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REVIEW: Owned and Owner by Anneke Jacob

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.

Owned and Owner by Anneke JacobMs. 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.

Grade: B+

Best regards,

-Sarah F.

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Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

23 Comments

  1. Rai
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 15:02:25

    The problem I had with this story was boredom. Very little seemed to happen with the main protagonists & I found myself looking forward to the friends secondary story more. His excitement over sharing ownership & the enjoyment in his new slave was fun to read.

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  2. Cara
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 17:55:17

    Great review! Even thought it’s probably not exactly what gets me “excited,” I am now very interested in reading this just to see how it’s handled, and for the writing itself.

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  3. Roslyn Holcomb
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 18:33:33

    See, I’m really intrigued by the notion of a planet where hetero males are rare, i think the whole buying a woman thing is intriguing. Unfortunately BDSM isn’t my bag, at least not on this level (I had to google “ponyplay” and I’m still not sure I get it). I’m trying to decide if I’m intrigued enough to try it anyway.

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  4. Lori
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 18:35:56

    Just curious…if the planets are entirely populated by one sex, how do they reproduce?

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  5. SarahF
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 19:02:49

    @Roslyn Holcomb: This is *VERY* BDSM.

    @Lori: It’s far future, so they’ve both got the technology to reproduce with in vitro fertilization and synthetic wombs, etc., etc. The point, of course, is not the Science Fiction part, but the set-up of the world in order to facilitate the slavery part. ;-)

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  6. Janine
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 22:39:17

    This sounds hot. It also reminds me of a feminist 1970s SF short story I read for Freshman English in college, “When it Changed” by Joanna Russ. It takes place on a planet inhabited wholly by women — all the men died generations before and now the women are happily married to each other and raising daughters through biotechnology. Then men from a far away planet make contact, and the women are dismayed to realize the men expect them to switch orientation. Russ’s story is narrated in first person by one of the women in a way that plays the reader’s expectations.

    It was a fascinating premise for a story, as is the one you describe. But I’m not sure a planet of only men is as convincing as a planet of only women. Women produce only X chromosomes, but men have both X and Y, which means that while two women could only produce daughters, two men could produce both sons and daughters. I find it hard to believe that none of the men on an entire world would want to have a daughter. Are their reproductive rights limited?

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  7. Rei
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 01:26:50

    Sounds like an interesting book! Out of curiosity, though, is there any mention of an inverted version of the men-buying-women market? I mean, heterosexual dominant women who want to have a man? Because my one problem with the set-up as you’ve described it is the way it all seems…kind of…slanted towards the men. I realise that some of that would be necessary because of the focus of the story, but it seems a shame to have a futuristic universe in which this dynamic is key and still have that inequality.

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  8. Maili
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 05:05:23

    @Rei: Ritual of Proof by Dara Joy, maybe? The hero was a virgin, too. It was an okay read, but the concept was fun.

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  9. LG
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 06:53:47

    @Maili: Also, to some extent Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels trilogy and her other books in that world.

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  10. Sarah Frantz
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 06:56:37

    @Janine: You’re really REALLY thinking too hard about this, I promise. No, each planet self-selects the potential foetuses not only for sex, but also for size and abilities.

    @Rei: No, and that was the one most disappointing feature of the world building. No reciprocal exchange.

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  11. Isobel Carr
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 09:22:34

    @Sarah Frantz: I’m with Janine in that this kind of stuff often proves to be a stumbling block for me when reading PNR, UF, and SFF. Though it hardly matters with this book as the excerpt alone squicks me out. Clearly giving up control is not a fantasy of mine …

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  12. Ridley
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 11:49:22

    Guys, the world-building here isn’t the point. Reading this for the sci-fi would be like reading an HP for the realism. The setting is just a cover for non-con fantasy.

    This review nudges me a bit further over my pony play squick. It sounds like my sort of read.

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  13. Milena
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 12:16:39

    @Ridley: I just have to say that I first interpreted the “HP” in your comment as “Harry Potter”. So I should probably stay away from this book, as leaving the SFF-coneptualization behind is obviously not an instinctive reaction with me…

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  14. cleo
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 13:50:46

    Thanks for the review Sarah. I’m not big on dehumanization, so I’m going to skip this one. On a slightly different topic, I’ve been working through some of your recommendations (in the comments on one of the Shades of Gray / BDSM posts – either here or SBTB – can’t remember which). I loved Wicked West by Victoria Dahl and Collision Course by K A Mitchell. So thanks for mentioning them.

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  15. SarahF
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 13:51:47

    @cleo: Yay! I’m so thrilled. :) Thanks for letting me know.

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  16. Fred
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 16:04:26

    Sounds like a Republican’s wet dream. I bet senators would get off on this.

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  17. cleo
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 16:34:31

    @SarahF: You’re welcome. Oh, and I liked Natural Law too, but not quite as much. It was the serial killer, not the bdsm, that squicked me out.

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  18. Sarah Frantz
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 17:31:49

    @cleo: Ah yes. That’s definitely the weakest part of the book. My favorite of hers is ROUGH CANVAS: m/m BDSM. A bit heavy duty but really brilliant and no distracting mystery.

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  19. Ridley
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 17:41:23

    @Fred: What the hell do politics have to do with this?

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  20. Loreen
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 14:30:40

    Joseph is a good writer and I was surprised how much that helped me get over some material that would normally have me closing a book in squeamish disgust. This is way too hard core for me, unfortunately. I wish someone as good as joseph could write erotic, relationship oriented bdsm romance without the public sex, partner sharing, sex club, dehuminization element. You know, like the majority of real life people who do bdsm, but still lead normal work and family lives and love each other…

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  21. Anne V
    Mar 26, 2012 @ 10:01:44

    @Loreen – I think Jacob is Joseph’s equal as a writer, and possibly better. Her interest is narrower, for sure – she writes TPE and TPE only, at least so far, and Joseph’s all over the bdsm spectrum. Also, with Annabel Joseph, you get to see a lot of the struggle around consent and sustaining consent, which just isn’t there in Anneke Jacob’s work (at least not so far) and that provides tension.

    @Sarah Frantz – I loved Rough Canvas. Easily my favorite of the entire series, and she managed to avoid the mystery and mystical stuff and damaged people being healed by bdsm/using bdsm to heal themselves which I often find really sort of offensive.

    Which is one of the wins of Anneke Jacob, actually – people just want what they want, not because they’re all damaged or broken or were green berets/seals/special forces and it exaggerated their dom-ness and now they can’t step off or whatever. It’s just wiring – hardcore wiring – and basically all TPE/CNC, and it’s not pathologized.

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  22. Charlotte Stein
    Mar 26, 2012 @ 19:13:04

    @Rei:

    I don’t know if this would be a problem for me or not with this book, but MAN I would read a book that has the scenario you’ve just described. I would read it like WHOA.

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  23. Rei
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 03:34:29

    @Charlotte Stein: *files that away for next stab at erotica*

    And what about submissive het men who want to buy a domme? That would be more interesting in terms of pure logistics. I mean, you have to buy a slave and then tell her that her purpose as your slave is to be your mistress…

    Ahem. Sorry.

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