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REVIEW: Mercy by Annabel Joseph

Dear Ms. Joseph:

This is a tough book to grade because I recognize that there is very good writing in this story but grading here at Dear Author is a mix of not only the skill of the writing, but the response of the reader because how we feel about a book is inextricably intertwined with how we value a story.  I don’t view this story as an erotic romance but rather erotic fiction. I found it disturbing and uncomfortable but in the end, I was convinced that whatever it was that these two characters were seeking, it was found in each other.

mercy annabel josephThis is a story that revolves around the submission of Lucy Merritt and the dominance of Matthew Norris.  It is told primarily from the first person point of view of Lucy although Matthew’s point of view is shared with us in the latter part of the story.

Lucy Merritt is a ballet dancer at a successful avant garde dance company.  She also poses for a fairly successful artist.  Her sex life isn’t what she wants it to be and she gains fulfillment for emotional intimacy from her dancing partner, who, unfortunately for her is gay.  Lucy is seeking something but she isn’t aware of what it is until Matthew Norris enters her life.  He tells her that he wants to own her body and nothing more.  He doesn’t want a relationship; doesn’t want to date her but he wants to possess her being.  Matthew believes that he can fulfill something Lucy is seeking.  He’s watched her dance. He’s seen her paintings.

Lucy rejects Matthew at first, but her quest for more feeling in her life, more awareness, leads her to begin a sexual relationship with Matthew.  Only, from the very beginning it seems apparent that Lucy is an emotional creature, one that will not be able to separate sex from emotion.  Matthew doesn’t see this or refuses to see it.  It was the first sign of Matthew’s blindness or myopathy, an unfortunate subtext which I didn’t think was intentional.  The idea that we are supposed to buy into is that Matthew is insightful, intuitive.  His understanding of Lucy’s emotional and physical need for pain and dominance seemed to contradict his blindness toward other areas in Lucy’s heart.

The two make a deal that they will always be truthful to each other and that Lucy’s safeword will be Mercy.  But Lucy, because she is a submissive and wants to always please Matthew, never uses her word, even in places that the reader might be crying out for her to say Mercy.

If there is one thing that I took away from this book it is that a dom who is messed up in the head can really be dangerous, both emotionally and physically.  I tried to view this book from a fantasy point of view because once I started to translate the subtext into reality, Matthew seems like a sadistic tormenter whose own emotional problems are being mixed up with his desire or need for sexual domination.  There is a scene late in the book where Matthew places Lucy in a position that is quite degrading.  This is not a scene written to titillate, but Matthew’s reasoning for why he kept pushing Lucy, why he wasn’t more protective of her, didn’t wash for me.  Instead of trying to explore Lucy’s emotional psyche, to seek out the truth as Matthew is always saying is the most important reason for living, he pushes her harder.  He recognizes she is holding back and thus his activities become increasingly more extreme and even dangerous, as he pushes her toward confession, I guess.

 

THE FOLLOWING PARAGRPAHS ARE HUGE SPOILERS FOR THIS STORY:

[spoiler]At one point, he has his driver beat her until she starts to bleed and then the driver fucks her up the ass. Then he apologizes later saying that he had promised he would never draw blood. This isn’t the turning point though. Instead, he brings her to another event where she meets a true “Slave” and her two masters. This part really bothered me. During the scene, which isn’t really written to titillate, they misuse her terribly and want to piss and defecate in her mouth because that is what they do to the Slave.

He explains to her later that the Slave is topping the men from the bottom because she is a pain slut and nothing that they do to her can bring true pain and that the two masters will seek her out because she is a true submissive and all her emotions are true and honest but that she must never go to them.  He was also mad at her for not using the safe word during her time in the group dungeon.  It’s her fault, you see, that they so sorely mistreated her.

I wasn’t sure if this scene was meant to show us that, in contrast, Matthew was a caring wonderful dom?  And if he was so dominant, why wasn’t he controlling the group situation? Instead, it seemed like the other two were topping Matthew by treating Lucy so poorly.

But that isn’t even the worst part of what Matthew does to Lucy. Indeed, Lucy gets hooked in drugs later in the story in order to keep dancing and in order to break her from dancing, Matthew rapes Lucy without a condom while she is unconscious and impregnates her. [/spoiler]

Many times I felt that Matthew was very cold to Lucy, almost unfeeling, as if having sex with her was a chore that he undertook almost as a punishment to Lucy. Maybe this is what I was supposed to come away with. Matthew had been hurt before and he was trying to get out of this sexual relationship with Lucy what he needed without committing emotionally. Maybe the subtext is that can never be done.

I guess I can look at this objectively and say that it was well written because there were certain things you were trying to explore and you made me think about them.  Did Lucy’s need for pain arise out of a bad sexual incident?  Matthew and Lucy weren’t honest with each other and that made their relationship painful and dangerous.  Is that a subtext for a larger truth.  Was Lucy ever vulnerable to Matthew even though she was bound and he held the whip when she was always holding back?

I found this story to be so problematic because it read as if the two characters hated themselves with one being super submissive, so her self hate / self doubt actualizes itself by allowing herself to get the crap beat out of her and the other being super dominant so his self hate actualizes itself by him being increasingly cruel to her.  I think if I really believed that Lucy found true emotional release in the deeds that Matthew enacted upon her body, I would have found it more palatable.  Instead, I felt like Lucy received physical release but not emotional release.  Was she truly happier and more self fulfilled after?  The epilogue made me question Matthew’s actions even more because it showed him, albeit briefly, as the tender and caring dom.

A friend of mine read this and we talked about it in a long email exchange.  She pointed out that it seemed like you would bring Matthew to a point of assholery no return but then draw back and make him into a pussycat in the next scene, as if you were afraid that we wouldn’t adopt Matthew as the hero.  But this inconsistency led to  more questions about Matthew and less confidence in him as a dom.   I never felt that Lucy was ever truly safe with Matthew and in these kinds of games, I think the reader consent isn’t about whether one character should have sex with another, but whether one character feels safe with the other.

This isn’t a book that I will read again and I don’t know that I would want to read others like it.  I am not regretful I read this, though because it is a book I will think about a lot in the future so my C grade isn’t ambivalence so much as a weighing of the scales of my reaction and the writing in the book.

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

20 Comments

  1. Sarah Frantz
    Apr 30, 2011 @ 11:37:11

    Sigh.

  2. Sue t
    Apr 30, 2011 @ 11:48:11

    I’m surprised with a C grade by the way you described this over-the-top control by Matthew of Lucy. It sounds completely horrible and more like a sadistic relationship versus anything else. Maybe there’s more then what you mentioned but this sure sounds like a D versus a C. Even your tone in your writing sounds like you really didn’t care for it.

  3. Cally
    Apr 30, 2011 @ 12:37:52

    Delurking to say thank you Jane for the review. I’ve been following the rape fantasy posts and they (and the related book reviews) have been fuel for much critical thinking for myself and my crit partners.
    This book… yikes. This strikes me as you said, as erotic fiction, but particularly joyless and even tragic. And sadly, reading this review give me some painful twinges back to the review for “Patience” which was a total wallbanger for me and made me feel the hero wanted the heroine to abandon her art and give total control to him for reasons that didn’t benefit her in the slightest. It alarms me to think fantasy says you can’t have both sexual and artistic fulfillment, or art isn’t allowed to even compete with the influence of the hero. Sigh, and it definitely sounds like really poor Lucy needed a therapist or the support of a good friend, more then a lover.

  4. Annabel
    Apr 30, 2011 @ 13:36:46

    Thanks for the review, Jane. I thought it was very fair and I appreciate you not condemning it outright even though, like many readers, it reached squick-level at some points for you.

    If you enjoyed the writing but not the hard sadism, I really hope you’ll try one of my traditionally published BDSM titles instead. They are not as intense kink-wise as Mercy and are considerably more romantic. Thanks again for giving Mercy a fair shake.

  5. Fionn Jameson
    Apr 30, 2011 @ 15:00:20

    Hello, Jane! The review was intriguing and I actually went to the Kobo link to purchase the book, but the link did not go to the book. I think the code was wrong. :)

  6. Jane
    Apr 30, 2011 @ 18:07:38

    @Fionn Jameson I think Kobo must not have it then. I use a formula to generate the Kobo link which is tied to the ISBN so if it does not show up then it must not work.

  7. Jane
    Apr 30, 2011 @ 18:08:55

    @Sue t Sue I felt like the book was well written but it was very much NOT to my taste. So I tried to balance the grade with my personal reader response.

  8. SN
    May 01, 2011 @ 08:22:28

    Great review.
    I’ve already decided not to read this one. Stories involving ballet dancers are always done incorrectly (Black Swan was as joke to anybody who knows about ballet, and the fact it won so many awards was a disgrace. Natalie Portman looked as much as ballet dancer as The Rock looks a female Olympic figure skater).
    I cannot comprehend why it’s so hard to find decent erotic romance.

  9. Fionn Jameson
    May 01, 2011 @ 11:17:42

    Hey, Jane. I did manage to buy the book from Kobo:

    http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/Mercy/book-R7XuJdg0Yk6nxMf898EQxQ/page1.html

    :)

  10. Jane
    May 01, 2011 @ 14:11:04

    @Fionn Jameson Thanks I changed the link.

  11. Gillian Archer
    May 01, 2011 @ 14:15:38

    I really enjoyed the author’s more mainstream releases–I recommend Comfort Object to all of my friends. But it sounds like this one is too hard core for me too.

  12. Jane
    May 01, 2011 @ 14:28:28

    @Gillian Archer I looked at that one but was concerneed about the warning that included:

    menage (m/f/m), moresome (m/f/m/f with f/f interaction)

    Can you possibly give me a spoiler as to those scenes?

  13. Annabel
    May 01, 2011 @ 15:05:33

    Jane, the menages in Comfort Object are not much like the ones in Mercy, but that book does contain some humiliation kink and objectification, and dubious consent.

    Deep in the Woods, Fortune, and Caressa’s Knees are probably the most romantic and least objectionable kink-wise. Firebird fits in that group too and was just selected as a Readers Crown finalist, so maybe you can check one of those out.

    I wish, as an author, that my books weren’t so disparate in kink level, but they just kind of go where they go. I know it can be frustrating to readers to end up with a book that’s not in their comfort zone.

  14. Mrs. Rhaw
    May 02, 2011 @ 01:47:50

    Hi Jane!

    I love Annabel Joseph’s works. They’re controversial, that’s true, but there are so many watered down BDSM books meant for wider audience that it is refreshing when an author writes a book that is edgier and grittier than a non-kinkster would accept. Do I agree with everything AJ writes about? No! Would I practice it? Hmmm well I know where I draw my line and where my emotional and physical threshold start. But I like to read about kinky people out there.

    Let me quote something from Deep in the Woods (not as gritty as Comfort Object or Mercy…) “Okay. This is a controversial topic. Maybe it’s best to agree there are no absolutes. What is devotion to one may look like danger to another. For some, setting limits is an important exercise. For others, their only limit is common sense.”

  15. Maddie
    May 02, 2011 @ 08:22:23

    I loved this book, thought it was written well and found Matthew to be a sadist, but my take on the whole

    ” Only, from the very beginning it seems apparent that Lucy is an emotional creature, one that will not be able to separate sex from emotion. Matthew doesn’t see this or refuses to see it. It was the first sign of Matthew’s blindness or myopathy, an unfortunate subtext which I didn’t think was intentional.”

    Is that he knew this, but didn’t care because he was obsessed with Lucy and just wanted her.

  16. Kati
    May 02, 2011 @ 12:35:50

    Hm. I’m intrigued, but a little intimidated. I went on Amazon and found Fortune by the same author, which looks like it might be more to my taste. But the almost $10 price point is a bit much for me. I think I’ll pass. Thanks for the review, Jane, it’s always good to get outside our comfort zones once in a while!

  17. Mrs. Rhaw
    May 02, 2011 @ 13:08:47

    @Kati:

    paperback is more expensive but if you’re reading ebooks check smashwords http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/35438

  18. Gillian Archer
    May 03, 2011 @ 09:53:12

    @Jane: The menage aspect of the book is actually a very small portion of the story and aren’t explicit love scenes compared with the others between the H/h–most are actually told instead of shown. The foursome is one scene and magnifies objectification and dubious consent that Anabel spoke of.

    I guess the main reason this story stood out in my mind and gets reread so often is that it’s not like most BDSM stories out there. The hero is flawed. He’s shown warts and all–the ultimate bad boy that the gooey girl inside me can’t help but want to save. And I thought the author handled the redemption of him well.

    Most of his warts are the objectification and dubious consent that he puts the heroine through. This is all due to the agreement that they make in the first part of the book and the heroine’s struggle with coming to terms with it. (She agreed to be his hired girlfriend.) I think that part of the story would be more of a red flag to most readers than the menage (and more) bits.

  19. Gillian Archer
    May 03, 2011 @ 09:57:03

    @Kati: Ellora’s Cave books are ridiculously expensive anywhere except EC’s own bookstore. BUT you can buy them at All Romance eBooks for the same price as EC with the rebate they give you after purchase.

  20. Selene
    May 09, 2011 @ 14:05:47

    I just finished this book, and I have to say I really liked it, except, perhaps, the ending*.

    IMO, Matthew’s actions stemmed from his attempts to deny his love for Lucy. It was actually one of my favorite aspects of the book, they way the author managed to convey his frustration with himself and his feelings, without having Lucy fully realize the meaning of his actions. It was clear to me much before it was clear to Lucy that he was in love with her, and trying to deny it to himself. His conflict made him real and gave him depth.

    Lucy was almost consumed by the whole thing at one point in the novel–it was like her relationship with Matthew took over her whole life, like she was on a constant high. That part, if anything, was a bit creepy. Eventually, she does get out of it though, and she asserts herself, bringing the relationship to a more equal place, and in the end I felt that she very consciously made the choice she did.

    Selene

    SPOILERS AHEAD

    * About the ending, I think the whole thing with the pregnancy was rather melodramatic, and unnecessary. IMO, the novel would have done better to end after they confessed their love and were happy. And if you don’t like sugary epilogues, you should skip this one.

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