Dear Ms. Jacob.
Readers: This book is hardcore, heavy-duty, almost-but-not-quite non-consensual BDSM. I hesitate to call it a romance and yet it really almost is. It’s total 24/7 dehumanization of the female submissive. It is NOT for everyone. I loved it and I heartily recommend it, but readers, please read my review before buying, because it’s unlike anything else I’ve reviewed.
Ms. Jacob, I’ve tried your As She’s Told and it’s just slightly too…squicky for me. I never enjoyed the pony-play parts of Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty series. Ditto Molly Weatherfield’s (aka Pam Rosenthal) Carrie’s Story when it gets into pony play. I have friends who adore pony play and it’s seriously beautiful, but I’m pretty uninterested. So the dehumanization and pony play of the contemporary set As She’s Told is…not my thing. It goes just a bit too far for me, no matter how well-written it is.
This story, though, takes those ideas and moves them to a hypothetical far future. Humans have colonized the galaxy and there are two sister planets, Henth and Raniz. Background is infodumped in Chapter 3, but the upshot of it is that Raniz is populated by small, entirely lesbian women and Henth is populated by huge, entirely homosexual men. Except for the few throwbacks. Heterosexuality is almost unheard-of and something to be ashamed of. If women on Raniz are convicted of a severe enough crime, they are offered the choice of rehabilitation, exile, or slavery on Henth. They have to choose to go to Henth and are then subjected to a month of intense attempts to convince them to choose otherwise. Once they get to Henth, they are sold to the highest bidder. There is intense competition among the small group of men on Henth who realize they’re heterosexual. When one manages to buy a pet woman, he can then choose to do to his new exotic pet whatever he wants.
The narrator is a woman who has worked hard most of her life to get to the point that she’s given the choice to go to Henth. That is, she’s a malingerer and a random sabateur, hoping she’d finally do something awful enough to be convicted and offered the choice. Because she wants to go. She wants to be owned by a man, she wants to be a pet, she wants to have decisions taken away from her. When she gets to Henth, she’s bought by Garid who has worked hard for years to be able to afford a woman. With full awareness that his new pet is human, intelligent, with a mind and a will, Garid treats her like an animal. He refuses to allow her to learn the language, he trains her using trial and error and severe physical punishment.
The narrative tension is in the narrator’s loss of will. She narrates her complete and utter submission to Garid. The story is also told from Garid’s third person point of view, and from the perspective of one of Garid’s friends. The “romance” in the story is in the progress of Garid’s utter control over the narrator. There are set-backs and changes. There’s pony play and orgasm control and humiliation and group sex. But it’s all about how Garid becomes the narrator’s will:
My master had taught me a great deal, far beyond my childish imagination. One thing he taught me was that I had been completely wrong about what I had wanted. I didn’t really want my Ranizen fantasies. Behind every one of those was a mind and an imagination – mine. Every one had a star, bound, abused, and brought to ecstasy – me. I was the center of those fantasies; I controlled them. I controlled the outcomes. I made them safe and scary and sexy and orgasmic.
I had fantasized about losing control, giving up autonomy, always to a man who would want what I wanted and give it to me. It wasn’t losing control at all, it was choosing the plot by inventing my own cast of characters. Playing at helplessness. But my master didn’t give me what I wanted; he took what he wanted. And I was utterly, utterly grateful that it was so. All I needed to know was what he wanted from me. All I had to be was the instrument of his will and pleasure.
How many times had I been like that stupid animal at the vet, coming to the end of its chain and looking surprised? I didn’t choose. I was an animal – less than that – a slave of an animal that had less than an animal’s autonomy and less than an animal’s rights. Even pets get off the leash from time to time. I had no rights to attention, no rights to orgasm, no rights to anything at all. My master had bought every privilege I ever owned.
I had been halfway there, that night in the tool shed. I had reached the point of resignation. But now I think I’d reached the point of joy.
The brilliant thing about this book, the thing that made it work for me, that made it one of the hottest things I’ve ever EVER read, was the 110% consensual nature of what happens in the book. The narrator is beaten, humiliated, fucked, shared, turned into an animal with no will of her own, and she craves every single thing that’s done to her. Every woman discussed in the book is utterly happy with her situation. The rightness of the situation for the characters is written into every word of the story. So readers can have their non-con with an utterly clear conscience.
More quirkily, I especially loved how the men in this book are aberrant. Garid has to come out to his father about buying a woman. There’s a whole chapter early on in which Garid and his friend discuss how they figured out that they’re heterosexual and dominant, how it’s changed their lives, how their families deal with it — all the things gay people go through here. It’s a lovely conceit in the book.
Calling it a “romance” is perhaps a stretch. Although Garid thinks at the end that he loves his pet, and indeed wouldn’t want any other relationship, he would have bought any slave at that point because they’re so rare and he had the money. Neither of the main characters have much choice in who they “love” — it’s almost a fated mate story in that respect. But the focus of the story is still 100% on the growth of the relationship between them.
Readers, if you like hard-core dehumanization BDSM, then this story is for you. I loved it. I thought it was almost a “sweet” story, in some respects. Both main and secondary characters have personalities that feed into how the story progresses. It’s not merely a bunch of stroke scenes sewn together. There is narrative arc and emotional progress throughout the story, so it’s worth reading end-to-end, as well as picking out individual scenes for closer…inspection, shall we say.