When we first meet Jessica Randall, she’s a bedraggled, pint-sized blonde climbing out of a ditch on a lonely stretch of a Florida highway. It’s the middle of the night, there’s a storm raging outside, and her car is trashed. Her only option is to seek shelter at nearby Club Shadowlands (just your friendly neighbourhood BDSM club!). There, she meets Master Z - a surprisingly sweet Dom - and a night of amazing passion ensues.
First things first: the premise of the story definitely demands some suspension of disbelief (within moments of walking into the club, Master Z strips off Jessica’s clothes, watches her shower, and then dries her very, very
thoroughly). Let’s be real, any modern woman in her right mind would have taken a swing - or, at the very least screamed - at the crazy man who barged into a women’s washroom while she was changing. Instead, we’re supposed to believe that Jessica’s natural yet untapped submissive nature instantly responded to the authoritative tone in Master Z’s voice… Uh, okay. But, if you can roll with this unlikely reaction (and the fact that Master Z’s also a bit of a mind reader), the rest of the story’s okay (but just
In Club Shadowlands,
Jessica is just being introduced to BDSM - the terminology, the people, the expectations, and the lifestyle. This offers Sinclair the perfect opportunity to ease her readers into the shallow end of the BDSM pool, too. Because Master Z “doesn’t go for the hard-core S/M stuff, whips and beatings and hot wax stuff” there’s nothing too extreme in this story to scare off a novice; it’s more about trust and the mental and emotional barriers the characters have to break down than it is about the sex (though those scenes are well-written, if brief). Overall, this story’s a nice, safe starting point for anyone who’s tired of the vanilla, but isn’t yet ready to fully explore the darker side of human emotion and sexuality.
One of the things that I most appreciated about this story was that in the character of Jessica, Sinclair has created a strong, independent, educated and successful woman who gets drawn into the BDSM lifestyle and finds that it fills a void in her that she didn’t even know existed. The vast majority of erotica I’ve read to this point have always had sweet but somewhat weak female characters who generally work entry level positions for the more powerful men in their lives (e.g. secretaries, personal assistants, etc.). Every time I encounter one of these characters, my inner feminist can’t help but rage at the authors for perpetuating ridiculous, narrow-minded stereotypes about the type of people that engage in D/s relationships. The BDSM community is just as diverse as any other sub-culture, and it’s refreshing to encounter an author who clearly understands this and seeks to reflect it in her work.
Verdict: Good, but not excellent. Still, the series – and Sinclair – have definite potential, so I’m willing to give Dark Citadel
(Masters of the Shadowlands #2) a try as well.