When you read a Christine Feehan book, you know what you’re getting. No matter the series, no matter the hero, no matter the heroine, you know the formula, and it’s either one you loathe or one you can’t live without. But the added wrinkle here – a D/s relationship with full-on kitten play – is something that drags Desolation Road below the line of recommendation.
One can check off the Classic Feehan Tropes as one goes along. Aleksei ‘Absinthe’ Solokov (check for an unusual nickname) is a big burly dude who’s a part of gang made up of his former childhood friends (check) who were all horrifically abused physically, sexually and emotionally (check) by their kidnappers as part of a sex ring/spy training school, and it is described in intense detail on the page (check) and causes them to have horrible flashbacks that only their lovers can help soothe (check). Since fleeing their abusers, the Torpedo Ink gang have left the military (check) and then formed an MC where they do less than legal things to make money (Absinthe is somehow a ‘jack of all trades’ lawyer while also participating in said MC. Yeah… just don’t ask questions). Absinthe is a more sensitive soul because he’s been sneaking away to the local library for peace and quiet lately. Which is where he meets his redheaded heroine – who is also a big reason for his sudden devotion to libraries.
Miss Scarlet Foley is said librarian, and has a peanut-butter-brained internal monologue filled with Oh My Gods (check) and thinks Absinthe is super handsome and thus involves herself in his life without thinking too hard about it. While we are told that Miss Foley is obsessed with books and a master of multiple languages (hint: she rarely speaks any of them in the book, and Absinthe mainly speaks Russian around her), that she has one of the best and brightest brains that Absinthe has ever come across, and she doesn’t remember the title of Sleeping Beauty or the name of the princess who appears in it with full regularity, something that would probably get her drummed out of the librarian’s union (not that she hesitates to resign when Absinthe tells her to.) When we later learn she has training in the sword-based arts thanks to a past involving (checkmark!) an equally physically and sexually abusive suckhole of a childhood, the reader is meanwhile left amazed she’s smart enough to even swing a cane.
Even though the Torpedo Ink gang have a variety of psychic abilities maintained through their group bond, Absinthe is the least fortunate, in that he’s a human sponge for the group’s past pain (check, and hello Carpathians). Absinthe has chosen not to control Scarlet with his voice – another skill he has – but he’ll have the gang’s hacker run a background check on her – oh, and he stole the fork she ate with during their first date so they can run her prints, because he’s paranoid as is every other member of Torpedo Ink. The book makes it clear that all of the members are fucked up, and instead of having them fix themselves they wallow in their unhealthy obsessive bonds and allow them to fester. They fuck together, they get drunk together, and they play games together. This is incredibly creepy, but perhaps would be less so if it were a ménage romance or something.
Every Feehan paranormal adds a new layer of crispy WTF-ery to the uh-okay parfait. In the Carpathian series, you have Intense!Soulmate!Bonds. In Torpedo Ink, the kink is, well, kink. Miss Foley becomes Absinthe’s submissive. To Feehan’s credit, they do engage in some forms of negotiation, he practices aftercare, and some people will say ‘fuck reality, give me that juicy porn’, but the sex isn’t that sexy unless you like Feehan’s usual ‘your-little-pussy-is-mine’ style blandishments. Scarlet needs a guy to top her to get off, and that would be fine, if Feehan had handled things in a manner that suggested she actually knows what acts of dominance and submission entail.
Absinthe is a mediocre Dom at first. He takes care of Scarlet’s limits, and there’s the traditional shaving-of-the-pudenda-to-equal-ownership-exchange (this happens on their wedding day so uh. Yikes.) But he also keeps a woman shivering and wet alone in a bathtub for hours to prove she will submit to him. And once she does, in comes the kitten play.
Let me brace our more vanilla readers for what ‘kitten play’ means, since it’s you might not have heard of it before. Scarlet gets off on pretending she’s a cat in the bedroom and Absinthe indulges her. That requires a tail buttplug being tucked up Scarlet’s Hershey highway, licking up dishes of milk, sucking milk off of Absinthian’s dick and drinking his “cream”, keeping her in a cage, putting nipple clamps on her, walking her on a leash and so much purring and clawing of carpets. While something like this can be sexy in practice, on the page it is gooftacular. It knows the words of the Dom and the sub but not the music; it’s all written so hootily, and anyone who isn’t into this very specific sort of petplay kink (which is NOT hinted about on the book’s back cover blurb) is likely to be bored or embarrassed. By the time Scarlet has to literally fellate Absinthe back to reality, I was ready to tap out.
You usually know what you’re getting these days when you pick up a Christine Feehan book, but the whole kink thing is a fresh dimension. Too bad it doesn’t help the book. Desolation Road works best as a scratching post.
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Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier