[Book Review] Duty Bound

Duty Bound / Sidney Bristol
She’s the woman he sent away.

Lisette wouldn’t be back in New Orleans if she didn’t need protection—and who better to turn to than her ex-boyfriend turned Detective? She’s got a closet full of secrets that include a stalker ex and a kinky past. She vows to not dream about Mathieu…much. If only he were a Dominant, one who would not just flog her into bliss, but love her as well. A girl can dream, can’t she?

He was her first love.

Mathieu wants nothing to do with another damsel in distress, but he can’t say no when the little blonde woman walks back into his life with proof her ex is big trouble. He’ll give her a place to sleep, but nothing more. His heart is locked up tight. Except, Lisette uncovers his past in the BDSM world and she’s never backed down from a challenge. He can handle her, can’t he?

Lisette and Mathieu embark on a relationship that is strictly about sexual gratification, but evolves into more. When the bodies align, the hearts entwine. Except their rekindled flame is in danger. Lisette’s ex has found his prey, and he’s not afraid of taking a life.
I don't remember requesting this book (though I remember previewing it).  To be utterly honest, the cover makes me slightly uncomfortable - it looks like they're banking on various sexuality and dominance related racial stereotypes.  On the bright-side, they at least deign to show the man's actual face and not cut the image off at the nostrils.  Blame me for judging a book by it's cover, I honestly thought the book was going to be very smutty crap, with about every sexual and romantic cliche possible crammed in.

On reading the book I was pleasantly surprised, it was definitely significantly better than I expected.  Yes, we have some cliches and cringe-worth euphemisms for genitals and fornication, but a romance or erotica novel with none of those is akin to finding a unicorn.  I think the reason the book is labeled 'erotica' is due to the kink content - not to quantity of smut.  Lisette and Mathieu definitely get it on at length, but I've encountered a number of romance novels with more explicit, but vanilla, sex.  That being said, they have some very heavy and intimate scenes that lack anything approaching conventional sex.

Quick note - don't look up the author's website at work, you'll be entering NSFW territory (probably).  Smutty, kinky novels seems to be what Sidney Bristol does, and unlike some authors out there, she seems to have knowledge of the scene she writes about.

Duty Bound is part of a series of BDSM romance/erotica titles set in New Orleans.  I haven't read the other books (as previously stated, I didn't even realize I had requested this title), so some of my assessments may be off because of this.

On one level the book seems almost like a rebuttal to Fifty Shades of Grey.
"So you wanted to change it up in bed?  I don't see anything wrong with that.  Not that I want to think of my sister doing anything in that Shades of Grey book..."

Lisette sputtered and laughed.  He had no idea.  None at all.
The book has negotiation, consent, after care, safe words, and a power dynamic that allows either partner to feel safe saying "I don't want to do this" and not risk being shamed.  There is acknowledgement of different preferences and ways of doing things, and even more importantly, it is stressed that one's sexual proclivities still require consent before inflicting them on another.  Lisette enjoys when a trusted partner beats her within specific parameters, she does not enjoy being hit or damaged outside of that, which is the lynchpin for the tension of the plot.  Lisette's ex has issues, and ultimately his discovery of her kinky side leads to dangerous violence and stalking against her.

The descriptions of the sexual activities and settings of the book sound as if the author has familiarity with the subject matter (whether personal or just really good research), and has gone to the point of careful nit-picky detail.  Personally, I have no clue if anyone regularly uses something like nylons to store their floggers, but it's a fantastic detail that imparts realism.  As it happens, I think the details go a little overboard here and there.  Part of the feeling that this book is a rebuttal to Fifty Shades is taking details of kinky paraphernalia to the point of educational lecture rather than just heightening the setting.  Interestingly, for a book where the male love interest is expressly a sexual dominant, 'alpha male' posturing/pissing matches were largely missing compared to what one often finds in romance novels.

The writing was about average for the genre, not a magnum opus but certainly not terrible.  There were occasions where the wording made me wince, or it seemed like as many euphemisms for genitals were shoved onto the page as possible, and I often had to re-read paragraphs to figure out how they were actually positioned while getting it on.  However the author definitely strove for maintaining some realism, and put out a decently written story.

Duty Bound is a kinky romance, there are consenting adults finding intimacy and catharsis, and dealing with the socio-political ramifications of their sexuality.  If you have trouble reading about BDSM, or about abusive relationships haunting the present, I would caution you from reading this book.  If you want to read about a couple finding each other through BDSM, then give it a try.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of NetGalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

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