Ben Dean desperately needs guidance. He feels a natural inclination toward dominance, but he has very little education on the subject. Ben’s previous attempts at exploration with his ex ended badly and Ben can’t help feeling ashamed when he thinks about his desire for dominance. He meets Jacob Peers and finds an older, supportive switch ready to help train and build his self-confidence. For Ben, finding Jacob means finally finding acceptance free of judgment or guilt.
As Ben comes into his own as a Dom, he finds his relationship with Jacob perpetually in flux. Though he cares deeply for the man, Jacob has made a habit of keeping his lovers at arm’s length. Ben wants more, but unless Jacob is willing to take a risk on love, he may end up losing Ben forever.
Boundaries was an occasionally interesting, but often frustrating exploration of BDSM by two characters who could not have been more at odds with one another. The basic premise really grabbed my attention: an older experienced switch takes a young Dom under his wing for training. I enjoyed the age dynamic between Ben and Jacob and that as a switch Jacob had experienced both sides of the equation. The book moves fairly quickly and doesn’t have much drag time, though it occasionally gets bogged down in descriptions of art – be it Jacob’s sculpting, Ben’s photography, or other works.
Ben is earnest and eager and terrified all at once. He has had plenty of bad experiences thanks to an ex who had severe emotional triggers and left Ben uncomfortable with his need for domination. Ben read as realistic and his ineptness as he begins training is endearing. But I never really believed him as a Dom. His scenes with Jacob felt forced and awkward and, as a result, I struggled to remain invested in this part of the story. Even towards the end of the book when Ben is supposedly more at ease with his role, his character never reads as such. Instead his relationship with Jacob, both in and out of the bedroom, always feels uneven. A large part of this was Jacob, who is extremely difficult to like. He has a habit of running roughshod over all of the people in his life, making decisions for them and forcing them into situations for which they are unprepared. He tells Ben that he’s willing to go slow and train him correctly, but nearly the first time Ben stumbles, Jacob’s ready to toss him out the door. As a reader I couldn’t help feeling bad for Ben and more than once I would have been happy to see him walk away.
One of the biggest issues with Boundaries is Ben’s ex, Toby. Toby endured something terrible and the result of it had a profound and ultimately disastrous effect on his relationship with Ben. This results in Ben’s near constant dwelling on Toby during his scenes with Jacob, well past the point of ad nausea. While I believe the author was trying to convey how badly this situation scarred Ben, it reads instead as repetitive and somewhat pedantic rather than evocative or empathetic.
My other big frustration with Boundaries surrounds the arguments between Jacob, Ben, and the roommate Karl. They happen with an almost ridiculous frequency and the resolutions are far too easy given the severity of them. For instance, Jacob decides to book a photography client for Ben, despite the fact he had already opted to pass on the job. This seems like a huge issue and is portrayed as such in the book, but it is resolved almost effortlessly. Because they are so frequent and resolve themselves so easily, the tension these conflicts are supposed to create is rendered almost moot.
Boundaries had a lot of potential but stumbled on the execution. Ben is definitely an engaging character and the premise of a new Dom in training was original. But Jacob often reads as too domineering and unlikable and because neither of them seem to fit the roles created for them, it is hard to find their relationship believable. Still if you want a new take on becoming a Dom, you might want to give Boundaries a try.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.