Loose Id, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-59632-782-5
Fantasy Erotica, 2008
This review originally appeared on The Naughty Bits, which is sadly no longer around. It’s now here with Teddypig’s permission.
It was a dark and stormy night… when the necromancer Master Lucan rides into the guildhouse where Tam the slave boy lives. Master Lucan proceeds to accept a job from the guildmistress and Slave boy Tam becomes his faithful side kick. All this leads to many of your typical BDSM scenes of butt plugs (Is this a contractual requirement?) and whippings and endless kneeling etc etc etc.
The writing in Dark Heart is tight. The world building has depth and the fantasy itself is interesting with all the talking dead people and journeys to hell and demonic dealings and such. As far as that all goes it is a fine BDSM Fantasy. But… is it a romance?
OK let’s compare and contrast this story to my favorite contemporary BDSM romance John Preston’s Mr. Benson and see where there might be a few issues for me the BDSM romance-reading pig.
Both books have the perfect Master with his perfect hair and perfect teeth and both are successful, rich, demanding, responsible men who as the story progresses take on the ownership of a slave.
Both books use mostly the slaves “point of view” relying on them to provide the underlying motivations and context in which to see the story’s progression. So far they are pretty much the same.
The key difference should be obvious to anyone.
One is a gay BDSM fantasy romance and the other a gay BDSM contemporary romance so the difference is in the type of person providing the main point of view.
Jamie in Mr. Benson is your typical modern day horny gay guy cruising a bar on Christopher Street when we meet him who through the entire story slowly, decision by decision, choice by choice, becomes Mr Benson’s slave.
Tam in Dark Heart has been a slave since he was a child and that just is part of the culture he grew up in. He does not expect any type of change or becoming more than a slave and in fact seems pretty happy with his lot in life from what I gathered in the book.
So there it is right there!
Dark Heart which bases it’s telling from the point of view of Tam the slave boy does not really have a “character story arc”, it’s static, because Tam was a slave, is a slave, and remains a slave the entire time. You could argue he falls in love with Master Lucan but I have to ask how you know that. Does he “love” Master Lucan simply because he feels more appreciated as a slave or just because Master Lucan beats him less? And Is any of that depressing mess romantic?
It’s so much easier for me to believe the imperfect Mr. Benson in this case than the perfect BDSM fantasy of Dark Heart because I as the reader know that in Mr. Benson Jamie can get the fuck up and walk any time he feels like it.
There is always that “instant out” button that can be pressed and then you have to deal with him as a man. Not a plaything or a possession. Tam is never offered any of those decisions and he never gets the choice between freedom or love or anything of emotional consequence. Tam and Lucan never drop their roles so there is no real assessment of either of them as people in a relationship.
Tam “being a slave” and choosing to give a good blow job versus a bad blow job based on how he feels about Master Lucan will never be as big of an emotional impact to me as Jamie choosing to give a blow job to Mr. Benson based on his “choice to play the role of a slave”. Tam is just doing his job and is expected to just give the blow job. Why should I read any implication that love is involved into an expected act?
A choice made so as “not to be beaten to death” is not an act of commitment or love! That is the very essence of my problem whether we are talking Dark Heart or any of the Gor novels or the Anne Rice Beauty books with all their BDSM fantasies in full swing. Writing good, bad or anywhere in between.
BDSM is the same as sex to me the reader so filling a story up with sex scenes just makes it erotic or pornographic. Filling a story up with BDSM scenes does not magically imply romance because BDSM by itself is not any more or any less romantic than sex. If done well it can make for a good read. I still like it, it just should not be labeled romance.
One last question. Can any BDSM story be considered romance if there is no choices made between freedom and love? I don’t know but I have not read any that worked for me that did not have those considerations made somewhere in the story.
Strong writing and talented world building should have brought this up to a solid B but use of some typical BDSM clichés plus a total crash and burn on the romance side of things, which is why I bought it in the first place, makes this a Grade D.