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Willaful Review: The Theory of Attraction

The Theory of Attraction by Delphine Dryden. Published by Carina Press.  Sensuality rating: Blistering

Dryden did something really interesting here — created a hero who is clearly somewhere on the autism spectrum, with the accompanying literalness, rigidity, anxiety, and lack of social skills, but who’s also the world’s best Dom.

Camilla has been attracted to her geeky neighbor Ivan ever since she saw him respond calmly during an emergency; the hot bod he shows while running past her window — “6:30 in the morning, out for a run each and every day” — doesn’t hurt either. When Ivan enlists her help in learning how to behave appropriately at an important social event. Camilla is happy to have the chance to get closer to him. What she discovers when she does is quite a shock — far from the inexperienced virgin she envisioned, Ivan is an extremely adept Dom. And he has a lot to teach her, as well.

If you asked me to name three romance tropes I hate, “lessons” would be right up there.  Here it works, because Camilla’s instructions to Ivan about social interactions are so insightful. His lessons for her are rather more commonplace, if you read erotic romance, but still interesting and well done.  (And probably super hot if you don’t mind reading about pain; I’m easily unnerved by anything that involves clamps on sensitive parts.)

Whenever I read a book featuring a character with Asperger’s Syndrome, I can’t help but filter it through my knowledge of my son and other Aspies I know (which in this case, made me pretty uncomfortable a few times!)  Ivan was generally believable to me, especially with this explanation of how BDSM was suggested to him by a therapist: “He suggested I try a venue where people were more open-minded and communicative about sex, and the roles might be a little easier to understand.”  Ivan approaches domination and submission in an experimental fashion — which buttons to push to get the results you want? It’s surprising, but authentic, that he has areas in which he is particularly competent.

In many ways, this was a story filled with contradictions.  Camilla’s narration is generally lighthearted and funny — “Two arguing geeks were unstoppable. Three arguing geeks created an infinite argument vortex of doom that sucked time down like a black hole” — but her feelings during the sex scenes are extraordinarily intense.  Ivan is often anxious, but in his Dom role he’s completely confident.  The narrative doesn’t always feel entirely cohesive, but it all made sense when I thought about it. And the depiction of the differences between Camilla and Ivan’s Dom/sub relationship and their everyday relationship was very well drawn; Camilla quickly learns when to take on her sub role and when it’s okay to drop it.

My biggest problem with the story was that it copped out in the end. Camilla has some concerns about Ivan, and they’re quite reasonable:

‘Will you come upstairs with me?’ He seemed not just hesitant about asking, but actively uneasy, and I wasn’t sure what answer he wanted to hear. I was pretty sure about the answer I wanted to give, however.

‘Of course.’

His eyes shifted over to his plants. But then his fingers moved over my skin again, weaving into my hair, and he turned back to me, looking perplexed and frustrated. And like a light bulb going on over my head, I realized both the problem and the solution.

‘But, Ivan, you should probably finishing taking care of your tomatoes first. And I need to deadhead a few roses. And then we can go up, okay?’

The sheer relief on his face was equally gratifying and worrisome. Gratifying to know I’d gotten it right in one shot. Worrisome to know that he was really bound by his routine, and by all the compartmentalizing he did to minimize his exposure to the unknown. Almost as though his entire life was one big coping strategy. I really wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that.

At the end though, Camilla has swept all doubts under the rug; the last words of the story promise a rosy future, which pissed me off. Not that I don’t believe they can be happy together, but it would have to be with the understand that Ivan has limitations which aren’t going to magically go away.

Overall, this was an original and entertaining story; I might have liked it even more if it weren’t for the previously mentioned clamp thing. (Shudder.) I give it four out of five stars. You can pre-order it for Kindle here. Thanks to netGalley for the review copy.


  • Audra
    June 15
    1:35 am

    I work at a school for children on the autism spectrum and have for eight years now which means I known some of the kiddos for that long. I totally understand why your filter would make you a little uncomfortable, I can totally feel the same way. However, there are so many of my students that I hope have functioning, healthy, relationships someday and therefore I find myself drawn to stories like these……(well, not like this, I don’t think I could read this) where someone on the spectrum is featured and their perspective is given.

    Autism can have such negativity associated with it and it makes me sad to think that so many would shy away from someone (in the literary and real worlds) who has the diagnosis. I have read “The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie” (which is the only other romance book I’ve read with this kind of character, and think fairly well done) and some of the reviews are so mean.

    Yes, everyone has their own opinion, but I take it personally (I know I shouldn’t) when people discuss how “lacking” or “unfeeling” a character like this is, because I know how untrue it is. I want the best and most for the kids I work with, and I worry that they will not be accepted. I am glad that more characters are being created (particularity since it is such a prevalent diagnosis) that can show how warm and caring each individual is, and I think, as long as it is done well, that having it in as many forums/formats (although I won’t be reading this one) as possible, the better it will be for the “typical” to accept.

    I have also read “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” but that seemed more about showing how “odd” and “outside” the main character was, and less about showing how similar. It felt like those around this main character just had to learn how to deal rather than loving this person for who they were. Does that make sense?

    Are there any other books that you have read with characters that are the spectrum who are accepted and loved or who they are?


  • @Audra: I think your best bet is nonfiction, particularly that written by people on the spectrum themselves. The Journal of Best Practices is extremely good. Mozart and the Whale is also very interesting. And I’d recommend the movie “Adam” — it doesn’t have a HEA, but I think there is potential for one. This book actually reminded me a little bit of “Adam,” except that Camilla doesn’t make the mistake the female character in the movie does. (In my opinion. The film is open to interpretation.)


  • I was interested in this, but now I’m not sure. I liked the idea of a virgin science nerd more than a super-skilled Dom.

    Would a man with autism be able to keep an intense focus on his partner and ensure her safety? I admit I don’t know much about the syndrome, but my understanding is that some nuances of social interaction, like facial expressions and body language (that seems kind of important in bdsm) are difficult to grasp.


  • @Jill Sorenson: I find the focus completely plausible — my son can focus very intently on anything he’s interested in.

    That’s a good point about the facial expressions and body language. I’m not sure if those ever came up as an issue for Ivan. Reading them that can be learned, however.

    I should mention that Ivan is never given a specific diagnosis in the book (though he has one) and I was extrapolating.


  • Okay, thanks. Now that I think about it, maybe facial expressions and body language are less important in bdsm because there are more direct means of communication (safewords). I can see how that might work for someone who has issues with social interaction. There are so many ways to misinterpret reactions, and a lot of sex is physical, nonverbal, relating to the body etc.

    Anyway, interesting review and topic!


  • Elaine
    June 15
    9:57 pm

    Thanks for the review. That does sound like an interesting read, and I think I’ll try it.

    Still trying to figure out what’s wrong on that cover, though. What exactly is he kissing? Is that her inner thigh because she either a) has virtually no torso/hips or b) can contort in some bizarre way. Or it’s a third arm. Or something.


  • Jeannie S.
    June 15
    11:10 pm

    The cover bothers me too – I think that’s supposed to be her thigh, but it seems very misplaced.

    These are probably two tough subjects to do well together – autism and BDSM. From your review it looks like she was able to pull it off fairly well. I’m not too sure about the BDSM part, those are generally not books I read, but I may try it.


  • The math symbols are cute, though. A shame I can’t show it to my son. 😉


  • It’s her stomach.


  • eggs
    June 18
    1:17 am

    How can that be her stomach unless her body is shaped like a carrot? She’s tapering away to nothing! If that’s her stomach, it must mean her body is arched so that her legs are off the page to the right. So who’s leg is that behind his head, coming in from the left?? Maybe he’s got some kind of Willy Wonka stretching machine and he’s made her all wonky on it?

    I have read two books by Delphine Dryden before and they were both very good. She knows how to ratchet up the sexual tension. I’m not much of a fan of nipple clamps and pain myself, but I’ll probably give this one a go based on my enjoyment of her previous stuff.


  • Anon 76
    June 18
    1:35 pm


    I was going to suggest Mozart and the Whale too. Don’t watch the movie, though. Like the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, much is left out.


  • Oh, I loathe the movie. The director’s comomentary reminds me of a nature show: “Oooo, see the antics of the Aspies in their natural habitat!”


  • Anon 76
    June 19
    5:15 am


    I loathe the movie too. It went so much for the external manifestations, kind of shock and awe, while the internals of the people themselves in the book provided plenty of food for thought.

    The movie was kinda like a carney act.


  • Julia C.
    August 3
    7:27 pm

    Late to the show, but Christine Feehan has included autism in some of her work, and has “more info on” links at her website. Her book Water Bound has a heroine who is a high functioning autistic, and has sensory dysfunction issues. I thought Feehan did a good job of integrating realistic aspects of the condition with her paranormal bent; really, one of my favorite heroines from her.


  • willaful
    August 4
    1:03 am

    @Julia C.: I have that, really must get around to reading it.


  • […] of Attraction, and I’m still thinking about it. This isn’t a review (willaful has a good one) so much as a reflection on questions the book raised for […]

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