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REVIEW: Velvet Submission by Violet Summers

Dear Ms. Summers.

Velvet Submission Cover imageI picked up this book because it was a romance with a female dominant and a male submissive, which is about the only reason I read straight romance nowadays. And while I enjoyed it, it has solidified for me that BDSM romance is mostly about fantasy fulfillment rather than verisimilitude. I’m becoming more accepting of that fact but it’s still disappointing to hope for a romance with BDSM-identified people I might realistically meet and get instead…a fantasy. But then what is any romance but fantasy, right? Where/when/why does the desire for stark reality bend to the needs of the story? I don’t know, but this story was too much fantasy, not enough reality for my tastes. (I’ll reiterate here that the “reality” I’m looking for is psychological, emotional reality, not complete James-Joyce-ian stream of consciousness of actual reality.)

One of my biggest problems with this book, however, was something else, and something that effects even my plot summary: it’s so obviously part of a series of romances that it was difficult to follow a lot of what was happening. Characters were either past or future main characters of their own stories and it got to be very annoying and rather confusing when more and more characters piled in for their own cameo. Not only did I not understand all the character connections because of this sequel-baiting, the timeline of the story was strangely off.

For example: in some near past, Megan Jamison went to a club called Velvet Ice and found herself very much at home in its more private upper floors, which are a BDSM club, but was barred from it because of her friend’s feud with the club owner, a plot point that was obviously important to the larger series but was so irrelevant to Megan’s story it was maddening. In some measure of time, she manages to rate a private room at the club. This plot point (will she or won’t she get in to the club) is unnecessary to THIS story and drags out the beginning so that it’s really slow, rather than focusing the beginning of the story on the interaction and tension between the main characters.

All this time, Megan has been attracted to one of the club’s bouncers, Gregori Lavinkia, a sexual submissive. But she refused to play with him because…well, I’m still not 100% sure. She repeats again and again that she won’t play with him because she never has sex with her submissives and, I guess, Gregori makes her want to have sex:

As a Domme she needed to call the shots. She didn’t want to give over control, and that’s exactly what happened when she made love. So, to protect herself, Megan had compartmentalized. She kept sex tame and vanilla-’and infrequent-’and saved her passion for Velvet Ice. She couldn’t, wouldn’t let the two merge.

But Gregori doesn’t just want to submit to her, he wants a full D/s relationship. They go back and forth on this, with him pursuing her and her refusing him, until finally they have a showdown in which she tops him and bests him and retreats:

She’d fucking Mastered his fine ass, and kept her composure the whole time, proving once and for all that for her, D/s wasn’t about the sex.

The throbbing between her thighs said she was a liar.

He then begs to be only her lover, rather than her submissive, because having any part of her is better than nothing. And then of course (and very quickly) they work things out and all live HEA.

The BDSM scenes and the sex scenes are super hot and very well done. What disappoints me about this book, however, is something that someone else without my own personal experiences might find perfectly fine. These two are into BDSM for reasons: Megan is a Southern Belle rebelling against her Daddy’s domineering life plans for her by dominating submissives at the club, by never losing control, and by never having sex with them, although I’m never sure how and why she makes the jump to BDSM to exercise control rather than…I don’t know, being anorexic or an exercise freak or a crazy cat lady or something more socially normal. Nor do I really understand how and why she manages to separate BDSM from sex, but maybe that’s just me. Gregori is a submissive and masochist in order to sublimate the pain of his Russian upbringing…or something: it’s never really explained well — Yeltsin’s regime is brought up, and that didn’t really work for me because it’s not like the 1990s in Russia were 1960s Cold War communism. Anyway, not only did I find their reasons paper thin (in an ebook); I found the NEED for a reason frustrating. No one asks why gay people are gay. Okay, scratch that: no one sane and rational asks why gay people are gay. We’ve accepted the fact that gay people ARE, that being gay an immutable part of their nature that doesn’t need explanation or to be changed. It IS. Not so much with BDSM, apparently. So instead we have pop psychology of an Electra complex and a strangely (a)political statement about the deprivations of…post-communist Russia? None of which really ACTUALLY explain why these two people are so heavily into BDSM — mostly because being into BDSM doesn’t need explaining. It’s as much a sexual orientation as being gay is.

That aside, whether or not it’s an issue for your other readers, the realization of how to overcome Megan’s barrier to the relationship (because Gregori has no barrier and very little character development — he’s just strong and hot and a wonderful submissive) is abrupt and ridiculously easy. We’ve got Daddy complexes galore and one phone conversation makes her change her whole worldview, blowing all psychological barriers out of the water and leaving her open to Gregori’s love? Uh, okay. And once the crisis is over, there’s still another 20 pages (of 70) of the story left. You would have done better investing as much time into the overcoming of the barrier as you did into constructing it, with less time on the denouement and happiness at the end. These are both writerly issues that have very little to do with my own personal hang-ups about BDSM and bugged me slightly more than your depiction of BDSM.

That aside, like I said, the sex and the BDSM scenes were hot. The emotion was strong. The sexual tension was good. Gregori is a wonderful sexual submissive. There’s no cringing around the fact that there’s a male submissive and a female dominant. If this is a peek into a future with more femdom stories, I’m (mostly, sort of) happy with it.

But what I’d really like to see is a BDSM romance with characters who just accept that they ARE kinky, without needing reasons for it. I mean, angst about that is fine (needing to beat someone and/or be beaten to get off — rather than *choosing* to, as shown in this story — is a very difficult thing to accept, after all). But angst about manufactured reasons about WHY one likes to beat someone up and/or be beaten for jollies is a different thing and rings false to me. I stress the “to me” part of that. This story might and probably will work for other readers without my own personal hangups. Because, like I said, the emotion is strong, the sexual tension is good, the characters are enjoyable.

And finally, authors, can we PLEASE stop with the BDSM clubs? I mean, really, please? Been there, done that. Find another way to get your kinky characters together. Maybe a kinky craft club? Or a kinky reading group? Or, hey, maybe two people just meeting each other like normal people and recognizing something in each other that might work? Something different? Please?

Grade: C+

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

| Author Website (no direct book link) | Liquid Silver |

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. Jill Sorenson
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 15:55:42

    “it has solidified for me that BDSM romance is mostly about fantasy fulfillment rather than verisimilitude. I'm becoming more accepting of that fact”

    Nice review. I liked this part.

    ReplyReply

  2. lil
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 17:15:38

    Personally, I avoid BDSM books that refer to female doms as Dommes. When I see it used, I assume that the author’s knowledge has been derived from internet chat rooms and not because they have any real understanding of BDSM. It’s a deal breaker for me.

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  3. Joan/SarahF
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 19:47:00

    @lil: I think internet culture it too pervasive nowadays, though. Most real-life lifestyle folk come at BDSM through the internet. Now, if they pronounce it “dom-may,” THEN I’ll laugh at them. But if they write “Domme” and pronounce it “dom,” then I’m fine with it, myself.

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  4. VJ Summers
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 21:16:55

    Wow! Sierra and I are thrilled to see one of our babies on DA. Yes, Velvet Submission is part of a series (Scenes from Velvet Ice). We really appreciate how well-thought-out your review is, and we realize that our interpretation of BDSM is an idealized fantasy. One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever got was from a sexual submissive who reminded me that the majority of my readers were looking for a fantasy – they had to deal with reality all day long! I’d love to see your opinion of our other femdom (very) short story, Binding Ben. In BB, the conflict comes more from the characters’ struggle to accept D/s as a sexual preference. Thanks again for taking such time with our story!
    VJ & Sierra
    Violet Summers

    ReplyReply

  5. Jane Lovering
    Mar 05, 2010 @ 08:26:23

    This seems a good place for me to ask a question that’s been bugging me lately, with all these BDSM-type romances, and to help me sort my problem with the HEA that tends to swiftly follow. How do couples in prop-heavy sexual relationships manage when kids come along? Do they ‘make do’ with vanilla quickies and live unfulfilled until there’s the time and space to indulge once more? How do you explain to kids who wander in and out of the bedroom that Daddy likes to be chained to the wall when Mum and Dad have ‘special snuggles’? How on earth is it done?

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  6. Joan/SarahF
    Mar 05, 2010 @ 08:50:54

    @Jane Lovering: Well, I imagine one locks the door, just as one would do if one were having vanilla sex with children in the house. It might take a little more planning, but it’s not all whips and chains all the time in most BDSM relationships. And in D/s relationships, which are about the power exchange, one might not necessarily even need or want props. Indeed, in SM sexual encounters (focus on pain more than anything else), props aren’t necessary either. Hands can inflict just as much pain as a paddle or a flogger. I don’t think it’s necessarily any more difficult than planning normal sex. It’s just a case of being ingenious in different ways. And locked doors, whether bedroom, closet, or bedside table, work wonders, too.

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  7. Jane Lovering
    Mar 05, 2010 @ 09:25:21

    @Joan/SarahF Thanks for the answers. It’s just one of the (many) things that had puzzled me – how anyone whose sexual preferences might be noisy/prop heavy get by when the kids come along. And I too swear by the locked door!

    ReplyReply

  8. Collette
    Mar 05, 2010 @ 21:19:19

    I’m not sure words can adequately express how much I love the idea of a kinky craft club.

    ReplyReply

  9. XandraG
    Mar 08, 2010 @ 13:18:15

    urge…to…craft-pun…resistance…failing…

    Gives whole new worlds of meaning to “binding off.”

    wow…that felt better.

    @Jane Lovering: Roxy Harte has a BDSM series where some of the characters living the BDSM lifestyle have children, out from Lyrical Press, and a wonderful story at LSB called “Prodigal Slave” about a woman who left the lifestyle to have a family, only to be drawn back into it once her daughters are grown. (disclaimer, she’s my crit partner and I happen to love Prodigal Slave ever since I first saw its first incarnation many years ago)

    Some pubs won’t touch books featuring BDSM/alt/kink/etc. practices where there’s even a hint of a suggestion that the people involved have children.

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  10. Roxy Harte
    Mar 09, 2010 @ 18:15:42

    Hi all,
    I found the discussion through Google alerts that picked up on my name being in a comment and while I do not want to steal any time away from VJ and Sierra’s review…

    That said, I do have to say that the majority of publishers seem to be looking for pure fantasy however the chats I’ve had with my lifestyle friends assure me they are dying for BDSM to be presented realistically in romance.

    And as far as kids being in the story, its a very hard sell.

    Personally, I love the BDSM-erotica genre and love to see any story out there getting good reviews:)

    Hugs
    Roxy Harte

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  11. Joan/SarahF
    Mar 10, 2010 @ 08:35:44

    @Roxy Harte:

    the majority of publishers seem to be looking for pure fantasy however the chats I've had with my lifestyle friends assure me they are dying for BDSM to be presented realistically in romance.

    I find this so sad. Because OMG, yes, please present BDSM realistically. It’s no less sexy IRL than it is in fantasy. Really it isn’t. The few books I’ve found that do a realistic portrayal (both emotionally and physically) are just intense and amazing and (a lot of the time) bestsellers, so I’m not the only one who thinks so.

    Good to know about this, though. It’s kinda what I expected, but still very sad-making. :(

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  12. Mfred
    Mar 10, 2010 @ 12:42:21

    And while I enjoyed it, it has solidified for me that BDSM romance is mostly about fantasy fulfillment rather than verisimilitude.

    This is the reason I stay away from slash fiction, be it m/m or f/f– even tho I read all the reviews here on Dear Author that prove there is slash that is non-exploitive, etc.

    I am, in fact, rationally am aware I am being irrational. :)

    Also,

    No one asks why gay people are gay. Okay, scratch that: no one sane and rational asks why gay people are gay.

    Laughed out loud. At my computer. At work. Thanks.

    ReplyReply

  13. james
    Apr 04, 2012 @ 14:31:25

    I am submissive male. I really enjoyed reading what every one had to say about Bdsm romance novels. I Love to read and it driving me crazy with none realistic romance novels i have been reading. I have been in relationships where my partner was not into bdsm and it seems that is why we always broke up. It is very hard to get a partner that wishes to be the dominate because of how i look. I am built very well i stand at 6’4″ and i like to work out so all i get are partners that just want me to take charge. I try to explain to them i am not dominating person and i feel very wrong when i try to make partners happy by being one. Can any one give me advice of what i can do. To find that right type of partner that would take charge. Also some good romance novels.

    ReplyReply

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