Author: A.R. Barley
Publisher: Carina Press
Length: 169 Pages
Category: Contemporary Romance, BDSM
At a Glance: While this book might work on every level for some readers, it failed to deliver for me.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Kelly O’Connor’s out of control.
An RA at Halton University, he spends his off nights at a club, hoping to find what he’s looking for in rough sex with strangers.
Until one night the play gets a little too rough. An isolated room, a dangerous situation…and an unexpected rescue.
Ian Larkin knows what Kelly wants—a true Dom, someone who will protect him instead of using him, someone who can take him to the edge without pushing him into unsafe territory.
Ian knows just what Kelly needs, and he’s the only man who can give it to him.
There’s only one problem: Kelly is a student, and Ian is a teacher.
Review: I’ve read some pretty amazing BDSM novels over the years, ranging from a subtler domestic discipline, to the drawing of psychological and physical safe zones (Tymber Dalton’s The Reluctant Dom), to some hardcore nasty in-your-face humiliation BDSM (John Preston’s Mr. Benson). Reading a few fiction books that include a BDSM relationship doesn’t make me an expert on the subject of dominance and submission, obviously, so within my admittedly limited knowledge of the lifestyle, I have to say that A.R. Barley’s Against the Rules wasn’t convincing to me as a healthy or believable fictional BDSM relationship. Instead, it reads more like the Alpha Male trope that often passes for D/s in the romance genre.
Ian Larkin is the older man in the story. Twenty-nine-year-old Ian is a teacher of economics at Halton University. He has one hard and fast rule—No. Dating. Students. That rule doesn’t take more than a few pages to be broken, though…sort of. Ian rescues a student who’s got himself into a bit of trouble in a nightclub bathroom, and falls immediately in lust with the blond haired, blue eyed “Prince Charming.” Ian senses that Kelly O’Connor is in need of some serious discipline, and he wars internally over his suitability to be that Dom—we gradually discover that Ian has fled from a past event where he’d failed his submissive, and now he suffers from the residual guilt of his decision.
Kelly is twenty-two-years-old, and a hot mess, and I said “sort of” a student above because while Kelly is enrolled at the university, he’s not Ian’s student. Plus, he’s an adult, so I’m not sure how relevant the whole teacher/student rule even is to this storyline, other than it was an effort to create something taboo that really isn’t.
At times Kelly reads much older and more mature than his years, while at others, he seems to process emotions and events that have happened to him in a way that didn’t feel suited to his age at all—sometimes he behaves in ways that just come off as bizarre and inexplicable, but the overarching sense of the man is that he’s emotionally immature. And the way he comes around to the decision that he wants to be dominated, that he likes his sex on the rough side, wasn’t what I’d call a healthy progression or exploration of sexual submission, nor was I convinced that Ian should have been the Dom to take Kelly on. There was too little of what I understand is an integral part of the Dom/sub dynamic—the communication that must come beforehand, whether the arrangement is romantic in nature or not—which led to the unfortunate lack of plausibility or investment in their relationship for me. It all boils down to the fact that a few growls, your ass is mine, and a little slap and tickle don’t make for a true BDSM relationship as far as I’m concerned, not even in fiction, and I never came to a point in this story where I felt these two men had any sort of chemistry or connection to build a future on.
Not to mention the climax of the story left me staggered by the manufacturing of it for the sake of added melodrama (it does play well against Kelly’s emotional immaturity, though). The problem is I had a hard time reconciling Kelly’s reasons for going off half-cocked. Again, he’s an adult, so why he felt it necessary to even entertain his aunt and the rest of his family’s suggestions was kind of beyond me, when a simple “Nope” would’ve sufficed. Maybe that says more about my own pigheadedness than anything else, though.
While I know there are some readers out there who are going to connect with this couple on every level, and who will empathize with Kelly (which I did to a certain degree in the end), Against the Rules just didn’t work for me, not as a believable D/s relationship nor as a believable any-sort-of-relationship, period.
You can buy Against the Rules here: