Title: By His Rules
Author: J.A. Rock
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: M/M contemporary BDSM romance
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
Summary Review: An interesting look at how a domestic discipline relationship can be used to help with loss of self esteem.
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.
This book is divided into two parts. The first part covers Aiden’s relationship with Scott. At the beginning of the book Aiden is drifting a little. He has a good degree in Drama and vague plans to go onto to do an MBA but he can’t seem to summon up the gumption to start applying for places. He knows he’s a good actor and an attractive man, and he dabbles a little in the BDSM scene, excelling in role playing with a little pain play. When he’s picked up by Scott, he’s excited that Scott sees through him to the need to submit and so Scott takes him on to train. A few months later, thoroughly discouraged and beaten down by months of being told how worthless he is, Aiden finds it within himself to leave Scott.
What worked for me with this book is how it so perfectly showed the pitfalls of falling into an unsuitable BDSM relationship. Aiden was a bright, confident man at the beginning of the book. A bit of a show-off, but then that fitted with his love of acting. When he leaves Scott he’s a shadow of his former self, lacking in self confidence and unable to control a eating disorder or organise his life. The thought of finding a place to live, a job or even just surviving by himself fills him with panic. Keaton steps in at this point and offers Aiden a safe place to try and get himself back on his feet which is where the second part of the book begins and we see Aiden slowly recover from his ordeal.
I was a little skeptical at first as to whether the domestic discipline story would work alongside the BDSM abuse story and worried that it would prove to be a ‘sex heals’ book. In the end it wasn’t like that at all as Keaton, at first, only provides a set of rules to help Aiden restructure his life. One reason this aspect of the book worked for me was because Keaton is shown as being just as flawed as Aiden. He knows the theory of how a DD relationship works but he’s lacking in experience. They grow as a couple because as a problem arises they work through it. Much of their problems stem from Aiden’s difficulty in following the fifth rule where he must be open and honest about any worries he has, and I have to admit I found the way he continued to keep secrets a little irritating after a while.
The romance between the men moves quite slowly, as is fitting given Aiden’s bad experience with Scott, but I liked the contrast between the sometimes difficult to read scenes where Scott is ‘training’ Aiden and the generous, loving and affirming relationship that develops between Aiden and Keaton. I also liked the way that Scott’s character is developed later in the book, where we are given glimpses into how he has been affected by the way he treated Aiden and Aiden’s reaction to that. It meant that although I was never in sympathy with Scott, he wasn’t a monster.
My main complaint in the story is that I was slightly concerned that the DD relationship was used solely to heal Aiden. I felt that, given how terribly affected Aiden was by the way he was treated by Scott, he needed to have sought some professional help too. Keaton wasn’t a professional by any means, and whilst the loving guidelines and punishments helped to ground Aiden and focus his mind on what he needed to do to recover, I felt that he should have gone to a doctor or therapist to deal with some of the psychological problems caused by Scott’s abuse.
Setting aside that complaint, this was an engrossing story which dealt with difficult themes of abuse and recovery. The writing was very good, if emotionally intense at times and that drew me into Aiden’s story. It made me think about the very thin line often shown in BDSM books between enjoyment of pain/humiliation play and all out abuse. It also provided what turned out to be a warm and satisfying romance. I recommend By His Rules to those readers who are interested in reading about the domestic discipline lifestyle and who won’t be upset by some of the themes of the book.