I haven't read Shades of Grey so far, but I know Darkening uses the same set up as its big brother, only set in the UK and with, what I've garnered, a more intelligent heroine.
I do have the first installment of the Grey series in my "to be read" file, but it's the German library edition, as I don't want to spend money on a book I probably won't like (but will read nevertheless to know what all the rage is about LOL).
I bought Darkenning over at Total E Bound for one dollar, totally loving the cover and the musical setting. Also, I am a real sucker for a tall dark and dangerous hero with, sigh, long hair! I love their marketing strategy for selling firsts in a series at a severely reduced price to garner a better readership, it worked!
After starting reading Darkening I quickly discovered the book was written in present tense, and was all prepared to hate it. I don't know what it's with authors writing their books in present tense. I can have enough of that when reading high literature (and I know what I am talking about). But, it turned out that Ashe Barker has a very smooth and great writing style and achieved what to date no other romance fiction author has accomplished, she sold me a novel written in the present tense without me rewriting all the verbs!
Here's what I liked in Darkening: The heroine is highly intelligent with an IQ of 181, has no TSTL moments, and, for being a virgin, handles the whole D/s stuff with suave applomb. And there's a mental reason why she is a virgin, a good one, IMO, though I hope to learn more about it in the books to come.
The hero, Nathan, is a handful to stomach. He has a lot to speak for him, besides his beauty and wealth and sexual expertise, but he hasn't touched me so far that I could call him a true grand hero.
After negotiations and a contract, he introduces Eva to a whole lot of BDSM in the space of 48 hours. And I mean a lot: spanking with a ruler, spanking with hands, whipping, caning, vibrator, oral sex, gentle and hard fucking (quoting the author here).
I couldn't help myself, but after a spanking with a ruler, a spanking with hands, a serious whipping and a caning in such a short time span, he appeared bit of a steam roller. He always combines it with pleasure, a lot of it, but talk about physical and emotional overload.
I am spoiled rotten where BDSM books are concerned, as Cherise Sinclair and Beth Kery are my all-time favourite authors in this genre. Additionally, I have read numerous books by authors who have dealt grandly with this subject. It seems that I belong to those "soft-boiled" readers who prefer a slower introduction to the lifestyle which consequently thickens as the story progresses. I like it when the sub is gently introduced to the erotic art of pain and made felt secure in his/her wants and needs. Playing on the edge is good, but I like reading about the safety net, too.
Nathan is, in my estimation, a very dark dom. He feeds on pain, he's a true sadist and likes putting Eva on the edge repeatedly, but without giving her this wonderful feeling of security. Oh, don't take me wrong, he would never harm her willingly physically or emotionally, but he doesn't offer her the security and gentleness I've come to appreciate in other fictional doms.
This said, let me mention that the book ends on a real cliffhanger which I totally hated. Not because of what happens next to Eva and Nathan, it's romance after all, LOL, but because of this new brand of marketing strategy to make larger sales, which I usually don't support. (Beth Kery and her newest trilogy dealt just peachy without using such machinations.) So, should I buy the next installments of the series, I will only do so, if there's a sale on ARe or TEB.
I go with a strong C+, partly because of the cliffhanger, but mainly because Nathan is a good but too sadistic dom.