Ben (A Survivor Story #2)

Title: Painting Fire On The Air (A Survivor Story #2)
Author: J.P. Barnaby
Cover Artist: AngstyG
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link:
Genre: BDSM M/M Contemporary Romance
Length: Novel
Rating: 4.75 stars

A Guest Review by Sammy

Review Summary:  Surviving only on the intense rush that BDSM can provide him, Ben seeks to bury the grief that threatens to tear him apart.

A Survivor Story

Blurb: From her perch on a shelf above my bed, the doll accuses me with lifeless eyes of failing Juliette in the most heinous way imaginable, forcing me to crave the bite of his whip and the steel in his voice to drown out the ache in my chest.

For his entire life, Benjamin Martin’s parents drilled into his head that he must watch out for his little sister, but one horrific night, he failed. Now, the bite of a whip, cuffs digging into his wrists, his arms and legs stretched beyond endurance, these things give him what he needs to forget his sister’s violent death, at least for a while.

When Ben’s latest Dom casts him aside like a broken toy, he manipulates his best friend, Jude Archer, into picking up the pieces. Jude has been in love with Ben for years, but his fantasies about his friend never included whipping him. He doesn’t understand why Ben needs BDSM and he worries about Ben’s addiction. Most of all, he fears losing his humanity because he’s already lost himself in Ben. When he’s forced to trade the marks upon his soul for the pain that ravages Ben, Jude learns the real definition of submission.

Review: In stunning fashion, J.P.Barnaby gives us another facet to the traumatic rape and murder story that she first introduced in her novel, Aaron. While Painting Fire On The Air could definitely be read as a standalone, I think the reader’s overall experience would be enhanced by delving into Aaron either before or after this one. Also, I would warn those who have difficulty with heavy BDSM and kink that this story may not be for them. However, if you can muster the gumption to read beyond that, I will assure you that there is an incredibly poignant and lovely plot to this book that will break your heart wide open. Let’s begin now with a brief synopsis before going on to the real strengths in this gem, Painting Fire On The Air by J.P.Barnaby.

Ben Martin and his sister Juliette were both adopted by well meaning parents who devoted their lives to their children. With a rather cruel start to life as a drug addicted infant, Ben was a difficult child, often angry and impulsive. However, he was devoted to his sister Juliette as his parents had raised him to be and when she was brutally raped and murdered Ben felt the weight of guilt wrap its ironclad fist around his heart and sear the very depths of his soul with a pain he could not seem to escape. The only way for Ben to escape it was to counteract it with intense physical pain–that was the way around the hurt inside him. And so, Ben seeks out men who will dominate him, humiliate him and, in doing so, make the nightmares go away for just a brief time. This is how he survives and were it not for his roommate Jude, Ben would have gone on indefinitely avoiding the reality that he was literally drowning in his grief.

Jude Archer loves Ben but after an awkward drunken night of sex, both men studiously avoid mentioning their feelings to the other. Ben, sure that he can never deserve someone as good as Jude, wraps himself up in the Dom/sub lifestyle with Kage who does give aftercare to Ben when needed but provides no emotional connection or real love. When Jude discovers what it is that Ben needs to achieve some sense of fleeting well-being, he becomes determined to be the one to provide it. But Jude, while having some dominant tendencies, is also frightened he will hurt Ben. Worse yet, Jude cannot escape the fact that the level of inflicted pain Ben craves is beyond Jude’s ability to give without it destroying something inside Jude as well. Two men who love each other now stand at an impasse with little idea how to overcome it and have their relationship survive.

If you make the mistake of reading this novel and assuming that it is just another well written piece of BDSM fiction, I fear you will have missed the point completely. Painting Fire On The Air is not just about the lengths to which a man will go to get his kink on, it is a deep and emotionally saturated cry for help. Ben is so torn apart over his guilt at not being there to save Juliette that he is literally dying himself a bit more each day. The beauty of this novel is that it allows us to see that BDSM as a lifestyle that is caring, safe, and fulfilling. However, the genius of this novel is that it also recognizes that a BDSM lifestyle cannot be a substitute for genuine healing of the mind and heart once fractured. That, the novel points out, can only be achieved by surrounding yourself with those who support and love you and quite possibly therapy.

The author is so careful to delineate between the sexual fulfillment and joy that a Dom/sub relationship can provide and the realization that BDSM is not meant to be an escape from your problems. Ben has tried therapy before but to no avail. Now his guilt and pain are so overwhelming that he must seek more and more physical pain to help him forget what is tearing him apart inside. In one of the most impressive moments n this gut wrenching novel, Ben is made to understand that should Jude become the Dom he needs and allow for others to carry Ben to places that Jude cannot bring himself to participate in, then Ben must seek therapy again. I nearly stood and applauded the author out loud after reading that exchange. Here was a thoughtful and intelligent statement being made for both the acceptance of a safe BDSM partnership and the realization that the act of BDSM itself was not going to heal Ben completely. Better yet, this idea was wrapped in a compelling and fierce novel that held me mesmerized from start to finish.

As usual, author J.P. Barnaby excelled at writing characters who led believable lives, who had depth and layers of emotion and were just plain smart. Some of the techniques used in the book such as reflected in the novel’s title, made me squirm physically and just mutter, “ouch, ouch, ouch.”  Yet I never felt a BDSM scene was “thrown in” for entertainment sake. Rather each time Ben went to his knees it was another moment that a bit more of his story was told and the depth of his grief revealed.

So, what piece of this novel did not work just so? The author was so careful to lay out this story. Again and again we saw that Ben teetered on the edge of an abyss and that BDSM alone was not the way he would be able to escape his turmoil. I felt when the deal between Jude and Ben was finally struck and it was acknowledged that Ben would need to pursue therapy, the intensity of the novel dropped just a bit. We never saw or heard that Ben had followed through with his end of the bargain and yet we definitely were made aware that Jude did so. I felt that in the wrap up of this journey that Ben’s finding a therapist needed to at least be alluded to in some small way, otherwise, it felt to me that a plot point got dropped and it was so vital to the story in so many ways. I grant you it may just be my desire to see this followed through on but for me it just made the story a tad bit incomplete.

Having said that, Painting Fire On The Air by J.P. Barnaby is still an outstanding addition to the BDSM genre. I look forward to more in this new series by this excellent author.


A mature woman, gracefully growing older, who lives with 12 cats and talks to imaginary people–had ya going there for a minute didn’t I? I am an avid lover of all things m/m who delights in occasionally teasing Wave!

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