NOTE: This review will contain spoilers for the overall series – stop reading now if you want to remain unspoiled. Thumbnail: I won’t tell you to read or not to read these, but take the author’s note/trigger warnings seriously. If you read them, and worry that something is going to trigger you – it will. There are no holds barred in these novels, and there is a high level of violence. Sexual assault is depicted on multiple occasions.
Well. I read all three of these in two days, which has to say something about how compelling they are. But I also finished up feeling mildly bad about myself for having stuck with them at all, let alone finished them so quickly.
It’s not the reverse harem part that was a problem for me. I don’t have any issues with BDSM, and I honestly thought that I wasn’t the sort of person to judge any real or fictional sexual habits. However, I just felt… uneasy about the way Ruby’s Daddy Dom/Little Girl role play with one of her men (Declan) was contextualised within the story.
Look, every survivor responds to rape or sexual assault in their own way. I have absolutely no judgement for anyone’s trauma response. What I need is not going to be what you need, and what Ruby needs in this story doesn’t match with either of us. I am (so) down with Ruby’s violent reaction to her rapist. I understand and even like the character detail whereby Ruby seeks out a D/s interaction to confess her sins, and be absolved (Ruby’s sins are of the “I stabbed him in the gut, but he walked away” and “I killed a man” variety). This is how she excises her darkness – I actually found it reminded me of the part in Secretary (it’s over 20 years old, no spoiler space) where Spader tells Gyllenhaal that she doesn’t need to self harm any more.
To do this in a Daddy/Little Girl relationship is not my particular flavour of kink, but it’s not poorly executed. I think where my squick factor comes in is down to an early conversation between Declan and Ruby, as she’s putting together her harem in book one. They discuss the nature of their role play, and the place it occupies in Ruby’s life. Declan takes his responsibility in this space seriously, and doesn’t want any relationship between the two of them to… sully is not quite the right word, but its close to how he sees sex impacting the intent behind their role play. They agree that they will continue as they have been – with no sex involved. Any sexual relationship between Declan and Ruby is between them, not between Daddy and Princess.
Over the course of the series, this falls by the wayside totally – wires get crossed, and they’re Daddy and Princess all the time, regardless of whether there’s a need for absolution. I don’t know – I mean, of course wires get crossed, they’re the same people. Am I saying I bought into the books so much that I believed that their role play was the sacred space Declan described it as? Like I say, I needed to talk about these books. Possibly I should just have said “this is not my flavour of jam and I found it uncomfortable”?
Anyway, Ruby is a kick arse if reckless protagonist. She’s come from a family background in the US, where her (billionaire) mum has three husbands, and poly relationships are portrayed in a really positive light. Both Ruby and her sister Scarlett form their own poly relationships, and one of the dads features in the story (as an assassin, of course), and there’s a great connection between them. There was some undefined illegality in the Mum’s business empire, and Ruby borrowed a stake to move to London and set herself up as a kingpin in Manchester.
We meet her in one of her underground casinos, threatening a fellow kingpin for, well, being a dick (though it turns out later he’d also groped a croupier; dick). From here we race into Ruby’s need for ruthlessness and revenge in maintaining her empire. Over the course of three books, she kills anyone who pisses her off, or gets in her way. Your mileage may vary for this – I found it got monotonous after a while, at least partially because the stakes diminished over time (I never believed any of the men were in peril, for example).
At the start of the second book, Ruby is kidnapped by a psycho enforcer for another kingpin (there are loads of these local bosses going around; I started to just let it wash over me). He’s super creepy, tortures her, and gets off on her powerlessness. With Ruby’s history, being held powerless like that would have been enough of a trigger for her, for mine – I would have believed she’d (a) kill him horribly and (b) be traumatised after the fact. This made the ensuing rape scene (with a second character) feel gratuitous to me – almost like someone during the edit process had decided that there needed to be more to justify what came next. It didn’t feel either organic or necessary to the story.
By the time we hit the end of the series, Ruby has gathered five men for her harem – two of whom are twins – and taken over approximately 50% of the underworld. I think overall I enjoyed these, despite the level of violence pushing right up against my limits, and the issues I had with pieces of the story. Its not an unequivocal recommendation, is it?