I love BDSM fiction - both to read and to write. Some of you perusing this review, I'm sure, will nod your heads in agreement, possibly even more enthusiastic than I am about the genre. BDSM is sufficiently complex, however, that the same book might affect us in totally different ways.
The acronym itself signals the disparate, overlapping components of "kink." Bondage and discipline. Dominance and submission. Sadism and masochism. For some people, physical constraint and pain provide the turn on. For others, the excitement hinges on the power differential, the experience of taking control, or relinquishing it. Some readers prefer cruel, untouchable dominants and submissives reduced to the status of objects. Others focus on the ritualistic connection between the partners in the D/s dance. BDSM may involve humiliation, fear, disgust, shame, and sexual deprivation, as well as pleasure, sexual satisfaction, pride, and devotion.
Given this broad spectrum, both physical and psychological, Amber's Attraction by Annabeth Carew will very likely appeal to some readers of the genre. Unfortunately, I am not one of them.
Amber, Ms. Carew's heroine, is an aspiring actress in her twenties, distinguished mostly by her full-bosomed blonde beauty and her naughty sexual imagination. Amber attends an audition for a role as hostess for a high-profile television game show called Infinite Fun, directed by enigmatic maverick Garrett Ellison and funded by millionaire tycoon Roland Hadley. Her first meeting with Ellison excites and disturbs her. She realizes that her trepidation is justified when, on the call-back interview, he requires her to masturbate in front of the camera (and the crew). Still she doesn't refuse her screen test, even when it involves wrestling her gorgeous co-hostess Karina in a pool of lime jello. Despite her uncertainty, the chance to exhibit herself in lewd and embarrassing ways excites her tremendously. After the screen test, however, she comes to her senses and seeks out the commanding Garrett to object. He takes control, physically and psychologically, forcing her to admit to her unseemly desires and claiming her as his slave.
Amber's contract with the studio requires her not only to participate in the game show, but also to act in more private scenes for the benefit of Roland Hadley's investors and their friends. With Karina and Damon Cavill, the charming and charismatic host of Infinite Fun, Amber participates in a wide range of outrageous sexual scenarios, each more bizarre and humiliating than the last. In the books climactic scene, Karina and Amber are dosed with a potent experimental drug that supposedly turns women into nymphomaniacs and then gang banged by an entire Australian soccer team, including the coaches. The directors of this orgy, Garrett and Roland, simply watch.
You may think from the synopsis above that I object to the over-the-top sex scenes in Amber's Attraction. In fact, that's not true at all. Ms. Carew shows considerable originality in her carefully orchestrated sexual extravaganzas. Although the lime jello struck me as rather disgusting, (because of the jello, not the girl-on-girl sex!) some of the others definitely appealed. My favorite requires Amber to take the role of a prize pet pig,complete with a pink rubber mask and curly tail appended to a butt plug. She is rudely examined by the "judges" before wallowing in a pool of mud (spa quality!) and then being fucked by her doting "farmer" (Damon) while the horrified "farmer's wife" (Karina) whips her. Another outstanding scene, entitled "Three Ring Circus", casts Amber as a trapeze artist who has sold out to a rival circus. A pair of thuggish, tattooed strong men join Damon and Karina in exacting a painful, penetrating "revenge."
It's all lusty and exciting, with plenty of ropes, chains, whips, belts, dildoes, butt-plugs and gags, not to mention rampant erections, swollen nipples, soaked pussies, and stretched rear holes. No, the sex in Amber's Attraction isn't the problem. What bothered me was the characters and their relationships.
Amber is, quite frankly, shallow and stupid. She appears incapable of doing anything aside from looking gorgeous, shopping, going to spas, and having orgasms. Garrett treats her horribly (more on this later) but she doesn't have the self respect to walk away, even when she believes that she's in physical danger. It's obvious to everyone but Amber that the "experimental aphrodisiac" is a fake, a set-up to allow Amber to shed her last inhibitions and release her inner slut. Even after working with Garrett for weeks, she's not intelligent enough to understand how his devious mind works and to see through his machinations.
The Natural Submissive, who needs the Dom in order to learn about her True Self, is an archetype in BDSM literature. Female readers, especially, tend to identify with this sort of character, imagining themselves in her place. Maybe some readers will have that reaction to Amber. I couldn't - even though I've personally experienced something like the BDSM initiation to which she is subjected. She's just too wishy washy. She walks into a room, determined to stand up for her rights, only to turn to weakly protesting mush at a look from Garrett.
Meanwhile, I found Garrett truly despicable. He is arrogant and inconsiderate, showing no respect for his slave and only marginal concern for her comfort or safety. Amber apparently enjoys being humiliated, and Garrett is only too happy to oblige. He "smirks," "sneers," "jeers" and "mocks" his way through the book, ridiculing her poor attempts to understand what's going on, rarely showing the slightest interest in her feelings or well-being. He's the kind of Dom that makes some people equate BDSM with abuse.
His most grievous sin, in my eyes, is lying to her. The trick with the fake drug is simply cruel - partially because he knows she's not smart enough to figure it out. For me, the sine qua non of a BDSM relationship is trust. Garrett Ellison is not to be trusted.
There's also an element of dubious consent in this book. Certainly, there's no negotiation and no safewords. Amber never really decides to become Garrett's slave. She's totally consumed with lust for him; he proclaims that when she swallows his cum, she'll be his, and she believes him. Basically, she becomes his whore, forced to sexually satisfy Roland's disgusting cronies, making money for Garrett and Roland by acting in their porn shoots. The fact that Amber at some level seems to enjoy this doesn't necessarily make it all right - at least not in my eyes.
Of course, as I noted in my introduction, not everyone will react the way I did. Some readers find this sort of interaction arousing. They believe that the role of a Dom is to reduce the sub to nothing, to strip away every hope, every comfort. Amber's Attraction may be exactly what they're looking for.
Before concluding I want to mention the writing. Although Amber's Attraction is definitely not romance, the style borrows heavily from that genre, with plenty of purple-tinted prose. For someone who writes such extreme, diverse and unrelenting sex scenes, Ms. Carew seems to have a curious aversion to using the word "cunt" or even "pussy." (I couldn't find either one in the entire 111 pages.)
Here's a particularly egregious paragraph from page 27:
He put her out of her torment with one long, strong thrust, sinking into her hot depths without a word. Amber screamed into the black leather, overwhelmed by the sensation of the log of solid flesh stretching her tight sheath. Her sex muscles clung to his thickness while every nerve ending in her femininity sparked with delight. As he began to ram his cock backwards and forwards, Amber became almost delirious with excitement, experiencing an unparalleled intensity of sexual pleasure. Her entire being was transported by the power of his possession and she lost all sense of time and space.
Fortunately the imaginative sex tended to distract me from the writing through much of the book, though I did notice Amber on page 70 “sucking and slurping at the oasis of his loins as if she was dying of thirst.”
I'm really sorry that I didn't react more positively to this book. I wanted to. I wanted Amber to wake up and show some spine. I wanted Garrett to display a bit of sympathy, to offer her that sense of being cherished that, for a sub, makes every pain and trial worth enduring. It never happened.Other readers might not care. But I did.