Dear Ms. Hayes,
I requested your books because they are published by the same publishing house that first published Fifty Shades of Grey, and I was interested to read another of their authors, even though Fifty Shades really didn’t work for me. I guess I was missing something because I hadn’t grasped that The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House only publishes fan fiction, and that is the case here as well. Your stories are Twific, or, loosely based on the characters from the Twilight series. Honestly? I didn’t grasp that until Ridley alerted me to it on Twitter, but I can also be slow on the uptake. What I found was a story that I believe was intended to be a deep character study, but was almost wholly missing any action to drive the narrative forward.
Stephen Coleman is a young, dynamic businessman running a large non-profit. He is also a Dominant. Stephen agrees to meet his former college roommate, Daren, for lunch one day to discuss a private matter. Daren has become aware of a young woman, Brianna, who is being kept as a sexual slave by a mutual acquaintance, Ian Pierce. Pierce is a sadistic son of a bitch who keeps multiple women as slaves. But when Stephen hears that this young woman, Brianna, is being kept against her will, he realizes he must do something to help her. He arranges to meet Ian and buys Brianna from him.
What he finds is a young woman who has been brutalized. She has scars all over her body from cigarette burns; she’s deeply bruised on her inner thighs and has been repeatedly raped. She’s practically catatonic and is completely terrified of Stephen. As he gets to know Brianna, he discovers that the torture she’s been through is worse than anyone could imagine. At one point, her former Master punished her for trying to escape by putting her naked in an enclosed space with a bunch of snakes. He allowed another man to penetrate her with any object he could find, big or small. He allowed others to beat her, rape her, and formulate any kind of abuse they could perpetrate. It was a horrifying existence for Brianna, and one that left both physical and emotional scars that seemed insurmountable to me.
As soon as Stephen sees her, though, he’s captivated. He knows that he’ll do anything to bring her out of her shell, and he wants her to be his submissive. While Stephen is finding ways to heal Brianna, he is also falling in love with her. Although, to be honest, I never was really sure why. Was it her total reliance on him? Was it her vulnerability? It was never made clear to me what made him fall in love with her.
This story is told from both Stephen and Brianna’s perspective, although the books focus so much on Stephen’s viewpoint and the story seems as if it’s his, rather than Brianna’s. Stephen is a mostly kindhearted guy who is desperate to begin a deeper relationship with Brianna, but realizes that he must help her get well first, as she’s terrified of everything. He keeps a very tight rein on his physical needs, understanding that rushing Brianna could be catastrophic. Brianna is mystified as to why Stephen is so anxious to help her. She’s been shown no compassion during her time with Ian Pierce and truly doesn’t understand why he’d go out of his way to help her.
Stephen is working to try to understand how Brianna came to be in the situation she was in. He discovers that Brianna was sold into slavery to pay some debts by her father. He also learns that Brianna’s father is searching for her, and has engaged a family friend to assist. Will Brianna’s father find her? What will she do when she discovers that she is, in fact, not Stephen’s slave?
This is definitely not your typical romance series. Brianna is a deeply troubled individual, and she is brought into a totally new situation. She is trying to adjust to her new Master’s expectations and is terrified that he’ll rape her at any moment. As Stephen consistently shows that he is only interested in her welfare, she begins the healing process. Stephen is desperate to have a more physical connection to Brianna, but he refuses to breach her trust and is trying to respect the fact that she is scarred physically and emotionally by the abuse that she’s faced. He tells her that he won’t have sex with her until she asks for it. But he is physical with her, kissing and fondling her as well as often forcing her to have conversations with her so that he understands her mindset. He gives her safe words and often asks her to rate on a scale of 1-10 what her panic threshold is as he exposes her to different situations.
It was unclear to me what Stephen’s motivations were throughout the two books. Was he training Briana strictly to be his submissive? He refuses help for Brianna on a number of fronts, including from his uncle, who is a psychologist. He wants to be the one to help her, and while his methods do help Brianna, as a rational person, I kept thinking that what she needed was beyond what he was going to be able to provide. How can someone without any professional training help someone who has been repeatedly brutalized? His actions regarding her mental state read to me quite selfishly, as if his need for her to become “his” submissive overrode the understanding that she needed professional help. He was absolutely the sun around which her entire life orbited, and I think he liked it that way. I wonder if the message is that the power of Stephen’s love could completely heal Brianna.
While I found both characters to be interesting, the lack of action in the story is what ultimately made it fail for me. This is almost literally an hour-by-hour unfolding love story. In particular, Brianna’s emotions were very unclear to me, but I’m not sure how they could be made clearer. She is conflicted about every action she takes: “Will Stephen be happy?”, “What will he do to me?”, etc. Is this even an individual who is capable of love after the trauma she’s experienced? Clearly, she’d felt love in the past, as she speaks with affection about her mother, who died when she was young. But romantic love? She’s certainly not there yet when Need (Book 2) ends.
The book focuses primarily on him worrying about her, and her worrying that she’s failing in her service to him. Even after he explains that she is not his slave, she only cares about how she can serve him. She is deeply in need of professional assistance, which Stephen refuses on multiple occasions in order to “protect” her. The fact that she has been tortured by Ian Pierce is really never addressed, even though to me, he was the clear villain of the piece, along with her father. Plus, the sheer inertia of the story made it very slow reading for me. Both books end on a sort of cliffhanger, making the books seem unfinished. While book two ends with the potential for some actual action to take place, I find that I am no longer interested in what I assume will be the eventual Happily Ever After for Brianna and Stephen – they’ll have to find it without me. Final grade D.