Above the Dungeon by S.M. Johnson
With the ink barely dry on his Ivy League diploma, Dare is expected join the family business, marry his high school sweetheart, and commit to life in conservative suburbia. But in a moment of panic he runs away to NYC, where his cousin gets him a bartending job at a club above the legendary Master Roman’s dungeon. When Roman takes an interest in Dare, he’s not sure if he should run like hell, or follow his submissive heart.
As he draws Dare into the world of BDSM, Roman has to contend with the feelings and insecurities of his primary partner, Jeff, who has a habit of falling in love with others. But this time it’s Roman’s turn, and Jeff’s not sure their relationship can survive the inclusion of a new guy.
Alternately told from points of view of Dare and Jeff, Above the Dungeon is a series of highly erotic BDSM scenes tied together with tight plot and intense relationship dynamics.
Above the Dungeon is a very interesting, intense book. The story is highly erotic and in fact almost all of the character development, dialogue, and action takes place during BDSM scenes and related events. In some ways the sex offered is hard core with edgy sadomasochism, but there are a lot of relationship dynamics and emotional struggles that happen to balance this out. The end result is still a complicated, lightening fast creation that doesn’t wholly answer all the questions posed and ends abruptly but will appeal to those fans of edgy, intense BDSM stories.
The narrative follows straight laced Adair who runs away from his family and country club future to experience something different and unexpected in NYC. His cousin sets him up bartending in a gay bar and before he knows it, straight Dare is getting involved with the Dungeon Master and owner, Roman. Roman already has a long time partner and slave of a dozen years, Jeff, but something about Dare appeals and attracts the leather master. Together the three men work and play as they balance the new appearance of Dare and what that means to the relationship.
The story is mostly decent as it follows Dare’s integration into a serious 24/7 master slave couple while viewing the actions from both Dare and Jeff’s perspective. There are however a few holes that aren’t well explained. The first is the character of Dare, who goes from being completely straight, totally uninterested in BDSM to contemplating being Roman’s slave in a little under a month but really only a handful of times with Roman. He agrees to increasingly uncomfortable situations and circumstances with hardly a qualm or question, way too fast given his history of accepting the easy road. Furthermore Dare expresses maybe a thought or two about butting into Jeff and Roman’s relationship but hardly even considers this. In fact he spends the majority of the time loving and accepting what Roman wants for him.
While the lack of concern from Dane’s perspective about almost anything that happens reads false, it does allow the story to focus on the BDSM action. The story revels in the sexuality, trust, sensuality, and pure mechanics of the buildup and sex. It delves into the acceptance of a submissive and why they crave certain actions, but from the viewpoint of very little to no angst about this. This works well with the character of Jeff who is more concerned about what’s going to happen to his relationship with Roman and is happy and confident in his sexual needs and tastes. His flaws and slight selfishness are on display constantly and somewhat hard to like. He likes to fall in love yet gets very jealous when Roman appears to be doing so. This isn’t pure selfishness or spoiled brat behavior but nuanced with a lot of meaning and background, but Jeff never really becomes a completely likable character.
Likewise Roman stays a mystery as the ultimate Dom that never makes a mistake. He owns the ubiquitous popular bar and BDSM club, held in high esteem by everyone and picks only those worthy to give his attention. He chooses of course the shy, introverted Dare and turns him into a willing submissive. He’s the least well developed of all the characters and that’s partly due to the narrative always being from the slave’s point of view who adore Roman and think he can do no wrong, so of course he doesn’t. This leaves Roman as a decent character but somewhat mysterious and a bit too perfect.
The writing itself is decent with some nice lyrical prose but overall it moves too fast and throws the characters into one scene after another with very little reflection beyond the sexual aspects. The story alternates from Dare’s third person point of view to Jeff’s first person perspective and this is a style that I don’t care for. Reader preference will vary but this tactic always pulls me out of the tale and reminds me I’m reading the manipulations of an author, rather than indulging in a story. The shifting view point stumbles each time, jerking out of an intense scene into something mundane or vice versa creating an uneven pace. The ending as well is completely abrupt and leaves the resolution hanging, with only a vague hope that the characters work something out. There is no real ending to how or even if Roman, Dare, and Jeff end up together and in what way. The book just…ends.
Overall this is a good book that will likely appeal to those BDSM fans looking for something intense and complicated. The shifting first to third POV may bother some but not others so if you’re a fan of edgy, hard hitting BDSM and like a ménage to your men, check this out.
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2 thoughts on “Above the Dungeon by S.M. Johnson”
Wow, Kassa, I am really on the fence about this one. I get the impression from your review that this story takes a superficial path exceedingly well travelled in our m/m genre (e.g., “the ubiquitous popular bar and BDSM club” arrgggh!) and then deepens it and makes it unique (“sex offered is hard core with edgy sadomasochism, but there are a lot of relationship dynamics and emotional struggles that happen to balance this out. The end result is still a complicated, lightening fast creation”. That interests me a lot when an author takes a really common theme and puts a unique personal stamp on it.
The drawbacks for me would be the standard dom character: Likewise Roman stays a mystery as the ultimate Dom that never makes a mistake. He owns the ubiquitous popular bar and BDSM club, held in high esteem by everyone and picks only those worthy to give his attention.
and this, “The story alternates from … third person point of view to Jeff’s first person perspective and this is a style that I don’t care for. … this tactic always pulls me out of the tale and reminds me I’m reading the manipulations of an author, rather than indulging in a story.”
I’m with you 100% on that one (reviewer hive-mind, ha, ha!). I can’t help seeing it as really pretentious when an author starts experimenting with different tenses in the same story rather than just picking the simplest way to tell the story to preserve rapport with the reader.
Hmmm, I’ll keep thinking about it. Thanks for the review!
I think I was kind of on the fence about it too. There’s something about the author that appeals to me so I can enjoy reading her work regardless of the issues but if you don’t particularly like BDSM, i think the focus may take away some enjoyment. Since the BDSM tends to be more hard core and focuses on the rules, 24/7 slavery and the like.
The dynamics of adding a third person to the mix are interesting but sadly WHY the dom wanted to do this is confusing. There’s the aspect that the two are in a committed relationship but still need outside emotional support, as if being together isn’t enough. I wanted to know more about this and the range of emotions it can bring, a heady topic, but that never really materalized sadly. Or not to the extent I wanted.
And the ending is definitely hanging. So not perfect and really depends if you’re a fan of BDSM or not.