Against the Rules
This is #2 in A.R. Barley’s Boundaries series series but can be read as a standalone. I cannot say this was my favourite novel by A.R. Barley but the writing is easy reading and there is an underlying sexy romance to enjoy. Kelly is a Residential Assistant at Halton University; he spends his nights off at a leather club, hoping to find the relief he is looking for in rough sex with strangers. One night he allows himself to get into a dangerous situation…but is rescued. His knight in shiny leather trousers is as surprised to be rescuing Kelly, as Kelly is being rescued.
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 feels, as a Dom, he knows just what Kelly needs, and he wants to be the man who can give it to him. However, he feels there is a problem, as Kelly is a student, and Ian is a teacher.
My first issue with this story may seem silly, but it seems from reviews and even the Goodreads blurb that many had the same one. The Dom in this story is called Ian Larkin, and for some reason, I kept reading it as ‘Ian Rankin’, which threw me out of the story each time. I suppose this proves how important character names are.
This is not quite the story it appears to be at first. The teacher is a professor Ian, but he is only twenty-nine. The student is not his student and is twenty-two. One of the problems I think is that this story tries to be all things to all people and fails. Although, there is no real reason these two may not date it is made into an issue by various convoluted subplots. Ian is a black man originally from Chicago, and there are too few queer stories involving POC, so I was looking forward to this side of the plotline. Good start, Ian is a professor at a university, but he has a no-hoper, gambling brother. Could we not have a POC with a good, supportive interesting family? This subplot was not really necessary to the main storyline.
The characters were rather bland and I did not feel any sexual tension. Physically, they were too perfect and I find it hard to empathise with stereotyped perfection. Ian is tall, shaven headed, powerful, muscular with skin the colour of nutmeg. Kelly is beautiful, raspberry lips formed a perfect cupid’s bow, blonde, blue eyed with a square jaw, and cheekbones sharp enough to cut glass.
Kelly is also grief stricken, so BDSM and a Dom who wants to save him is rolled out as the great panacea for all ills. This is not what BDSM is about and it should never be used in mental illness. Thankfully, there is a safe word conversation, but Kelly’s insistence that he has no boundaries, so wouldn’t safe word, especially in the state he was in, would have made any Dom stop right there, surely. One of the crucial, and most romantic elements, of a true BDSM novel, is the communication between people – sometimes with sexual and / or physical pain, bondage etc., to reinforce this. Ian didn’t seem to communicate with Kelly on any level and vice versa, which led to many petty misunderstandings, and a scene that set off all my alarms.
I had big problems with a scene near the end. A whipping is delivered in anger, and against what the sub really wanted. I felt it was a sloppy plot device and completely at odds both with Ian’s ‘important backstory’ regarding BDSM, and how he feels about Kelly.
The climax of the story neatly resolves everybody’s problems, but is too over quickly and a bit of a damp squib. Against the Rules could have been a really good novel as the writing is sound and the underlying ideas good, but it just didn’t work for me.