Rating: 2.5 stars
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Designs of Desire is a novel written by a new author in the M/M genre, Tempeste O’Riley. Let me begin then by saying that I feel O’Riley has incredible potential and is an author that bears watching in the future. I feel that this, her “freshman” foray into this genre, was a good one and I hope she continues to write the stories that ramble about in her head. However, this particularly novel had some weak spots that I feel pulled down the overall plot, diluting it and making it overly busy. When a story becomes so involved, often characterization becomes just a bit muddled and even the strongest writing loses its impact.
James Bryant is at his core an artist. However, most of his life has been spent going from one abusive relationship to another, the last ending with him on crutches for the rest of his life. Because James suffers from a disease that causes his joints to dislocate when he is handled too roughly, the car accident he endured due to an angry former lover has left him permanently disabled. But it is not the physical limitations that keep James from pursuing his dreams, it is the relentless voices in his head that mock and ridicule him, a family that allowed his brother’s friend to rape and use him and took the bullies’ side, and a mother who hates him. James has, until this point, lived a life that no one should have to live. His friend Chase is not only his confidant, but also his protector in many ways. Until that job has a new applicant…Seth Burns.
Seth requests James as his designer knowing that he is gay and since the hotel he is building will cater to the LGBT clientele, the partnership seems perfect. Seth is the complete opposite of James; confident, wealthy, and used to getting his way, he sweeps into Seth’s life and begins to take control. Here is where the story began to veer off on a tangent that I felt was never fully developed. Apparently Seth is a dominant. His unusual choice of affectionate names for James included the use of “pet.” It is explained that his mother uses it as a term of affection, but for James it feels just like another boyfriend trying to control him, and that type of control has always led to James being physically assaulted in the past.
This idea that Seth likes to dominate is further validated when he and James are meeting a gallery owner and a potential client for James’ art. Having maneuvered James into picking up his art again, they go to the gallery and collide with one of Seth’s former subs, one who enjoyed varying degrees of pain and describes at length how James will be so very lucky to “wear Seth’s bruises and collar” one day. James runs in terror. All he has known is pain at the hands of domineering men and he fears that Seth is just one more in a line of men who will hurt him eventually. Even though what the former sub said is true, the whole plot point about the dominant tendencies is downplayed. Yes, eventually there is some very minor foray into binding James during sex, but again, there is no real discussion about what it is either man wants from a D/s relationship. And yet from nearly the very beginning, James uses the honorific, “Sir” with Seth. I was so confused over the author’s decision to toy with a BDSM theme but never fully develop it. I felt it weakened the story by never allowing us to see Seth fully actualized as a dominant man, but instead made him appear obsessive and, at times, a bit creepy. For instance, his habit of picking out clothing for James to wear, automatically ordering for James when they dined out, hiring a housekeeper without consulting James first…all these pointed to a man who wanted to be in control and yet Seth constantly backs away from telling James he loves him. I felt Seth’s character suffered at the hand of such indecisive writing.
Then there was the issue of James’ family. The idea that they would harbor and believe a rapist, and that James’ own brother would encourage and delight in seeing his buddy abuse his brother was just repulsive. And while there was some sense of outrage, it was muted and the emotional impact it had on James often swept away, unresolved. The fact is that with the amount of abuse James endured he should have been in counseling. Also, I really cannot see the support for James wanting to submit to Seth by novel’s end. This was a whirlwind romance in many ways, solidified in a matter of months, and James’ past should have played a much larger factor in how this relationship progressed. Instead, while there was a lot of James running away from Seth, there was never really a time when the two men confronted the fact that outside help was needed for James to move beyond his trauma. It was just too easy in many ways. The ending too neat and the ghosts from the past swept away with out a thought as to whether they would come back to haunt this relationship again.
Overall, this story had great potential. The characters were interesting and though left at loose ends and, at times, underdeveloped, they were people who held my interest and whom I found myself caring about. I think this novel needed more focus. I felt the author had just a few too many plot lines “irons in the fire,” so to speak, and some of them suffered and languished as a result.
So I want to end this review as I began it, Tempeste O’Riley is a new author and, I believe, one to watch for in the future. I hope that she can grow in editing her stories so that they become a bit more cohesive and fully developed. The makings for a great read are all there; they just need a decisive hand to bring them to the table.