Dear CB Conwy
I think you may have spoiled me forever for a number of BDSM (gay and het) novels out there I previously might have found entertaining if not outstanding.
As it is, I totally fell in love with Mischa and Tom and would love to have another fix, because they became one of my favourite m/m couples ever.
Before I continue, let me tell that for the longest time I made a wide berth around A Russian Bear because I associated the cover with some raunchy bear story where the sub is supposed to call his master daddy *shudder*, not that the blurb was all that supporting either. Additionally, the fine art of designing alluring and enticing covers that make me want to buy the book IMMEDIATELY, Torquere Press hasn't mastered yet.
Be it as it is, A Russian Bear and its sequel Happily Ever After deal strongly with the element of pain play, even though the words sadist and masochist are only mentioned once (as far as I remember) and not in the most favourable way. Mischa is a sadist in his dom mode and boy does he enjoy inflicting pain and truly excels at it, but what’s important to say is that - despite some very extreme things – he is a safe player first and foremost and knows his craft. What makes him so special is his, for lack of a better word, human and warm nature. He meets Tom and somehow this young, inexperienced man who doesn't know squat about BDSM, totally enthrals him and he falls deeply and irrevocably in love and shows it. He is caring, loving and very much capable of both loving the sub and the man outside of the bedroom who is more than a nice twink, but very much ambitious, goal-oriented, strong and self-reliant. What is shown even better in the second novel, after they both went through a serious crisis, is how Mischa is allowed to have a breakdown, to show weakness, fear and anguish. He is a deeply tender and caring man and despite the hard pain play that is part of their life and both of them crave to experience, there is no shortness of caring tenderness, soft kisses and lovemaking.
Tom is a very special sub who takes to BDSM like a duck to water. What makes him so outstanding is this ambiguity between being deeply aroused by Mischa's scenes and simultaneously being embarrassed by it. However, what makes him so strong is that he is too proud and self-confident to hide himself and his needs and wants, but voices clearly what he desires. He is a struggling art student who has worked very hard to come this far, very proud of his accomplishments and definitely not the type who would be happy to be only Mischa’s kept pet.
I never liked BDSM novels that were all about "training" the sub how to kneel and stand properly, when to say yes and no and dealing out punishments in case the sub departs from the strictest of protocols. I find that frankly boring and everything BUT erotic and mostly skipped those parts. The D/s dynamics in A Russian Bear is very easy and without a lot of protocol. Mischa and Tom mesh so well together which is what made it so difficult for me to enjoy any other BDSM novels I tried to read afterwards (DNF-ed quite a number of them!).
Some reviews mention there was too much sex in the novels if there is such a thing. Personally, I become bored by too much sex easily and more often than not skip those scenes, but not so in this case. Maybe because they are so great together, or the sex scenes were outstanding. I do not know, but I read every single word in this romance and did not want to skip one word. However, I definitely wouldn't recommend these novels to BDSM newbies, they wouldn’t have worked for me ten years ago, that’s for sure!
The reason why I ultimately go with an A- are more or less two pain play scenes which were rather hefty and not only freaked the sub out but also me. Nothing gory like blood play or needles (ick, not sexy at all) but I perceived those scenes as more hurtful than arousing to the sub. Maybe I just don't get the concept of a masochist that clearly as they pushed my personal comfort zones quite a bit. But what's most important is that I never got lost, I might have been freaked out for a few pages here and there but my love for those two guys was definitely stronger and I am so so happy to have had the courage to read them. Thank you, CB Conwy!