Posted in: AztecLady Reviews, erotic romance, Maya Banks
Sweet Surrender, by Maya Banks
Published by Berkley HEAT, Sweet Surrender is the first in a loosely connected series of erotic contemporary romances set in Houston. This novel, at its core, follows Faith Malone’s path of self-discovery. She is considered by everyone who knows her to be a sweet and feminine girl (nevermind that she’s twenty three or so *ahem*). As such, so far all of her romantic relationships have left her vaguely dissatisfied and wondering whether something is wrong with her.
Before going further, reader beware: this novel contains graphic language, explicit sexual scenes and what some may term objectionable sexual practices.
Here is the back cover blurb:
Under Faith Malone’s deceptively soft exterior lies a woman who knows exactly what she wants: a strong man who’ll take without asking-because she’s willing to give him everything…
Dallas cop Gray Montgomery is on a mission: find the guy who killed his partner and bring him to justice. So far, he’s found a link between the killer and Faith-and if Gray has to get close to her to catch the killer, so be it.
Faith is sweet and feminine, everything Gray wants and desires in a woman, but he suspects she’s playing games. No way would she allow a man to call the shots in their relationship. Or would she?
Faith sees in Gray the strong, dominant man she needs, but he seems determined to keep her at a distance. So she takes matters into her own hands to prove to him it’s no game she’s playing. She’s willing to surrender to the right man. Gray would like to be that man. But catching his partner’s killer has to be the first priority-until Faith is threatened and Gray realizes he’ll do anything to protect her…
First the bad news: the suspense plot fell utterly flat for me. The whole thing just didn’t make sense for me, at all. The setup: Gray’s partner is killed and Gray seriously injured on the job in Dallas, and the investigation is stalled. The dead partner’s father, a retired cop, contacts Gray to ask him to go on a sorta-kinda, unofficial, undercover mission to Houston. Since this ex-cop has also been a father-like figure for most of Gray’s life, and since his partner was as close to him as a brother, Gray agrees.
Both Mick, the retired cop, and Gray are following a tip the former got (and we never learn how or from whom) that a suspect in the killing may be running around with Faith’s mother, Celia. This woman is your typical user fuck-up who often hits on Faith for money to bail herself out of whatever screw-up she finds herself in. So the idea is that Gray will keep an eye on Faith in case mommy dear shows up.
So far this would make sense, but there are further tips from Mick that seem a little too convenient, particularly when his source is never made clear. I probably would have simply shrugged and let go if that was the only thing but it’s actually just a minor one.
For example: at one point there is a discussion in her office about getting Faith to a safe house and setting up a decoy to try and catch the suspect-but there are a multitude of cops milling about the premise in the middle of the day. Umm… wouldn’t even a half-witted bad guy figure out something’s up if he’s watching her place of employment? Or when Gray is staying with Faith in the supposedly safe location, but they fall asleep and spend the night on the veranda. Exposed, much? Finally, two different people know two different addresses that they had no way of finding out, without a hint of how they did find out.
Okay, moving on…
The good news is that I found that the character development makes up for the suspense plot’s deficiencies.
Faith’s adoptive father, Pop Malone, owns a security firm, and is willing to offer Gray a job while he’s on an extended leave. The cover is that he’s coping with his partner’s murder and he needs time and distance from the investigation. Of course, the first thing that happens is that there is explosive attraction between Faith and Gray. If the conflict had simply been that Gray is resisting his attraction because he’s set on returning to Dallas after his leave is up, I would have had no quarrel with it, by the way.
Instead, he is resisting his attraction because a) what if it turns out she’s in league with her mother? or (once he ascertains this is not the case at all) b) what if she’s playing at being sexually submissive? The second obstacle stems from the fact that he’s been disappointed in the past by women who want to play at it, while he has been looking for the reality.
I found Faith’s uncertainty about her own desires-and how to go about getting what she wants/needs-both very believable, and yet rather problematic. Believable because there is always that feeling of “am I a freak? is this in any way normal?” when experiencing any sexual desire that deviates from the publicly accepted norm-particularly when one is young. On the other hand, I found it problematic to believe that she was so sheltered from life until the beginning of the novel that she hadn’t once before thought to surf the web for information. This aside, Faith’s growing self-awareness is very well done.
There is also Faith’s struggle to reconcile her love for her mother with the guilt of wanting her gone-permanently out of her life. Until just a few years before, it had been Faith who had kept them both afloat. Even as a young teen, it was Faith who took care of them. As she grew older, her rôle as caretaker grew as well, up to and including financial responsibility. Now, though, Faith’s life is stable, drama free, and filled with the love of her family-she doesn’t want to have to deal with her mother’s drama, to once more be the one responsible for extricating Celia from whatever problem she lands herself into.
I also liked Gray-and the development of their relationship-very much. Gray is a good ten years older than Faith and has pretty much concluded that it would take a miracle to find a woman willing to live a relationship on his terms. He looks at the kink/fetish side of dominance and submission as a game, full of external trappings and rituals that take away from the substance of what he wants: a strong woman’s total surrender to him.
It makes sense in every way possible that he would distrust Faith’s heavy handed attempts to convince him that she wants to be that woman; that she wants him to be the man who will take her surrender and, in return, “take care of her”. It makes even more sense when he rides to the (sorta) rescue when Faith decides to tour The House, a very exclusive, very high-end, sex club that caters to bdsm fetishists and players.
The secondary characters were few and for the most part well chosen: Faith’s adoptive father and brother, and their two other employees, Nathan and Micah. Damon, the wealthy and most intriguing owner of The House (and will you look at that! Sweet Persuasion-his book-just came out this week!).
Micah in particular plays a key rôle-in more ways than one *coughthreesomecough* and his character practically begs to have his own story told (and it will be-look out for Sweet Temptation on a shelf near you in April 2010)
One thing that completely yanked me out of the fantasy: when Faith is touring The House, Damon mentions that they monitor all activity on the premises, for the safety of every person involved. In the public rooms, staff circulates, maintaining a physical and visible presence. In the private rooms, there are cameras which are constantly monitored by staff. Sorry but this yanked me a bit out of the fantasy-these are people who are engaging in unusual sexual activities, some of which I’m quite sure are illegal in Texas, yet they are willingly submitting to being video taped? Blackmail opportunity much?
Weighing all the elements I did like with those that drove me nuts, Sweet Surrender gets a 7.75 out of 10 from me.