Nic Walker is unique and proud of it. At 34, he’s an accomplished Dom whose participation in the BDSM community has helped him discover and embrace who he is and what he likes. However, after a relationship with fellow Dom, Zane, goes bad, Nic closes himself off to intimacy of any kind and the kink community as well. When his best friend, Daphne, asks him to meet a client she isn’t compatible with, he reluctantly agrees.
When Nic meets sweet, shy, 24-year-old Vincent Blake, his interest is snared by Vincent’s responsiveness and bright blue eyes. He can also sympathize with the young man’s inability to keep denying his enjoyment of pretty things (especially soft underwear), his submissive nature, and his shame of not being a “manly” man. Between Vincent’s adorable charm, hidden backbone, and need to explore this repressed part of himself, Nic can’t help but soften towards the young man and agrees to dominate him. Despite Nic’s intentions to go slow and start as sexlessly as possible, their chemistry is explosive and compatibility undeniable. As the pair lose themselves to their passions, they may find much more than they bargained for.
I could have chosen Various Persuasions for almost any week of Reading Challenge Month as I was first attracted to its cover and have never read any of A.E. Lister’s work. However, after reading the blurb, I realized it best exemplified Under the Rainbow Week. Nic identifies as a nonbinary person who feels male most of the time and uses he/him pronouns. I enjoy reading stories about queer characters that are not always full of angst, so I appreciated that Nic is just Nic and loves being unique, which I absolutely adore. This is also true for Vincent, as his embarrassment for his desires hasn’t been extremely internalized and he has no real issue with his or other people’s gender nonconformity, so being with someone as fluid and confident as Nic gives him a freedom he quickly becomes addicted to.
Personally, I’d classify Various Persuasions as erotica with a dash of romance, as the emotional core/connection between the MCs is forged within the specific kind of vulnerability inherent in BDSM, rather than through dating or personal conversations; additionally, while the BDSM scenes between Vincent and Nic are rooted in the narrative themes of self-discovery and freedom, they are pretty sexually charged from the jump and go full out by their 3rd-ish meeting (around 30%), and that’s basically the book—Nic giving Vincent a safe place to explore, acceptance, and the domination he craves to let himself feel pretty and submissive, while reaffirming his masculinity in a way that isn’t toxic and rigid.
For Nic, Vincent’s immediate trust and his appreciation, almost reverence, for Nic’s gender fluidity allow Nic to access a vulnerability within that terrifies him, even as he slowly embraces the intimate side of kink he has shied away from. Nic and Vincent are likable and just developed enough to keep them from being one-dimensional figurines moved about from one kinky set piece to another and to give their “I love yous” a kernel of emotionality that isn’t rooted in the dopaminergic extremes of euphoric sexual fulfillment, especially since Nic’s “late” mention of love still comes within a few weeks of meeting, before they know each other’s full names and, apparently, before they’re even “at the point of introducing each other to their friends. Beyond the buckets and buckets of various fluids spilled in the course of the story, it’s clear to me that the power, sense of self, and liberation Vincent finds in Nic’s hands and how this openness helps Nic appreciate intimacy rather than fear it, creates a bond as solid and impactful for them as the same amount of time holding intimate conversations does for others.
Since the plot is pretty straightforward, the story’s flow and dialogue work well overall; unfortunately, there is a poorly handled conflict towards the end that could have been completely left out and not affected the story one iota. It seems like it’s included to reveal the depth of Nic’s feelings and provide closure with the ex who caused Nic’s intimacy issues. Instead, it’s so awkwardly wedged in and quickly handled it feels cumbersome, not helped by the story’s most clunky dialogue scenes and the fact Nic has already professed his feelings. Moreover, Zane is such a shudder-inducing creep that it creates more questions than closure. The timeline for Nic’s establishment as a Dom is muddled, but ignorable until this point. However, early on, Daphne makes it quite clear that Nic is one of the best/has a great reputation and Nic mentions topping and dominating many women; yet, Nic also says Zane was mentoring him to be a great Dom. Also, they’ve only been “broken up” for about five months and it’s hard to imagine that they were together for years with how terrible a person Zane is, especially given that as proud of his uniqueness as Nic is, I can’t imagine him allowing Zane to “parade him around” and make him feel like a “circus freak” for years. This seems especially true since Zane refers to Nic as female and so casually dead names him that it feels like a regular occurrence. Beyond the yuck factor of Zane’s addition, the conflict also calls into question Daphne’s friendship becauseThen, all this problematic behavior is swept away, Zane is once again relegated to obscurity (sans Daphne’s sympathetic attitude from the beginning), and all is as it was.
Despite this rocky detour, Various Persuasions is an interesting story that utilizes the inherent need for trust, vulnerability, and exchange found in the practice of BDSM to explore identity, discovery, and the happiness that can be found when one accepts themselves without judgement or rigid boundaries.
This review is part of our 2021 Reading Challenge Month for Under the Rainbow Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a fabulous paperback book bundle from Carina Press (you can see the details on the bundle in our Prize Preview post)! Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing Grand Prize sponsored by NineStar Press: a Kindle Paperwhite loaded with 50 NineStar Press books! And don’t forget if you read along with your own challenge book this week, you can earn ten contest entries for writing a mini-review on our wrap up post on Friday! You can get more information on our Challenge Month here (including all the contest rules) and more details on Under the Rainbow Week here.