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REVIEW: The Russian Bear by C. B. Conwy

Dear C.B. Conwy:

It’s so refreshing to see BDSM portrayed as a necessary and integral part of characters’ sexual identities without any need to explain why or how they are the way they are. It’s refreshing to see the emotional and physical sides of BDSM dealt with equally. It’s SO refreshing to see two people establish a strong BDSM relationship through a normal meet-up and only THEN go to the Sooper Sekrit BDSM Klub of Sexx0rring. It would be nice if these things came in a story that had some tension to it, but hey, we can’t have everything.

A Russian Bear  CB ConwyMischa agrees to help a friend out by meeting someone in a bar (ALERT: flimsy excuse for a meet-cute). He is stood-up, however, and mistakes his actual date (who he thinks might be called Tim) for a random cute guy called Tom and embarrasses them both by using this time-honored conversational gambit:

“So, tell me what you like. I can string you up and whip you ’til you scream, or you can get down on your knees and suck me off with your hands tied behind your back. I will fuck you, though.”

He saw the incomprehension on Tom’s face change to shocked surprise and knew that he had fucked up. Big time.

Ya think?! But Tom, despite expressing outrage, doesn’t hit him or storm off. Instead Mischa apologizes profusely, they flirt awkwardly for a bit, then Tom oh so innocently asks Mischa if this is how he normally meets his “slave boys.” This part annoyed me. I mean, yes, they have to meet, express interest in each other, and then go off and fuck, as they do. And I love that they’re not meeting in Sooper-Sekrit BDSM Klub of Sexx0rring, as I said. But Tom’s internal monologue is SO shocked and innocent at Mischa’s ham-handed little speech, but then suddenly he’s expressing interest in the incredibly weird and scary things the guy threatened to do to him? Without any indication before that, to the reader or, apparently, to himself, that he might even the teensiest bit submissive? Whatever.

But, okay, they get together. They do some negotiations which don’t feel contrived or too preachy because Tom is a complete novice and knows nothing about BDSM, so Mischa teaches him. And they have hot D/s sex. Cool. Then they get together again and have some pretty hot SM sex with CBT (NOT cognitive behavioral therapy, BTW ;). And then they get together again. And again. And really, this book read more like a fictionalized manual of various BDSM practices. A very HOT fictionalized manual with two very appealing characters, don’t get me wrong. It’s a good exploration of the emotional experience and appeal of BDSM, wherein we see scenes from the perspective of both Dom and sub. And it revels in all aspects of BDSM: Domination and submission, as we normally see; but also some very heavy sadism and masochism, spanking, bondage, discipline, pre-negotiated forced-sex scenes, sounds. You name it, this book covers it (well, not watersports or fisting).

But — and I’ve had this issue a LOT recently — there’s very little narrative tension to the story. Lots of sexual tension, but very little will-they-or-won’t-they-have-their-HEA? There’s a bit of fear on both sides that they are more emotionally invested that the other man, but on the whole, there’s no barrier, internal or external, for either man to break through or for them as a couple to overcome. Sure, Mischa has his “one sub, one scene” rule, but he throws that out very early and with no angst. And Tom wonders every now and then what the hell he’s doing, because, really, letting some guy crush your balls in his fist and getting off on it is not exactly normal sexual behavior. But they’re pretty much too busy having great sex and falling in love to really worry about it. Which is great in real life and makes a good and lasting relationship, but doesn’t make for a really strong *romance novel*.

This book is one of those stories non-romance-readers think defines romance: two people meet and fall in love. We all know, instead, that romances are instead the story of when two people meet, fall in love, and overcome obstacles to deserve their HEA. And there are no obstacles here. Until you manufacture an external one in the very very very last chapter of the book, which just had me rolling my eyes. A lot.

However, I really really LIKE how this is not a book for readers looking for explanations of WHY people do BDSM. This is just a book showing two people who *are* BDSM-identified and who don’t worry about why that might be or what that means. They just revel in it, have lots of hot sex, and fall in love.

And while I didn’t read it for the romance…did I mention the hot BDSM sex? Yeah.

Grade: C+

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

Book Link | Kindle | Torquere Books

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.

19 Comments

  1. Tweets that mention NewPost: REVIEW: The Russian Bear by C. B. Conwy -- Topsy.com
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 16:14:00

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sarah Frantz and M. R. Mathias, dearauthor. dearauthor said: NewPost: REVIEW: The Russian Bear by C. B. Conwy http://bit.ly/bY7mVY [...]

  2. Kaetrin
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 23:39:40

    @ Sarah. Why is the book called The Russian Bear? Is Mischa hairy? *grins*

    am now going off to look up CBT…

  3. Kaetrin
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 23:41:46

    CBT = o-0!!

  4. Merrian
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 02:14:26

    OK now I have an excuse to use my Torquere discount if I add in the rec’s from Jessica’s m/m comments thread. Knowing who you are is such a powerful thing.

    “However, I really really LIKE how this is not a book for readers looking for explanations of WHY people do BDSM. This is just a book showing two people who *are* BDSM-identified and who don't worry about why that might be or what that means. They just revel in it, have lots of hot sex, and fall in love.”

    Your comment Sarah, made me think that we don’t see this enough in romance, even the non- BDSM kind. May be the issue is about what kind of of internal journey is possible if that is already resolved?

    And I want to read this book for that and the hot sex!

  5. Jane
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 06:57:50

    @Merrian This is one of the things that I liked about Delphine Dryden’s Blame It on Rio – that it was about two characters who self identified as BDSM but not about the “why”.

  6. Joan/SarahF
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 07:14:57

    Dammit, Jane, I’m actually going to have to go and buy that book, aren’t I? Sigh. It did look cute.

  7. Melissa
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 08:02:00

    Nice review Joan/Sarah F! I don’t like when BDSM books make excuses for “why” someone likes to practice it, I like it much better when it’s just a personal preference based on who they are (Lora Leigh and Shayla Black are guilty of coming up with all kinds of reasons).

    Maybe I will give this a shot and turn in my m/m only V-card. I have read m/m scenes as part of a m/m/f m̩nage but not a whole book of m/m Рbut this one sounds interesting.

  8. Joan/SarahF
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 08:05:43

    @Melissa: If you’re looking for good m/m with a hint of BDSM: KA Mitchell’s Collision Course or Heidi Cullinan’s Special Delivery are brilliant. (Anah Crow’s Uneven is incredibly violent but even more brilliant.) Matthew Haldeman-Time’s short “An Affair in Paradise” is wonderful too. All of those actually, you know, have a plot. :)

  9. Melissa
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 08:15:26

    @Joan/Sarah F

    Thanks for the recs, I will check them out and try a few. I have been reading Cherise Sinclair for m/f, I enjoy her books because they have romance as well as hot BDSM scenes. Do you have any more recs for m/f with BDSM and romance? Thanks for the help!

  10. Joan/SarahF
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 08:30:47

    @Melissa: Well, the touchstone of femdom romance is Joey Hill’s Natural Law. It’s brilliant. I adore her Rough Canvas (m/m) as well.

    But maledom romance? I have (almost) nothing. I want to try the book Jane recommended above, and Victoria Dahls’ short “The Wicked West” is brilliant. But other than that…nothing.

  11. Melissa
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 09:12:01

    @Joan/Sarah F.,

    Thanks anyway. I really enjoyed The Wicked West, I wish Victoria Dahl would write another one like it. I need to give Natural Law a shot since I have heard good things about it.

  12. dana
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 13:48:20

    For maledom try out Roxy Harte’s Chronicles of Submission series.

    I’m not a fan of the M/F BDSM(although I love the M/M), but I’ve heard raves about that series.

  13. Jane
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 14:03:56

    @Joan/SarahF I need to review it because I don’t have a wholesale recommendation. I enjoyed it. The romance is very traditional which I enjoyed (it’s a boss/assistant story) and the heroine is smart (which I also enjoyed). I think my only complaint is that some of the sex scenes seemed too long. Can that be a legitimate complaint?

  14. orannia
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 17:29:56

    @Joan/SarahF: I just managed to delete my original post, so am attempting to recreate it :) I know the suggestions were directed at Melissa, but I’ve scribbled them down (apart from Special Delivery, which is already on the list after reading your review :)

    While online over the weekend I came across an article by James Buchanan on (IIRC) how to write BDSM. One of the points raised was getting inside character’s heads…and that’s what I like – knowing what the characters and thinking and feeling, rather than just the mechanics (which is no where near as interesting). I think that’s why I loved Inland Empire so much (I’d just finished reading it before I went online) because it got inside the characters’ heads so well. Out of interest, do the books you mentioned do that?

  15. Merrian
    Nov 09, 2010 @ 20:30:21

    Morgan Hawke’s ‘Interstellar service and discipline’ series is BDSM themed and good especially if you squint and ignore the really bad covers. The books are generally maledom/menage/m/m/f and aliens with two penises. The two books with female protagonists are ‘Victorious Star’ and ‘Fallen Star’. I wouldn’t call them romances because I think that the relationship between the guys is stronger than the love that emerges between the heroine and the guys. The world building is good and I like that too.

    Authors I would recommend include Sierra Cartwright, Roxy Harte and Cherise Sinclair

    I would second any Joey Hill recommendation, her books are rich in feeling and a love of beauty and creativity. The Nature of Desire series is linked by characters from previous stories and builds on events in earlier novels, it isn’t strictly sequential. My favourite is Rough Canvas which is m/m but all this series is good. I loved Ice Queen & Mirror of My Soul, the damage and the healing. I just like the people in her stories and their sense of community. The Knights of the Boardroom stories haven’t engaged me as much but the last one I read in an anthology (Unlaced?) “Honor Bound” is about a sub who is badly injured in Iraq and now with permanent disabilities has to rebuild her trust in life and her capacity to be in a relationship when Peter finds her again. I like it that the issue isn’t her trust in him but that in risking trusting him she starts living again.

    Gail Faulkner has one book “Into His Keeping” from Ellora’s Cave that is about a D/s relationship where the young couple are separated for many years for rom/suspense reasons and then come together again. The BDSM is just a given about who they are.

    In all of the BDSM themed books I have read over past couple of years there are really very few that I would recommend and it is more likely that it would be the m/m books.

  16. cs
    Nov 10, 2010 @ 09:49:03

    I do think there are less books about just being BDSM-oriented and not giving a reason for it. I’ll probably read this book, to get away from the mechanics of most other BDSM books.

    Though I did read Indigo Wren’s “Trap” (from Samhain) and it was very good. It was mostly about D/s (which I like) and what I appreciated that there was a more in-depth look at just being submissive. Good book, if anyone else is looking for *more* BDSM recommendations.

  17. Christine
    Nov 11, 2010 @ 23:38:04

    I actually bought this book and tried to read it. It’s been awhile, but I recall that I really found the characters compelling in the snippet (which was basically the first scene, if I’m not mistaken), but I had to stop reading pretty quick because the unrelenting sex. (I know, really? But it’s true.) It was kind of didactic and catalog-like, and I just got bored. (To be fair, THAT much BDSM is not really my cuppa.) Anyway, I just wanted to say that I concur with your review. And I would totally try another book by the author, but… only if it were free, I think. I felt like the snippet was kind of a bait-and-switch dealeo–not representative of the thrust (har de har) of the rest of the story.

  18. Christine
    Nov 11, 2010 @ 23:45:22

    Oh, and I really like Laney Cairo as an m/m romance author. I find the research and characterization absolutely top-notch.

  19. Holly
    Nov 12, 2010 @ 02:51:31

    Agree with Christine – “Bad Case of Loving You” by Laney Cairo is in my top ten desert romance keepers. (It has mild D/S.) “The Tockleys” is also good. Her books breathe realism.

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