Rating: 4 stars
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Jax works as a sub sitter, looking after subs while their owners are away. He loves his job and enjoys meeting the different subs and helping the pairs. When Jax meets a new client, a owner named Layne, Jax can’t help but dislike the arrogant and unpleasant man. But Jax’s job is to be Layne’s surrogate to his sub Brysen while he is out of town, and Jax is determined to do his best. It doesn’t take long for warning bells to start to flash for Jax, however. Layne’s use of pain and punishment seem so extreme, even to a hard core sadist like Jax. And Brysen seems so subservient as to have almost no mind of his own, filled with nothing but adoration for Layne where other subs would have run screaming.
The longer Jax stays with Brysen, the bigger his concerns get until to his horror, he discovers what is really going on. Jax is determined to help Brysen, but it ends up being at the expense of his own sanity and well being. Now the danger may have past, but recovery for Brysen and Jax will be a long road, one that their relationship may not survive.
I am a fan of Jane Davitt and Alexa Snow and this book definitely got my attention. First off, the set up here is really fascinating. It is set in a futuristic world on another planet with really interesting world building, especially with regard to owners and subs. There is a government-regulated system in place and O/s is a formalized process. Subs wear collars that denote their relationship status, as well as what type/degree of kink they are into. These collars also monitor the health and well being of subs, even being able to detect when their limits are reached and sending off warnings to authorities if those limits are ignored. So we know that sub safety is something that is carefully monitored, but at the same time, it is clear early on that something is going wrong with Brysen. Over the course of the first part of the book, we slowly begin to see the horrors of what is really happening. As a reader, we can tell from the start that something isn’t right, as Brysen relays stories of his relationship with Layne, and Jax sees Layne first hand. But it takes Jax longer to really understand this isn’t just a really hard core owner and intense sub. Jax’s instinct is to just follow Layne’s guidance, until it becomes clear that something is really wrong. So this part is admittedly tough to read at times, as we get some graphic detail on some of the horrors Brysen is subjected to. I don’t think it was gratuitous because we do need to understand what is happening, but I will admit it was often hard to get through and I wanted Jax’s realization to come faster. It was clear almost from the start there was a problem, so as I reader I was ready to move forward before the story quite got there.
I don’t want to get into too much detail on how things shake out, as this will spoil some major story elements. I’ll just say that by around the halfway point, the conflict with Layne is fairly resolved and we are focused on the aftermath. What is interesting here is that we get a bit of role reversal between Jax and Brysen. In the first part of the book, Jax’s job is to care for Brysen as a sub sitter, and later to help him when he realizes Brysen is in trouble. But when things with Layne come to a head, it has major psychological implications for Jax and he comes out of it a total emotional mess. He begins to doubt his instincts, questions his ability to ever be an owner again, and is full of pain for his actions. It is then that Brysen steps in and tries to take care of Jax, to show him that he still is a good person, a good owner, and that Brysen still wants and needs him. It is well done and a nice counterpoint to the first part of the book. I’ll admit that I was hoping for a little less angst in this portion. The guys end the story with an HEA, but there never seems to be a point for them to just be happy throughout the book. I wanted to see more of their positive relationship building in order to really feel like they were ready for their happy ending. It at times felt like they were bonded through shared tragedy, more than really forging a connection between them.
Overall I found this story really interesting and engaging. The world building was clever and I liked the new take on the owner/sub dynamic. The futuristic elements of the story are incorporated nicely (right down to the fancy kink equipment), without being overly sci fi focused. And I liked both Brysen and Jax and found myself rooting for them from the start. At times this story is hard to read; it is not super dark in tone, but there are some pretty horrific situations described that are intense. But I think overall this story feels hopeful and we get a solid HEA for the guys. So I enjoyed this one and if you are looking for an interesting take on a BDSM story and are ok with some darker themes, definitely check this one out.