At one point in this novel a character mentions that in regards to BDSM “everyone should experience it at least once”. Ummm…no thanks, I’m good.
What’s it About?
Notorious Nora Sutherlin is famous for her delicious works of erotica, each one more popular with readers than the last. But her latest manuscript is different—more serious, more personal—and she’s sure it’ll be her breakout book…if it ever sees the light of day.
Zachary Easton holds Nora’s fate in his well-manicured hands. The demanding British editor agrees to handle the book on one condition: he wants complete control. Nora must rewrite the entire novel to his exacting standards—in six weeks—or it’s no deal.
Nora’s grueling writing sessions with Zach are draining…and shockingly arousing. And a dangerous former lover has her wondering which is more torturous—staying away from him…or returning to his bed?
Nora thought she knew everything about being pushed to your limits. But in a world where passion is pain, nothing is ever that simple.
Our story opens with two posh editors debating the prospect of bringing an author of ‘smut’ into their company, whilst also discussing the superiority of Hamlet and poetry. Why do I get the feeling it won’t be too long before we’re tumbling down a very deep and dark rabbit hole of depravity? I went into this book with a bit of hesitancy. I’ve only read one Tiffany Reisz novel before this one, and it was a bit outside my comfort zone in regards to BDSM. Let’s just say that at one point the female lead was…pleasured with a Perrier bottle. So yeah, I guess when I picked up this little diddy I was slightly worried with what I might encounter. However, all things considered I must say it really wasn’t that bad! Would I call it vanilla? Oh hell to the no. We do encounter some pretty graphic scenes of BDSM with whipping, candle wax, multiple orgasms, f/f sex, etc. Again though, in thinking back to that one other novel I read by the same author I suppose it was mildly tame in comparison!
Personally, I felt the synopsis was slightly deceiving. Based on the description, it almost seemed as though our editor Zach would be the slightly kinky one. What with the mention of his need for control, his demanding personality, as well as his “exacting standards”. While Zach is certainly a strict editor, our female author Nora is actually the one who brings all the sexual expertise to the table. Zach always assumed he had a pretty wild sex background before he got married, what with the few times he’d had sex in a car, or in a public park. How could he have imagined that upon meeting the Ms. Nora Sutherlin, he’s basically a prude. Zach’s prudishness particularly comes to the forefront upon his initial opinions of Nora and her books. He openly discusses with his fellow editors, as well as with Nora directly, that the last thing he wants is to be involved with a writer of smut.
The snobbery and prejudice which is expressed against her work is something that many of us romance/erotica fans have probably heard a thousand times over. Even when Nora is attacked by a crazed fan at a book signing, Zach essentially blames her, asking what she expects considering the depraved things she writes. As Zach spends more time with Nora and her book though, he realizes there is much more to this woman than meets the eye. He discovers that the intimate scenes which mix both pain and pleasure are things which Nora has personally lived through, and that she is still involved with. At first, Zach insists that he doesn’t want to know any of the explicit details regarding Nora’s past or present life involving BDSM, but he quickly becomes fascinated despite himself. As for Nora, she’s more than willing to show her hard-ass editor what it’s really like in her world.
Welcome to the 8th Circle
For the first half or so of the book, the majority of the graphic details involving BDSM are reserved to scenes in Nora’s book. In a way, I found it sort of lessened the shock I would normally have felt when presented with such detail because it dealt with characters in a book within a book. We’re more removed from them. However, eventually Nora decides it’s time to provide Zach with a glimpse into her world by taking him to the 8th Circle, aka the sex club where she is second in command behind her former lover, who also happens to be a priest. This is when Nora’s BDSM lifestyle goes from black and white, and evolves into full technicolor. We and Zach are witnesses to a world very much unlike our own, and one which can be difficult to understand at times.
While I can’t say I enjoyed reading about what went on in this club, I must say I appreciated the reality of Zach’s reaction to all that he saw. His responses are probably similar to those I assume most of us would have. People are getting hurt. It’s dangerous. It’s sexist. What was even more interesting though was that for every concern or question he raised, there was always someone there to provide a seemingly legitimate and reasonable explanation. People are getting hurt? Sure, people get hurt playing rugby too. Dangerous? Only if you don’t trust the person you’re with, or you forget your safe word. Sexist? Pfft. Some women in the club are more dominant than any of the men could ever dream of being. It might be difficult for most of us to understand the appeal of this world, but some of these explanations really do provide us with a window into how it might appeal to some.
Eventually Zach discovers Nora is actually a very well sought-after dominatrix, and decides that his time with her and her book are over. Umm…are you really that surprised?! She basically took you to her playroom in an underground sex club. Wake up and see the riding crop on the wall already. I will say her reaction to Zach declaring her book won’t be published kind of made me giggle. When I get overwhelmed with the stresses of life and things not going my way, I might bake a cake, go to the movies, maybe crosstitch for a few hours whilst listening to an audiobook or having Friends on in the background. Nora? She goes on a dominatrix binge with clients for a few days. Well…whatever works for ya I guess! Zach equates the situation to prostitution, and at first I was all ready to come to her defense since she usually just ends up smacking her clients around for a few hours. Hell, if anything it’s like an overpriced gym membership with a personal trainer. But then she insists it’s not prostitution because she only sleeps with the women. Oh…well in that case…yeaaaah might be borderline prostitution.
A Question of Morality
As you can see, many characters in this book like to try and explain away some morally questionable behavior. Nora’s former lover is the king of trying to bring a sense of legitimacy to everything that Zach is witnessing in this sex club from hell, but at the end of the day I feel as though there were some issues that couldn’t simply be explained away by a smooth-talking priest. First of all, he’s…a…priest! He first met Nora when he was a priest. Their entire relationship of 10 years happened when he was a priest. And he’s still a priest! He tries to brush it aside by saying that Nora is the only one he’s ever broken his vows for. Still not ok. Nora claims that this priest was the only man who never hurt her, yet she’s been put in the hospital on more than one occasion after being with him. Swollen cheek, cracked lip, bruised rib, etc. True, she’s never uttered her safe word in these scenarios, but I feel like most other BDSM novels explain how a dominant who makes his submissive bleed, bruise, or scar is doing it wrong. And yet this is almost the foundation of Nora’s relationship with her priest.
Beyond the priest element, and the possible prostitution feature, there are several other moral issues presented in this book that sort of made me question whether or not it was an enjoyable read. At one point Nora has sex with a 15-year-old boy. Our priest again tries to justify it by saying that the boy was suicidal because he couldn’t understand why his sexual proclivities were so beyond the norm, and that Nora saved his life by showing him it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Sure, but maybe a therapist could have told him that too. Then there’s the fact that Zach is still married to his estranged wife back in England, and while he’s more than willing to entertain the idea of having an affair with Nora he still desires to get back together with his wife. Then…maybe you should give her a call in the evening instead of having Nora give you a blow job? Oh gosh, I guess I’m the biggest prude of all in this scenario!
Series: Original Sinners, book 1. I don’t know if I can mentally prepare myself enough to take on book 2 in this series. Maybe one day, but I might need to do a shot of tequila before giving it a go.
Final Impression: I will say I did enjoy the moments where Zach and Nora worked on her book together, as it pushed the limits of Zach’s understanding of pleasure, and helped him let his guard down a bit. Once they drift away from discussing the book though I did lose some of the connection to the plot. This is when the BDSM aspect is more fully explored, and everything becomes almost too explanatory. Like a lesson in the mechanics and psychological component of BDSM rather than any emotional connection with the characters. I also felt there was a lack of focus in terms of what the novel was supposed to be highlighting. We have Nora and her priest, Nora and Zach, Zach and his wife, Nora and her 19-year-old virgin intern, Zach’s introduction to BDSM, and Nora’s book. There’s definitely a lot going on.
Smut Level: Nora and Zach have agreed to not have sex until after they are finished with her book, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do other things before then 😉
Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $6.99 Kindle Price. MIRA Publishing. 428 Pages.