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REVIEW: Duck! by Kim Dare

Dear Ms. Dare.

You have a knack for writing characters who are all different, no matter how many times you seem to write them into similar situations or how similar they seem at the start. And your conflicts are entirely character-based, so the conflicts are all different. I find your construction of BDSM sometimes requires a lot of suspension of disbelief but as you get the emotions right, no matter how far-fetched some of the scenarios, I (usually) don’t really mind.

In my shopping sprees buying your books, however, I had avoided this particular book. I’m a simple girl and tend to like my romance non-paranormal, non-world-building-heavy. I like books to focus on the characters, not on supernatural aspects. But when I was rhapsodizing about your other books, Duck! was recommended so often and by so many people I trust, that I bought it, devoured it, and loved it.

Ori Jones is an avian shifter. The avian shifter community is rigidly heirarchical, with birds of prey as the aristocracy and all other birds fulfilling more or less submissive roles below them. The bird you are seems to guide your personality to a great extent, so crows are assholes who hang out in packs, ravens are clever and strong, seagulls are bad-tempered, peacocks are tattoo artists. And everyone’s gay. Or at least, willing to fuck other men.

Up front, the one thing that bothered me most about this book is that there are NO women. Anywhere. Not one female is mentioned — literally, the words “she” and “her” don’t show up once. I have no idea if there are female shifters, no idea how shifting gets passed down, no idea if women CAN be shifters, or if they can be a part of the shifting community. I found that extremely odd, especially since, if the entire world is built on heirarchies, some species of birds are matriarchal, with reversed gender dimorphism. If the invisibility of women in m/m romance bothers readers, they should avoid this book, because women are more that invisible — they’re almost hyper-present in their complete absence.

Anyway…Ori is “an ugly little duckling,” according to the avian elders who watched his partial shift when he first joined the community. He can’t fully shift until he comes of age at 21. He’s been serving in the “nest” for six months, a sort of communal hotel/dormitory/community center, having come to the community at 20 because his foster parents suggested he see if he’s a shifter (implying a Alternate Universe in which shifting is known and acknowledged by outside humans, but this is never really dealt with or discussed in the book). Ori’s been serving in the communal restaurant/cafeteria, suffering the abuse of the birds higher in rank than him (pretty much anyone). One day, Raynard, a high-ranking hawk shifter, saves Ori (twice) from a pack of crows and eventually takes him from the nest to be a personal servant. And that’s…pretty much the story for much of the book, although the emotional stakes are higher than they sound here. Ori serves Raynard and slowly finds his place in the world as they slowly figure out their relationship. Ori is first servant, then submissive to Raynard, then lover, then beloved. But all is halted when he completes his first shift.

This gets a bit spoilery, perhaps. It happens just over halfway through the story, so if you don’t like to know this stuff, then don’t read anymore.

This story is overtly styled on the “Ugly Duckling” fairytale, so it should be obvious what Ori actually shifts into, rather than a duck. But this changes everything, because swans are:

the purest species of avian that exists. They are good, and noble, and beautiful. They have the most exquisite spirits, the finest temperaments.

Swans are the tiptop of avian heirarchy, treated like royalty, cossetted and served, able to command all other avians, no matter their rank. It would have been nice to have some sort of indication, some foreshadowing, some hint of a swan’s rank prior to Ori’s shift, so we could have known what was coming. Instead, it comes out of the blue, because, really, why would a swan be royalty in the heirarchy except for the need to fit the fairy tale inspiration? So Raynard leaves Ori at the nest to get used to his new life as an unexpectedly high-ranking bird. Except Ori hates it, is actively hurt by losing his master, by not being allowed to serve, as is his nature.

The D/s in this book is all about the characters’ nature, tied up with their avian species. And I love what Dare does with Ori’s nature as a swan, why and how he’s a better swan when allowed to act upon his submissive nature. This is an incredibly emotional book. Not much actually happens, but every action is deeply felt by both characters (and we do get both Ori’s and Raynard’s viewpoints), their motivations deeply explored, their responses deeply examined. And it’s a very sexy book. Raynard and Ori have a lot of hot sex, all of it D/s flavored.

In fact, it’s got one of my favorite lines so far for a D/s sex scene. Ori, of course, is not allowed to come unless with his master’s express permission. Raynard’s just had a wonderful orgasm, leaving Ori wanting:

The older man pushed the last of his clothes off the bed and collapsed back against the mattress. Ori nibbled at his bottom lip as he watched the dominant settle and rest. There was a sensitive spot on his lip, where his master’s teeth had caught him hard enough to draw blood. He ran his tongue over it, relishing the sensations it sent spiraling through him.

“Come here.”

The first word almost had him spilling onto the sheet. Somehow, Ori managed to shuffle forward without tripping over his orgasm en route. [Seriously, I just love that. Sweet and funny.] His master’s hand wrapped around his cock as he reached his side, his grip tight and perfect.

Ori met Raynard’s eyes. There was a touch of amusement mixed in with the sleepiness and the afterglow, but all the anger and confusion was gone, at least for a little while. Moving his own hands behind his back, Ori knelt next to his master and arranged himself as close as he could to his rest position, his knees spread wide apart and his head bowed to watch his master’s hand toy with him.

Raynard had always liked to hold him like that, to cradle him in the palm of his hand and know that he had complete control over his lover. He was treating him in exactly the same way he had when he was a duck. Ori had never been more grateful to feel so painfully frustrated in his life.

“Come.”

The word was said at his master’s discretion, and according to his own timetable. Ori knew that. He also knew he’d never been more thankful to hear it spoken.

He came. Lights flashing, head spinning and his master’s hand never even slowing its movements. The older man’s palm kept pumping around his shaft long after he had stilled.

Ori whimpered, too sensitive to truly enjoy his master’s touch right then, too lost in his submission to even consider protesting. Gradually his master’s hand slowed of its own accord until it finally left him completely.

Despite my misgivings about the utter absence of females and the sometimes sketchiness of the world building, I really enjoyed this book. It was such a different take on the fairy tale, such a different take on a shifter myth, such a different take on D/s, that all in all, it was way more interesting — and way more well-written — than it was confusing or annoying.

Grade: B

Best regards,
-Sarah

P.S. Loved the cover. Very evocative. (Except that’s only one full wing, not two, which looks kinda funny.) Copy editing from this publisher sucks (I lost all my OMGWTFBBQ highlights when my Mantano app started acting strangely on my Android device, but still, the copy editing sucks.)

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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.

13 Comments

  1. LG
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 14:02:25

    I had been hoping you’d review this on DA, since I knew you liked other works by Dare. This is the first and only one of her books that I’ve read, and I didn’t like it all that much. I figured that, if you disliked it, I might need to try another one of Dare’s works, but now I’m thinking she’s just not the author for me.

    It really bothered me how full of holes the world-building was. The bird shifters were one of the main reasons why I bought Duck! and there were signs that the world could have been really fascinating, but then Dare did things like completely leave women out of the picture (so, one of the same things you noticed, but it weighed more in the negative for me than for you, I think). I was also slightly disturbed by Ori and Raynard’s relationship, which I didn’t view as entirely healthy. No, Raynard wasn’t the bastard to Ori that others had been, but I didn’t think Ori was ready for a relationship with anybody when he and Raynard first met. There were just a whole host of things in Duck! that didn’t work for me.

  2. jmc
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 14:57:05

    Is this a novella or book length? I’ve been tempted to try Dare’s other work, but some of the prices are ridiculously high for the extremely short length.

  3. Sarah Frantz
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 15:21:40

    @jmc: It is much longer than her shorts. If the world building bugs you, maybe try WITH THIS KISS instead. Also longer. And very good.

  4. Rachel Haimowitz
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 16:12:48

    This was my first Dare book, and I fell in love with it (and her) just like you did. My one real issue with the book was, as you said, the editing; the epithets drove me up the friggin wall (the older man, the bigger man, the hawk, the duckling, the submissive, and on and on), but the emotional beats were just too good for me to care very much. I actually think this is a really nice piece for people who DON’T read BDSM–it hits clearly enough on the driving forces (or, said drivers for these two, anyway) behind domination and submission to help people unfamiliar with–or outright baffled by–the lifestyle to begin to understand it. And I’ve not found a whole lot of BDSM books in the m/m genre that manage that. Plus the story’s a bit comforting in its familiarity, and there’s nothing really extreme or hardcore going on in this at all, so if someone’s maybe a little curious about BDSM but has been nervous so far about trying a BDSM read, I think DUCK is a great place to start.

  5. emmytie
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 17:04:21

    I’m so glad you liked this despite the issues. I’m super good at ignoring stuff that I don’t like when there’s good stuff to distract me, so I really loved Duck! Do you think you’ll review WITH THIS KISS too?

  6. Praxidike
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 17:52:42

    You 1000% had me until you said the copy editing sucks. I cannot deal with poorly edited books, whether it’s copy editing or another type of editing. Now I’m not so sure. Bad grammar, bad spelling, cruelty to commas and apostrophes – all of those things bring me right out of a story. I R Disappoint.

  7. Finn Marlowe
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 18:11:45

    I enjoyed Duck!, but I just finished With A Kiss and thought it was much better, and would recommend it before Duck! Ms. Dare drives me crazy with her name tags like “the submissive”, “the dominant”, or “the other man”, and With A Kiss was an improvement, plus the two main characters had time to build a relationship instead of insta-love, although I will say the world building of Duck! was more interesting.

  8. Sarah Frantz
    Jan 07, 2012 @ 00:48:57

    @emmytie: I’m…going to try.

  9. Sarah Frantz
    Jan 07, 2012 @ 00:50:04

    @Praxidike: It’s more…misplaced words, homonyms, that kind of thing. Someone obviously the publisher’s mistake and not the author’s. Not that this makes it better, really. Such a shame.

  10. Luce
    Jan 08, 2012 @ 21:37:16

    I picked up this book more out of the premise (afaik, there aren’t any avian!shifter books out there). Ended up reading it in one sitting, eating it all up with glee. Even the epithets (which tend to drive me up the wall and then some) couldn’t mar the sweetness and hotness of the overall story.

    Sadly, though, this is the only book by the author that I’ve liked. Tried to read two other books by Ms. Dare and couldn’t even finish them. Mostly due to a combination of epithet abuse and so-so plot.

    In any case, this is definitely a book to read for those of us who want something slightly different in the shifter genre. :)

  11. The new year’s start to reading | Shuffling Through A Bookless Desert
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 15:10:55

    [...]  Duck! by Kim Dare.  AU/UF m/m with D/s.  What an alphabet soup!  Bought a copy after it was reviewed by SarahF at Dear Author.  I enjoyed the characters’  interaction and appreciated the way the D/s [...]

  12. Tibby Armstrong
    Apr 05, 2012 @ 18:50:09

    Thank you for the eloquent and insightful review! DUCK! is one of my favorite novels. There’s not much I can add here in regard to the “why” that others have not already mentioned.

    What I’d like to posit, however, is a theory on why Ms. Dare uses phrases like “the other man” so frequently. There is a removed, dream-like quality to how Ori views Raynard in the book that this use of character tagging seems to lend itself to. The relationship develops at such a slow pace compared to most erotic romance, and the use of these non-intimate “tags” helps keep the reader in emotional suspense–one step removed, just like Ori, from an emotional sure-footedness that more familiar attributes (including “he”) might allow.

    This tagging, conversely, gives Raynard’s point of view a more intimate spin. It helps the reader identify with him as a caring Dominant rather than a bird of prey, when he thinks of Ori as or calls him “fledgling”, or even “his submissive”. To the point that when he can no longer call him this toward the end of the book, it was physically painful to me as a reader. I felt his loss much more keenly than if he’d simply thought of Ori as “he” throughout.

    I agree that the execution could be more even-handed; however, I can’t deny my fascination with these tags. They are a style unique to Ms. Dare, as far as I can tell. Partially they jar because it’s so unfamiliar to me. I read “The Stroke of Twelve” by Ms. Dare last night, and found while she still uses these tags, they are much more artfully executed in the novella and didn’t jar me in the least.

    Thank you for a thought provoking discussion and insight into a book and an author I’ve come to count among my favorites.

    Best wishes,
    Tibby Armstrong

  13. Tibby Armstrong
    Apr 05, 2012 @ 18:54:11

    @Praxidike: I was so fascinated with the story, I managed to gloss over the typos, swatting them away as I admired the scenery!

    I wouldn’t let it put you off. I’m extraordinarily biased toward this book, I realize; however, I can’t imagine anyone hating it for the poor editing.

    I hope this helps!

    Tibby

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