Review of Beyond Eden by Kele Moon

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 0 comments
Title of Book: Beyond Eden

Author: Kele Moon

Publisher: Ellora's Cave
Length: 404 pages

Primary relationships: MMF
Category or genre: Erotic BDSM Romance
Does this review contain spoilers?: mild spoilers for a specific sex scene
Did you own this already, or was a review copy provided to you?: Purchased with intent to review.

Beyond Eden begins with Eve Everton's less-than-triumphant return home to Tampa Bay from New York after the life she'd built for herself there falls apart. She's at the grocery store picking up ice cream for her mother when she runs into sexy Danny Carlow, her ex-boyfriend's best friend. Danny had always been secretly attracted to Eve, and her to him. Danny'd repressed his feelings for Eve in high school out of respect for his best friend, Paul. In school Evie Girl, Paul Guy, and Danny Boy had been like the Three Musketeers, and I really hope that you like those nicknames, because you will be hearing them a lot. Danny is independently wealthy, and he and Paul are currently living together.

What Eve doesn't know is that Paul is deeply masochistic, and has been for as long as she's known him. After she left for New York, Paul enters the BDSM scene in order to seek out dangerous pain games. Danny eventually follows him into the scene in order to learn how to provide Paul what he needed with a higher degree of safety – Paul loves pain so much that he would literally let someone beat him unconscious, and possibly to death. Danny eventually discovers that he has a talent for domination and begins charging others for his services. By the time he reconnects with Eve, he's gained a reputation as a talented Dom, and retired from the scene. Meanwhile Paul is attempting to please his unpleasable family, and possibly trying to assuage his own deeply-seated homophobia and self-hatred, by becoming engaged to the most boring and sexually repressed woman he could possibly find.

Honestly, I had a hard time with this book. The characters are hard to like. Danny is prone to sulking, deeply manipulative, and doesn't listen (which an awful quality for someone who expects his partners to submit to him.) Eve is way cooler than most because she's a tomboy who likes to fish and drink beer and knows which end of a baseball bat to hold, unlike all the other women in the world who giggle and wear pink spend all day digging through their pompoms in search of the handles. Even worse, the way Eve's described —she's an artist, has a tendency towards fitted v-neck shirts and colorful scarves, she loves to dance—is very traditionally feminine, despite the constant assertions that she's a tomboy. So she's girly, but sexy girly, but not bad girly. At one point Danny posits that Eve's insatiable sexual appetite stems from the fact that she's a tomboy—she "needs sex like most women need air." Also, he points out that because she was a tomboy she was never afraid of cock, and then the top of my head popped off.

And thirdly there's Paul. Paul's dad is a redneck and all his brothers are Marines. We hear quite a bit about Paul's home life, but we never see any of it. Paul loves pain to the point that he once tried to convince his doctor to let him have knee surgery without anesthetic. He would let partners beat him unconscious if he could. He refers to himself and Danny as "faggots" at a couple of points (outside of the context of dirty talk, though it's not a word I'm particularly fond of in any context), and when he gets jealous of Eve's deepening relationship with Danny, he slut-shames her and accuses Danny of "ruining" her. In an effort to please his homophobic redneck father he gets engaged to a "normal girl" who will only have sex in missionary position with the lights off, because that is totally normal. Anyway, because this woman is so vanilla and awful, Paul feels justified in cheating on her all over the place with Danny and Eve.

This book had a lot of problematic elements. Danny in particular constantly talks about "the scene" and "the game" in reference to the BDSM community and his involvement in it, and how well-respected he is there. Yeah, no. First off, there's the credo of "safe, sane, and consensual". Those first two are pretty much disregarded throughout the entire book. There's one specific scene where Danny is genuinely irritated with Paul—like he is actually mad with him when he does this — ties Paul up and flogs him until he needs stitches. None of this is done with a safe word, because to Danny safe words denote a lack of trust, and even if Paul had a safe word he wouldn't use it because he loves pain THAT much. Danny hurts Paul past the point he's comfortable with because he's afraid Paul will go somewhere else to fulfill his needs, and that person would fuck him up even worse than Danny does. There is nothing safe or sane here, and I had a really hard time finding any of it sexy. I read that particular scene with my jaw swinging open. There's backstory to set up Paul as a "genuine" masochist, but the character's self-hatred, homophobia, and desire to be punished for his “deviance” make his scenes hard to read. Not only does he dislike himself, but he occasionally dumps misery all over Danny and Eve. Long story short, if your characters are going to constantly reference the wider BDSM community, be it for credence or realism, they have to either play by the community's rules or at least acknowledge the fact that they're breaking them. Neither of those things are done here.

Stylistically this book has a tendency to overexplain and lean heavily on cliches. There's not much in the way of nuance in this book – everything the author wants you to know is stated as opposed to demonstrated. The story is pretty plot-lite, with a significant chunk of time dedicated to sex, and everything resolved kind of inexplicably with the help of some hefty deus ex machina. The characters explicitly compare the relationship they have with each other in Danny's house in Tampa to Eden, but they are constantly either moping or pissed at each other.

I picked up Beyond Eden based on reviews I'd read online – they were generally positive, and there are definitely people out there who loved this book – but I had a hard time getting past the issues described above to take any real enjoyment from it.

Reviewed by Andrea, avid LGBTQ romance reader and disgruntled desk clerk. (Twitter | Goodreads)


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