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REVIEW: Bound and Determined by Jane Davitt and Alexa Snow

Dear Ms. Davitt and Ms. Snow.

JDAS_BoundandDetermined_coverlgI love the title of this book, because it’s so true to the characters and to the book. I’ve been disappointed, sometimes even sickened by some of Loose-Id’s titles recently (no, I didn’t review them, I couldn’t bring myself to do so), so I was happy to be intrigued enough by the excerpt to buy Bound and Determined. And I’m so glad I did. This book, while lacking slightly in the pure romance department, is a fabulous look at a BDSM relationship with some amazing characterization and some really hot sex.

First a warning for readers, though: the characters in this book are a masochist and a sadist. Yes, much of the relationship is about dominance and submission, which many people have less issue with than with pain play, but the sadomasochism in this book is strong. Not violent and visceral like Anah Crow’s (brilliant) Uneven, but it’s there, its unabashed, and if that bothers you, don’t read this book. However, if you’re intrigued by the psychology behind masochism, this is the book for you, because it’s beautifully depicted.

Sterling is a college senior. He figured out that he was gay years ago, but he’s only figured out his attraction to BDSM very recently. He’s been domming a friend, but they both know it’s not working, and the friend takes Sterling to a BDSM club, where he watches a well-respected dom Owen (and Sterling’s former English professor) scene with and then break off his relationship with a submissive woman. Sterling has a moment of clarity (he’s not a dominant, he’s a submissive and a masochist) and chases down Owen and asks Owen to be his dom. Owen, understandably, refuses. After all, he’s just broken off a relationship, Sterling’s a former student, not yet 21, and almost half his age. But Owen is not proof against Sterling’s persistence, and, to be honest, his beauty, and finally agrees to become Sterling’s dominant.

One thing to make clear is that this IS a dominant/submissive and sadist/masochistic relationship. Owen does not consider himself Sterling’s boyfriend. They do not have a traditional relationship. And although Sterling gets to come and their connection is a sexual one, because fundamentally, BDSM *is* aobut sex, Owen refuses to have either anal or oral sex with Sterling until Sterling is 21. Which pisses Sterling off, because he’s not a patient person, and over which they fight a few times. Which makes it awkward every now and then when they’re not in dom/sub roles and find they have very little in common. This is the one concern I had with the book: what kind of relationship can they have beyond the D/s? Because at the end of the book, they’re together as committed partners as well as dom/sub, and I think the relationship building gets skimmed a little too much and I wonder what they’ll talk about of an evening when they’re just lounging around together.

That aside, everything else is wonderfully done. The characterizations are perfectly clear: Sterling’s bratty but conflicted, so used to getting his own way, brought up to be a hard-ass by his dick of a father, but so desperate to submit, to serve, but so eager to get off because OMG, he’s 20 and a walking erection. And Owen’s older and wiser and very much in control but still vulnerable to a pretty pout and a desperate “please,” just like we all are. And oh, the BDSM is beautifully done. The scenes are hot and these boys TALK. In fact, that’s part of the characterization: both Sterling and Owen are in their heads too much, too smart not to take apart everything they do, alone and together. And so the reader understands every step of the way, everything that’s going on.

In fact, at a climactic (harhar) point in the book, Owen says to Sterling, “I’m not your father,” which causes Sterling to freak out and leave. And the characterization is so perfectly done that even though the scene was told from Owen’s perspective, I was in both of their heads to such an extent that I knew why Owen had said that (he wanted Sterling to know he wasn’t doing something to punish him the way Sterling’s asshole of a father did), felt his utter shock when Sterling reacted apparently illogically by running away from a reassurance, and yet, at the same time, completely understood WHY Sterling was running away (he thought Owen was saying that he thought Sterling was looking for a father figure and he felt Owen didn’t really know him). The scene was so well-done it actually pulled me out because I was astounded at how well I viscerally understood the motivations and feelings of both Sterling and Owen right away.

Back to the BDSM, though. It’s a very formal BDSM. Owen likes things just so and is very much into training Sterling. It sounds too much like hard work to me, especially since Sterling’s quite so much of a brat, but you make it work beautifully, precisely because it’s so much a part of their characters. And the BDSM is done lovingly and well. Here’s an description of Sterling’s masochism:

God, it hurt like nothing else ever. He screamed so desperately that it didn’t even come out very loud; there just wasn’t enough air behind it to create volume. It was like his nerve endings were using up all his oxygen, and he couldn’t breathe or think through the searing pain.

He couldn’t do anything. He was gone.

The scary part was how fucking good it felt, the bright agony ripping him free of restraints that weren’t made of rope or chain. He used the pain, just as Owen had told him to, shaped it, loved it, let it take him. Dimly, distantly, he felt his climax begin, lagging long moments behind his scream, an afterthought, as if his body was trying to kill the pain with pleasure, which was stupid, really, because they were both the same.

And one of Owen’s sadism:

"It’ll hurt," Owen said, and there was something in his voice that told Sterling how much it would hurt and how much Owen wanted to do it. It was hard to wrap his head around at the beginning of their relationship; the way that for all Owen made him feel safe and protected, Owen got off on hurting him, leaving him bruised, marked, crying. With anyone else, that would have freaked Sterling out, but he didn’t just love Owen, he trusted him. Totally. No limits.

It was what allowed him to ask for more than he could take, made reckless by arousal, knowing that Owen was more aware of his limits than he was. Spanking him scarlet and hot turned Owen on, but controlling Sterling, reining him in, curbing his impulses, did even more for him, and Sterling knew that.

But both of these are told from Sterling’s perspective and brings up one tiny niggle more that’s my own personal issue more than anything else. You GET submission *and* masochism, or at least Sterling does a brilliant job of showing it to us and making us understand it. But when we’re in Owen’s head, it’s much more about the dominance than it is about the sadism. Yes, he gets off on hurting Sterling, but that’s much less explored than his dominance is. And that disappointed me slightly. But not enough not to thoroughly enjoy this book.

The book was a wonderful, slow, thoughtful read with some really REALLY great sex and a fascinating depiction of some very formal, very safe, and yet still emotionally dangerous BDSM. The plot of the book, such as it is, is focused on the emotional trajectory of the relationship and on Sterling’s issues with his idiotic father. There’s no suspense plot, no saving the world, nothing but two people falling in love as they explore each other, both physically and emotionally. Which is why the lack of exploration of what they have in common besides BDSM and hot hot sex was vaguely disappointing as well. But only vaguely. In the end, I trusted that they’d stay together because they were both too damn stubborn to do anything else: Bound and Determined indeed.

Grade: B+

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

This book can be purchased at Loose Id in ebook format.

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.

8 Comments

  1. S. W. Vaughn
    Nov 12, 2009 @ 07:14:32

    Oh, I’m all over this one. :-)

  2. cs
    Nov 12, 2009 @ 19:16:17

    Thanks for the review, I was looking at this and I really like their writing style. I read their ‘Laying a Ghost’ trilogy available at Loose Id, and I really enjoyed that, plus I like Alexa Snow as a single author herself.

    I wanted to ask, is it their age difference that renders them unable to have anything in common outside sex? Or is it just they’re two very different people in general?

    Which makes it awkward every now and then when they're not in dom/sub roles and find they have very little in common.

    Could you clarify what you mean with this? Apologies, I know you said it was awkward to read them fighting because they had nothing in common, but weren’t they fighting about sex? Which they do have in common?

    I also wondered do you read any M/M books outside the BDSM-centric genre? I’m looking for some good M/M contemporary stories and I keep coming up with duds.

  3. SonomaLass
    Nov 12, 2009 @ 22:56:32

    I think that the issue of what a couple shares, outside of great sex, is always important in romance. When there’s a large age gap, that becomes an even bigger question. For me to believe in a couple’s commitment, I need to see something — if not shared interests, then at least scenes where they are enjoying each other’s company without engaging in sex just at the moment. I’m a cynic, and I need to see a romance working to believe that it will continue to work.

    I’m glad to know that this book gets so much right, though.

  4. Sweet
    Nov 13, 2009 @ 04:00:25

    because fundamentally, BDSM *is* aobut sex,

    Unture, BDSM is about control and surrender, its not always sexual in nature.

    the sadomasochism in this book is strong

    Really? I didn’t feel that way about the S/M content in this story at all. Its a very well written book about BDSM and I agree with most of your review and even the overall grade but, to me its pretty lightweight. Owen is no true Sadist and Sterling is far from a true masochist. Your example of Uneven by Anah Crow fits that label so much better. This is a story more about Dominance and Submission.

  5. Sarah Frantz
    Nov 13, 2009 @ 07:43:31

    @Sweet: I really don’t know if I agree with that. Sadism and masochism are not about control and surrender, IMO. Or not solely about it. I’m hard put to think about BDSM as not about sex in some fundamental way. Maybe we can agree that they’re about both? Sex AND control/surrender?

    And yes, compared to some other books that are supposedly hardcore BDSM, like Joey Hill, which, when read closely, are not about sadomasochism at ALL, yes, the SM in this book is strong. It’s not visceral like UNEVEN, but it’s there. The foundation of their relationship is the D/s, but the SM is a vital part to it. The quotes I give above would squick a LOT of people who are comfortable with some pretty intense D/s scenes. IMO.

    But, as always, YMMV. Thanks for your input.

  6. Sarah Frantz
    Nov 13, 2009 @ 07:44:59

    @SonomaLass: It’s there. It’s not strong, it could be better, but their connection outside the scene is there. And I think I said it best in that you completely believe by the end of the book that both of them are too damn stubborn not to make it work. :)

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