By His Rules by JA Rock

Why I read it: Sarah Frantz recommended this to me during a discussion of BDSM in romance fiction on Twitter.  I bought it during the recent Valentine’s Day sale at ARe (50% rebate FTW!).
What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Aiden Cole can be anything men want—naughty schoolboy, palace slave, virgin twink, or slutty secretary. He’s a gifted actor with a gorgeous body who gives legendary head. Aiden could have his pick of any Top in the local leather bar, but is drawn to Scott Runge—a cruel, sexy Dom who pushes Aiden to his limits, allowing Aiden to experience the excitement and danger of the BDSM lifestyle to a degree he never has before. But when Scott goes too far, injuring Aiden, Aiden withdraws from the BDSM scene completely. Until he meets Keaton Hughes.Keaton’s looking for something he can’t find in any dungeon: A domestic discipline relationship, in which he can provide his partner with guidance, support, and loving discipline. When Keaton takes Aiden in after Aiden’s traumatic encounter with Scott, he vows not to pursue any sort of relationship with the troubled sub. But as Aiden struggles to overcome the damage Scott has done and get his life back on track, Keaton’s rules might be just what he needs.
What worked for me (and what didn’t): I confess I had not read the blurb until I cut and pasted it here just now.  I picked that Keaton would be the other hero and was kind of thrown when Aiden takes off with Scott instead.  Their interaction made me vaguely uncomfortable – it was only as the ‘relationship’ progressed that it became clear to me that it was abusive and dysfunctional. By the end, Scott was firmly in the BBD (badly behaving Dom) category.  (Although, I think, by the end, he was realising that he was screwed up and I wonder if the author will try to redeem him in a future book?).

 

Keaton was a little harder to get a handle on.  While there were parts of the book from his POV, most of it was from Aiden’s and I admit I found it a little difficult to understand exactly why Keaton was prepared to put up with Aiden.  Aiden is pretty screwed up after Scott’s done with him and he comes across as needy and immature.  He’s good looking, but clearly Keaton was in the relationship for more than looks.  I was told that Keaton needed to give the domestic discipline as much as Aiden needed to receive it.  I guess I didn’t see quite enough of Keaton’s satisfaction in that exchange on the page – the relationship seemed unbalanced to me – even though Keaton explained to Aiden (and to the reader) that the partners were equal, merely that they had difference roles ascribed to them.
Keaton thought of Aiden as a “boy” and I think that made me feel there was more of a paternal quality to their relationship (though there was no daddy kink) than perhaps I was intended to.
Toward the end of the book, Aiden is still acting out and being bratty and I’d hoped to see a little more growth from him – again this came back to why Keaton would want to be with him.  It’s not something I would like personally so I guess I was a little more impatient with it.  It was difficult for me to see the attraction of writing lines or spanking – either giving or receiving.  I think the book does a good job of showing what a healthy domestic discipline relationship can be and what an abusive BDSM relationship can be – I’m a bit of a wide-eyed innocent when it comes to this stuff but it felt more authentic to me and I can only applaud that. I think I do understand this stuff a little better with every “authentic” book I read but because it’s not my thing, I’m not sure I can say that I truly “get it”.  Which is okay, because I can still enjoy reading about it even if sometimes it baffles me a little.
I did enjoy the book.  It was well written and I did understand Aidan’s fears and concerns even if I got a bit tired of them by the end (which is unfair but there you go).  Keaton seemed too good to be true – endlessly patient and tolerant of Aiden’s repeated failure to share his fear and overwhelm with him.  Having said that, Scott did a real number on Aidan and he had a lot to recover from.
I found the book very easy to read even when the subject matter was confronting and uncomfortable (as it was intended to be).  The writing style was spare and clear and there were only a couple of editing/typo errors.  I bought another book by JA Rock in my spending spree (I bought 26 books on Valentine’s Day – that’s TWENTY. SIX.) and there is another on my wishlist.  The voice and style of this author appeals to me and the imprimatur of Sarah tells me that the kink is fairly accurate (of course, it’s not the same for everyone I understand, but more, it fits within real world activity).  I remain curious and more interested in exploring that curiosity within fiction which is closer to what actually happens.
For this particular book, there were things I wanted from the story that were somewhat missing.  I enjoyed it but felt there were a couple of threads left dangling (never my favourite).  For example, near the end, Aiden questions whether he wants a domestic discipline relationship and Keaton says they should talk about it but I didn’t see them actually doing that and I don’t know what was resolved.  There were some concerns Aiden had about not feeling “disciplined” enough by Keaton that didn’t really go anywhere.  And finally, Aiden seems to be a masochist but Keaton is not a sadist.  Aiden wants some pain with his sex and Keaton is not into it.  I would have liked to have seen how that was resolved a little more.
 
What else?  I feel like I am being overly critical and that will give an incorrect opinion of my thoughts on the book.  The disappointments for me were in the plot which I felt had a few holes and that I wanted to get to know Keaton a little more and be more comfortable with Aiden settling out/healing.  But I raced through the book.  I could not wait to get to the end to see what would happen.  The story took me places unexpected and interesting and as a curious reader, this is always welcome.  I liked Keaton very much and when Aiden wasn’t being a brat, I liked him too.  And, when Scott was abusing him, I wanted to wrap Aiden up and take him home (albeit in a more maternal way) because he was so very vulnerable.  I wouldn’t care about the characters or try looking behind sentences to see if I could find more clues to what I felt was missing to me if the book and the very good writing had not held my interest so very well.
Finally, I can’t discount that some of my reaction is more about me and my lack of knowledge of BDSM and domestic discipline relationships and that, while I’m happy enough to read about them, they’re not my kink.  It may well be that someone with a better understanding will read the subtext better or not have the same questions I did.

In terms of domestic discipline, I think that the relationship was probably a lot more realistic than that portrayed in this book (which was previously one of my rare exposures to it).

Grade:  B

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