Narrator: Michael Ferraiuolo
Length: 12 hours, 59 minutes
When Mikhail “Misha” Budnikov sees fencer Ryan O’Connor, he is immediately struck by how cocky the young man is, yet without the skills to back it up. But when Misha soundly beats Ryan in a match, he is surprised then to find Ryan recognizing his weaknesses and asking him for fencing lessons. Pleased to see that Ryan is more than just an arrogant young man, Misha agrees to coach him in fencing. Misha is a tough teacher, but he also gets results, and slowly Ryan begins to improve.
Both men find that they have an immediate interest in one another. There is a large age difference between them — around 20 years — but the attraction is strong and both men are eager to act upon it. Misha also notices that Ryan seems to have submissive tendencies, albeit ones he seems to be unaware of. As they spend more time together, the men begin to explore that dynamic, with Misha teaching Ryan all about submission and pain, and the pleasure that it can bring.
The plan is for fencing lessons and some hot sex, but as Misha and Ryan spend more time together, an emotional relationship begins to develop as well. Ryan shares his art with Misha, as well as turning to him for support in dealing with his difficult family. And Misha begins to fall for his young student. But Ryan’s family issues have left him jaded and cynical about love. He is fine with the sex, but refuses to accept more. Now Ryan must figure out if he is willing to take a chance on love, or risk losing Misha for good.
I love age gap stories so I was eager to check out The Master Will Appear. There are a lot of interesting dynamics here, with a teacher/student vibe going on between the men, both with the fencing lessons and the introduction to BDSM. Witt does a nice job playing with those roles and the age difference between the men, while also making the men believable as partners and equals. I also enjoyed the contrast with the various facets of Misha, as the strict and difficult to please fencing coach, as the Dom introducing Ryan to the world of BDSM and submission, and then as the gentle and nurturing boyfriend. It was fun to see all those sides to Misha play out in the story and how they round out this relationship between them.
The guys fall pretty fast and hard for one another, though Ryan seems to be either in denial or unaware that they are clearly in a romantic relationship and not just a sexual one. The conflict comes as Misha realizes he has fallen for Ryan, but Ryan is so cynical about love that he can’t accept Misha’s feelings. Ryan’s family is a mess and his mother pretty much only cares about finding a man to take care of her. His parents divorced when Ryan was young and his mother treats Ryan like it is his job to take care of her and he just feels stifled and strangled by her demands and those of the rest of his family. I liked seeing Misha help Ryan learn that he can stand up for himself and it isn’t his responsibility to put his family first at the expense of his own mental health. But it takes Ryan longer to believe that love can be real after dealing with all of their mess. I did find myself frustrated, as the conflict comes to a head, by Ryan’s lack of awareness of what his relationship with Misha has become and the way he turns a kind gesture of Misha’s back around as an attack. I also felt that at times Misha is just too good to be true. He is so giving, so selfless, so caring, so doting as to feel almost unrealistic. I also think the story has some slowness in the middle with scene after scene of the guys hanging out or having sex with not much else going on. Things do come together nicely in the end though and I enjoyed the epilogue and seeing how things have developed for the men.
I listened to this in audio with narrator Michael Ferraiuolo. I enjoy his narration and find his voice smooth and easy to listen to. The character voices are well done, the pacing is good, and the story flows nicely overall. However, there is one choice here in the narration that just didn’t work for me and it really threw the book off. Misha’s spoken voice and internal thoughts are presented with a very heavy Russian accent (though it is described as “subtle” in the book). However, the chapters are told in alternating POVs and Misha’s chapters are narrated with an American accent and one that sounds nothing like his actual speaking voice. In contrast, Ryan’s chapters are narrated in Ryan’s spoken/internal voice. I found this just incredibly jarring to the point that it pulled me out of the story time and time again. We would hear Misha speak out loud with this heavy Russian accent, then his narration would have an American accent. Not only was it jarring, but I would find myself losing track of whose chapter I was in because I kept having to remember that Misha isn’t narrated with a Russian accent.
I kind of understand this choice, as again, Misha has a very heavy accent and my assumption is that Witt and Ferraiuolo worried it would be hard to listen to the chapters narrated with a thick Russian accent. But given that the book describes his accent as subtle and he has lived in America for years, I am not clear why they didn’t just give Misha a much milder accent and that would have resolved it. As it was, even after 12+ hours of listening, I still found the distinction between Misha’s spoken voice and his chapter narration jarring and distracting. All that said, I wouldn’t hesitate to listen to more of Ferraiuolo’s work, I just didn’t particularly like how he handled this book.
So if you are looking for a story that incorporates the dynamics of an age gap, student/coach, and BDSM mentoring, this one is a nice choice to consider.