activities don’t have to go hand in hand. It also shows, in the character of Penny, that being into BDSM and being a submissive don’t have to go hand in hand. I was pleasantly surprised by that. These days–not least questionable thanks to 50 Shades of Grey–for many people BDSM activities go hand in hand with either identifying as Dominant or as submissive. A very restrictive and incomplete view of the BDSM scene, as many people identify as neither, or switch their roles.
Therefore, I very much enjoyed Penny’s attitude of “I don’t wanna be your sub, I just want you to give me pain”. It struck me as presenting a very underrepresented side of BDSM.
However, there are some things I didn’t enjoy, or would have liked to see explored further.
Let me start with the major one. There is one BDSM scene in the book in which Penny fails to safeword even though she should. Penny knows she should, but she doesn’t because she wants to please. Jack knows she should safeword, yet he pushes her further.
This is a huge issue in a BDSM relationship. Many Doms won’t even play with a submissive whom they cannot trust to safeword when necessary. And a Dom who continues a scene despite knowing the sub is not safewording when she should–and therefore moving past a limit–is generally considered a very bad Dominant, if not abusive. The author makes clear that Jack is absolutely aware. And that left me with a shallow feeling.
It could have worked, since it reveals a major conflict, but the thing is, in the book this deeply seated conflict is never resolved. Penny thinks she has to “endure” because otherwise she won’t be good enough for Jack–which shows concerning self-confidence issues that Dom and sub usually have to work out together.
I think the fact that this wasn’t addressed more in conversation is a lost opportunity. Which brings me to my second point of criticism: missing communication.
This was a big one, but I know these days a huge portion of BDSM novels has this issue, so I don’t really hold it against the author. The reality is that readers have become so used to BDSM romances that feature Doms who are magically able to read their submissive’s minds and just know what they need without communication, that good, realistic portrayals of BDSM relationships that include communication are perceived as not hot.
To me, this is a huge issue, because, if done right, communication can be incredibly hot and aid in both character and relationship development. Communication also usually adds a layer of intimacy to the character’s relationship that I just missed in this book.
Scenes are never talked about. Limits are never discussed between the two characters–even for scenes where in reality it would be absolutely mandatory (such as the interrogation scene towards the end, which can go horribly wrong with a character who has a history of abuse such as Penny, especially if the Dom doesn’t know potential triggers).
But also (and this is more striking), missing communication is the key to all the character’s problems–yet, they never identify this as their problem, nor do they seem to work it out. Therefore I, as the reader, am a bit skeptical about how long their relationship will last after the story’s end.
As for the individual characters, Jack comes across as a brute a few times. I know the author didn’t mean for him to be that way. However, he starts several fights because he cannot control his anger or express it in a non-violent way.
In addition, towards the end, he puts restrictions on Penny (she’s not allowed to go out without him anymore, and not allowed to wear revealing clothes anymore, etc.) which are clearly unwanted, and therefore non-consensual. All of these DO NOT happen in the context of a BDSM scene.
Penny herself repeatedly states that she isn’t interested in being a submissive outside of a scene (she’s a masochist, in it for the pain). So to me Jack’s behavior moves along the lines of abusive–the kind that gives me a knot in the stomach.
A Dom–sadist no less–who cannot control his outbursts of anger is problematic. And while he never loses control in a scene, it still makes me wonder where that sudden control comes from, when outside of scenes he’s rather impulsive and incapable of controlling himself.
I hesitate to classify BDSM into real or fake, as many member of the community do. Rather I like to classify it into healthy or unhealthy (since that seems more to the point). And there were a couple of times where I had a faint sense that the relationship in this book wasn’t quite healthy–for above mentioned reasons.
However, since it wasn’t consistently throughout, it didn’t spoil the reading experience. It’s still worth mentioning, since I know that consent and a healthy portrayal of BDSM is important to many of my readers. So I’d be interested in how you perceive the relationship in this book? Let me know in the comment section (but as always, please remain respectful).
Another major no-go to me was a scene at the beginning where Penny needs to enter Club Sin in order to deliver legal documents to the owner. The owner refuses to come out to see her, and instead forces her to sign the club contract which contains a paragraph that she agrees to be punished for acting against the rules. (She is forced to sign the contract to complete her job, so this has a major dubious consent flag already to me.) When she accidentally breaks a rule, he moves in to punish her.
This whole scene struck me as unacceptable, since it broke one of the HUGE no-gos of almost every safe BDSM community: involving non-BDSM (vanilla) people in BDSM activities.
At the time, Penny has shown no sign that she may be interested in BDSM activities, so the club owner’s behavior borders coercion and sexual harassment–if not sexual assault. That was the one big scene in the book where I felt actual anger rising inside me, thinking, “Great, another book that portrays our communities as inherently rapey“.
So if the author ever revises her book to release a new edition, I strongly advise to rewrite this particular scene. This scene almost made me stop reading, and frankly, I only went on because this was an ARC I received and wanted to write a review for. In retrospect, I am glad I did because the book was WAY better than this initial scene made me expect. But normal readers without a motivation to keep on reading may not give the book the benefit of the doubt.
As for my last issue: can we please be done already with making our heroines BBW (big beautiful women) who have an issue with their body and its curves? I know writing BDSM romances with BBWs are all the hype at the moment–so much in fact, that every single book I read recently had an overweight heroine.
I am overweight myself. But can I just say: enough already!
Why is this an issue that gets hyped up into a personal conflict? Not every woman who is a tad overweight needs to have an issue with her body, and has to have a Dom tell her that she is beautiful before she can accept herself. That sends a horrible message out to women.
I know the original intention was to create body-positivity, but the way most of these novels do it, it has the opposite effect. Women have enough media in society telling them already that they should feel bad about being overweight. We don’t need romance novels to send the same message. And we certainly don’t need them to convey that the solution to a negative body image is a good-looking man accepting our body before we do. I just wanna see one BBW heroine who is confident and happy with the way she looks.
So, the question at the end of every book review is of course: would I recommend it?
Yes. Fighting Attraction is a good BDSM romance, that I enjoyed reading very much. The sex is hot, the characters are (for the most part) likable, and the story is logical.
Fighting Attraction will hit shelves on April 4, and I absolutely encourage you to give this author a read, especially because of her great writing style and the convincing narrative voice.