Spoilers follow in this review.
Blurb - "Network news anchor Daniel Halstrom is at the top of his field, but being at the bottom of the social ladder—being a slave—makes that hard to enjoy. Especially when NewWorld Media, the company who's owned him since childhood, decides to lease him on evenings and weekends to boost their flagging profits.
He finds himself in the home of Carl Whitman, a talk show host whose words fail him time and again when it comes to ordering Daniel to bed. Daniel knows what Carl wants, but it seems as if Carl isn't willing to take it, and Daniel's not willing to give it freely. His recalcitrance costs him dearly, but with patience and some hard-won understanding, love just might flourish where once there'd been only fear and pain. Can Carl become the anchor in Daniel's turbulent life, or will he end up the weight that sinks his slave for good?"
I know this book is a favourite with a few people - one of the reasons I picked it up - but I had quite a few problems with it.
The good stuff first. I liked how Rachel Haimowitz gets the reader completely into Daniel's head. She puts you right there with him at every single moment. You understand his confusion when he arrives late to Carl's penthouse, and doesn't know whether he's allowed to go into Carl's bedroom, will he be punished for going in or for not going in. This is the major plus of the story for me. It's also what makes the gang rape so difficult and upsetting to read - it made me cry. You're right there with Daniel as he loses the one aspect of himself that he'd protected, the decision on when to say yes or no.
I think the total focus on Daniel also contributes to how little we know the other characters, because of his position he is unable to make much of an effort to get to know them. He has to know his place.
Onto the problems I had. Now I think most of these can be traced back to the fact that the book at 124 pages isn't long enough (for me) to deal with the themes and worldbuilding here. If it had been three times, four times as long, I think we would have ended up with a much more rounded story and stronger worldbuilding. Now I don't know how the series is going to progress, it may be that each upcoming book will slot in and we essentially end up with a longer book in multiple parts. But that doesn't address the problems I have with the characters and worldbuilding in THIS particular story.
Worldbuilding, superficially strong, but I found the more I looked at it, it just wasn't working for me. I was quite happy with it up to a point. Carl reads The Washington Post, The New York Times, so this is a world like our own but NOT our own. It has a different history and at some point it became acceptable to keep slaves. I feel like I've missed something somewhere.
Then Carl asks Daniel his opinion about Mugabe in Zimbabwe and I was thrown completely out of it. Because if Carl can comment on Mugabe and the problems in Zimbabwe - reference riots and massacres. Then as a reasonably intelligent human being why can't he see the hypocrisy in feeling able to comment on the policies of another country but not his own where gang rapes and torture are an acceptable means of dealing with people.
It's also then that I realised I didn't really understand how this world worked. Was the slave system only operating in America? Daniel mentions about wanting to run away to Scandinavia - how he'd tried to run away whilst in Denmark and how he dreams of flying away to Sweden. So presumably - at least in Scandinavia, if not Europe - there's no slave system.
If all the previous history still led to Mugabe being in power in Zimbabwe. What happened to the civil rights movement in America? I ended up feeling like the world the characters lived in, had no solidity to it.
I think if the world the characters inhabit doesn't feel real, then the characters lose believability as well. Why was Foster such a villain? Just because he can be? Presumably Carl has lived in this country all his life, why couldn't he appreciate what would happen to Daniel when he complained about his behaviour? He's a journalist with an interest in politics. How could he be so naive?
Finally, the ending, again I take problems with this back to the fact that the story is too short. The ending especially (for me) needed to take place over a much greater period of time. The gang rape and the torture which (no matter how disturbing they are*) are an incredibly powerful piece of writing, lose that impact, that sense that Daniel has totally lost any sense of self he might have had, because it is wrapped up so quickly and easily at the end. I don't believe in Daniel's recovery.
This was a flawed story for me. Some of the writing was amazing, getting us into Daniel's head and holding us there, was very well done. But it's the problems that have stayed with me.
* - I also take issue with Noble Romance's warning for the book - "M/M, forced oral and anal intercourse". I don't think this is really a strong enough warning. The one at GoodReads is better - "WARNING: This book contains potentially triggering subject matter, including a violent on-screen rape. Please take heed.)"