Review: In the Absence of Monsters by J.P. Barnaby

absence of monstersRating: 4.5 stars
Buy Links: 
 Amazon | All Romance
Length: Novel


Jayden Carter is tired of living on his sister’s couch, so he answers an ad for a roommate.  Little does he know how his life will change completely the day he meets Dr. Ethan Bryant.

Ethan has one rule for Jayden: stay out of the room at the end of the hall. But when Jayden’s curiosity gets the better of him, he is shocked and intrigued to find Ethan’s playroom.  And when Ethan issues an ultimatum for Jayden’s deception — move out or spend the night as his sub — Jayden finds himself surprisingly turned on and intrigued by the idea.  From that night forward, Jayden is introduced to the world of BDSM with Ethan as his Dom. It is a world he never know he wanted, but one that he now realizes gives him just what he needs.  Along with Ethan’s other sub, Lexi, Jayden trains to become a submissive under Ethan’s guidance.  And along the way, he finds a true friend in Lexi, and even one in the reserved Ethan as well.

But when circumstances lead to Lexi moving away, and Jayden soon following, Ethan is suddenly left all alone. For a man whose identity is wrapped up in being a Dom, he finds himself without a sub. But Ethan realizes he can’t even imagine taking on anyone new. He is alone and adrift and many of the old demons from his past return.

The friendship between Ethan, Lexi, and Jayden is still strong, however, and the former subs will not let him flounder. Slowly Ethan begins to find himself again, with the help of Lexi and Jayden, an old childhood friend Gabriel, and even his estranged parents.  For the first time, Ethan begins to understand what it truly means to love, and to break away from the demons of the past. But soon Ethan faces a crossroads between two men, one who is safe and easy, and one who could be everything he wants if he just dares to reach for it.

In the Absence of Monsters is a powerful story that looks at a man with incredible demons who is hiding behind a facade of strength.  And when he can no longer pretend, Ethan falls apart, only to be put together again through the strength of love and friendship.

The book was adapted from two of Barnaby’s previous releases, The Forbidden Room and A House of Cards: Deconstructing Ethan.  It is told in two parts (presumably along the lines of the original books), with the first part from Jayden’s POV and the second from Ethan’s.  The first half primarily focuses on Jayden entering the world of BDSM and learning what it is like to be a submissive, and later a Dom.  He struggles with his attraction to Ethan, the first time he has ever been interested in a man. He also must deal with the fallout from his family, especially his sister, who don’t understand his new lifestyle.  And Jayden must adjust to this new world and how it has changed him.

This part of the book really is Jayden’s story, even though Ethan plays a prominent role.  We are learning about Ethan almost by reflection as we follow Jayden’s story.  We learn that Ethan is a very reserved, controlled man.  He doesn’t interact a lot with others in the outside world, but he is a strong and well respected Dom. As we learn more about Ethan in the second part of the book, we can see better how so much of what he projects early on is an illusion.  He has built up this persona that he needs to keep himself sane, but the real Ethan is much more scared and unsure.  I actually really like the way Barnaby gives us this understanding of Ethan through Jayden’s eyes, as well as in hindsight as the book continues.  But considering how the book ultimately is Ethan’s story, I do wish we had a little more time in his head rather than so long with Jayden.

The second part of the story starts with Ethan pretty much falling apart. He just can not get past losing both of his subs, and he sinks into a deep depression from which only Jayden and Lexi can pull him out.  The style of this portion of the story is a little different than the first half. Not only are we in Ethan’s POV now, but a lot of his thoughts and feelings are expressed through his journal where he is trying to work through his issues.  In some cases, we end up hearing Ethan’s versions of the same events we saw from Jayden’s POV earlier. On one hand, it was interesting in some cases to learn what Ethan had been thinking there. But to some degree these scenes also felt a little repetitive since we already saw these things happening once before.  I am thinking perhaps this is a by product of two separate books being merged into one. But I think maybe if the flashback elements were made shorter it would have helped here with the repetitiveness.

My only other issue here is that I feel like a lot of the second half of the book was sort of near misses and misunderstandings between Jayden and Ethan.  I totally get why neither Jayden nor Ethan is good at talking through their issues.  But we have so many scenes where Ethan thinks about talking to Jayden, and one thing or another gets in the way.  So I really had no idea how Jayden felt until the very end and I just wanted to see these guys talk to each other sooner.

Aside from that, however, I really enjoyed this section of the book, despite how painful it sometimes is.  Here we really see Ethan look deep into himself, and force himself to face his painful past.  Only through that is he able to start really figuring out what he wants out of life.  He becomes a much more confident person, someone who for the first time understands real love and passion, and not just the pleasure of sex. It is so rewarding to see Ethan come into his own and I was cheering for him all the way.  Barnaby is really a master at creating these broken characters, exposing their fragile underbelly, and slowly helping them rebuild. And in Ethan she has really succeeded in both showing us his pain and also his ultimate redemption.

Despite some quibbles with the set up, one of the things I really enjoyed here is that nontraditional story flow.  In addition to the shifting POVs and tones between the halves of the book, the story is definitely not a traditional romance arc.  Part of that is the fact that Lexi plays a huge role in both Jayden and Ethan’s lives. They love her, she is Ethan’s sub, and later in a BDSM relationship with Jayden.  And she is the first true friend that Ethan has.  I loved Lexi and how she is a source of love and comfort to both of these men.  In some ways this story has a menage feel in that, while the romantic connection is only between Ethan and Jayden, there is true love and partnership between the three of them.  They live together for part of the time, share a BDSM lifestyle together, and have sex together (either in pairs or as a threesome).  It really is a lovely relationship and one we don’t often see portrayed in m/m romance.

I will also point out that in addition to being with Lexi, both men have sex with others throughout the book, both other Doms and subs, as well as one romantic pairing.  I think it makes perfect sense in the story and fits the way the relationship develops between these two men. But just be aware if this is an issue for you, there is lots of sex outside the primary relationship.

So I found so much to really love in this story.  I loved the way it grows and develops, illuminating Ethan first through Jayden and ultimately through his own eyes.  It is so rewarding to see Ethan find himself, figure out who he is and what he wants. And then of course, to get the love and happiness he deserves.  This is a really special and wonderful story and I highly recommend it.

P.S. Barnaby is offering an amazing giveaway of a Kindle Fire and a $100 Wilde City Press gift certificate. Check out her tour stop for more details.

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