Jenner Parrish is 18 years old and gay, living in a small town. He doesn’t have much opportunity to meet other gay men, so he looks online and finds the Manse, a gay club. Jenner is nervous about the experience, but determined to take the chance. When Jenner arrives at the Manse, he is surprised when David, the owner, takes an immediate interest in him. The men have a hot night together that awakens a side of Jenner he never really knew, one that wants to dominate his lover. As David takes Jenner under his wing to teach him what he knows, Jenner begins to learn much more about himself and what he wants from the man of his dreams.
Learning from the Master is a prequel to Kelling’s Bound by Lies and introduces us to Jenner at his start. The author indicates this story works as a standalone, and I think for the most part it does, sort of setting up the next book (which I have not read). I really liked the concept of this story, getting the origins of Jenner’s interest in domination, learning about the Manse, and seeing how he gets to the point he is in Bound by Lies. I think Jenner is an interesting guy, sort of the always popular, golden boy who is hiding a big part of himself. I like that Jenner isn’t just this totally insecure wallflower; we know that he is popular and was successful in high school, yet he still struggles living in the small town and finding anyone to be with.
I think the hardest part for me here is that so many areas just didn’t feel developed enough. This story is short and there are a lot of ideas being conveyed, and there is just not enough time to get them solid support. We get a lot of telling of people’s feelings or reactions, as there isn’t time to really show them adequately. So often I felt like I had to just accept things because I was told, without actually feeling it. For example, Jenner meets David that first night, then we jump to months later after they have been seeing each other. Jenner feels total loyalty to David, a sense of being owned, and he adores him. But we don’t see any of that development, we are just told how he feels, so I couldn’t really feel the connection between them as a reader. Other times things seem to just happen super fast. We are told months have passed and Jenner has only been to the mansion a few times at this point, yet he acts as if it has had this long, in-depth relationship with David. When Jenner meets Shea at the manse, he basically falls for him in seconds. He has these huge emotions almost immediately, and again because there is no time to develop anything, we are just told how he feels and must accept it. I don’t want to knock short stories, because it is a format I enjoy, but in this case we just needed more time to establish things. I would have loved to see more of Jenner’s training, for example, or watch him work through that learning curve of becoming a Dom. Or understanding how he likes to submit to David, but his instincts are toward being a Dom himself with other partners. I just think we needed more time to explore so many issues, and as a result, I just felt like it was too much telling and not enough time to show things happening.
Just for clarity, this is not a romance story. I’d call it more of an erotic fantasy. Although Jenner has strong feelings for David and Shea, he doesn’t not have a romantic relationship with either of them. Looking ahead at Jenner’s book, he has another love interest, so that totally makes sense in this prequel. But just want to be sure you guys understand how this goes. Also, although the book is described as a menage in the blurb, and there are menage sex scenes, there is not a romantic relationship between the three men. And last bit of clarity, although technically this fits as BDSM because of Jenner’s interest in domination, the sex scenes we see are pretty much vanilla sex (with the addition of a third and some watchers).
Ok, so like I said, I think the set up for this one was interesting and worked well. I just felt like it was too much of an outline without enough time to flesh it out. Perhaps I would have felt differently if I had read Bound by Lies and came into this prequel already knowing Jenner and being emotionally engaged in his story. But as it was, I just felt like there wasn’t enough time to get to know him or to understand his motivations and his feelings. So a nice story, but missing some things for me.