This anthology has been around a while, but like always I’m late to the party reading it. The theme of dubious non-con is always a hot button with some readers loving it and others not so much. I think this anthology does a good job of attempting to appeal to all those readers – something for everyone – without really gelling as a single theme. I think the stories work better individually or perhaps sticking with other stories closer to their general feeling. For example some of these stories are more romantic while others are straight up BDSM erotica. Like I said, something for everyone, but it’s unlikely that all these stories will appeal to the same reader. It might suit a reader more to pick and choose which of the anthology hits a particular sweet spot.
Opening the anthology is a hard-core BDSM erotica story Out of Options by Angelia Sparrow and Naomi Brooks – 3.5 stars. Connor turns tricks whenever he can’t make his rent, something that seems to happen more often than he’d like. He has a one-night stand with a seemingly nice guy/trick Jarrett who offers to help Connor if he needs it. Unfortunately Connor doesn’t look closely at the contract and basically sells himself into Jarrett’s slavery. This story isn’t romantic and is the heaviest BDSM of the group. That’s to be expected from these authors so I wasn’t surprised. The writing is bold, strong, and definitely in your face with unapologetic cruelty. I found it sexy and erotic but I didn’t like either character. Connor comes off as confused and weak while Jarrett is a sadist with few redeeming qualities. The sex was fine but I never cared about either man. As a piece of erotica, it hits the mark but nothing I’d read again or want to revisit.
Moving on to a classic sub/dom wolf story from Sean Michaels, Obedience Classes – 3 stars. Trevor is a young wolf who doesn’t want to follow the rules while Dirk is a prominent wolf looking for a mate and plaything. I consider this a classic SM story, heavy on the sex and light on the romance and actual writing. There’s surprisingly more complete sentences in this story than I’m used to with SM, but there are still a plethora of repetitive grunts and single word conversations. SM stories are always fun and quick with a lot of erotica, light D/s and a touch of romance. At this point I feel like if you’ve read one SM story you’ve read them all. That doesn’t stop me from enjoying it and I’m sure fans will as well.
Feeling as though the anthology was cruising along well I indulged in the entertaining What it’s Worth by Gryvon – 3 stars. Ian is a writer who’s looking for a factual story about Italians immigrants. Somehow he gets mixed up with an Italian sort of mobster, Vincenzo. Vincenzo introduces Ian to a world of BDSM delights and exhibitionism. This is a heavier BDSM story, mostly comprised of a single erotic scene with no real completion. I liked the writing and the character of Ian. Vincenzo is a mere shadow, but what bothered me the most was the story felt unfinished and incomplete. If it was just a one-off scene I could understand that but the story feels as if it’s waiting and could go two ways. I wanted more of an ending, even if temporary.
Next up is the most romantic story in the anthology and typically my favorite. I don’t always need romance with my BDSM but I’m a sucker for it like most readers. Blindside by Stella Harris – 4 stars. Matt is a new rugby player who’s being hazed by Dylan. The hazing involves some medical exams and light BDSM on the way to a happy, romantic ending. The writing is fun and offers a brief sketch of the characters. I felt this story offered the most characterization of both men and I responded more positively to that. I could understand the men and their motivation more, which made me appreciate the sex more. I’m definitely stereotypical that way. That said, I would have liked a bit more of the erotica since I felt it was mere a defensive way to explore a gay relationship than a deep seated desire of both men. It’s a minor compliant.
After Harris’ story I definitely was feeling good about the anthology, a feeling that slid to an abrupt halt with Unnatural Means by TC Mill – 1 star. I hated this story. Well hate may be too strong a word, I disliked the story. Witch hunts and the Inquisition just aren’t sexy material for me and I didn’t see anything erotic or desirable about torture that is not enjoyed by either man. Isak as the torturer failed to evoke any positive feelings and Sain, the witch accused of murder and tortured by Isak, made me pity him. The story ends on a romantic note but I couldn’t understand why either man would want to be with the other. The non-con so far in the anthology was mostly in name only. The men usually deep down wanted that kind of treatment and got off on it in one way or another. Additionally the man inflicting such usually enjoyed it as well. However here it feels as though neither man wants it and it’s not erotic or sexy at all. It’s merely cruel torture and I didn’t particularly care for that.
Thankfully the anthology ends on a high note with Salting the Earth by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane – 3.5 stars. This is a weird fairy tale about the fae in Ireland. Ronan is convinced the fae have kidnapped his sister, Rose, and embarks on a foolish rescue mission. The story is incredibly well written and involves a lot of subtly and nuance, which I appreciated. I liked the juxtaposition between Ronan’s recent past and his predicament with the fae. The sex is light BDSM but again I think it’s only nominally non-con. I did however find the story very complex and odd. There is good characterization and I liked how much nuance the king was given, considering how little he actually appeared in the story. I struggled with Ronan because he made incredibly stupid and foolish choices again and again, but he has depth and an attempt at good reasons for his behavior. There’s little romance, which I didn’t mind, but overall the story felt more complicated than it needed to be. The authors are great writers that I like but sometimes I feel as though they overwrite and unnecessarily complicate a story. That said, this is an easy story to recommend and a good choice to end the anthology.
Taking the anthology as a whole I’d say it’s probably 3 stars overall. There is a large variety of stories on the theme of non-con but I can’t imagine that variety will appeal to every reader. I tend to think they’d be more successful on their own but I’m glad I read most of them. I’m not sure I’d have picked these stories out of a hat so I’m grateful the anthology did.