Title: Soft Focus
Authors: Reno MacLeod & Jaye Valentine
Publisher: M&V Tailz
Buy Link: Buy Link Soft Focus
Genre: BDSM, M/M/M
Length: Novella (35000 words)
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Cole
Review Summary: The first BDSM book that I have ever read that really helped me understand why and how someone’s needs are met through this particular way of life.
Ethan Bouwer has always been the adventurous sort. A freelance nature photographer, he travels the globe and writes erotica on the side whenever things get a bit slow. Hunting for a topic for his next writing project, he stumbles upon a man named David Turner and the taboo world of BDSM. His curiosity piqued, Ethan discovers that David Turner and his beautiful partner Kiyoshi are coming to town for a convention.
Ethan makes arrangements for them to meet, but little does Ethan know that he is about to embark on a safari into a world more wild and untamed than anything he has ever encountered before.
I first read Soft Focus about a month ago when Simsala recommended it to me. I have enjoyed reading through Reno MacLeod and Jaye Valentine’s backlists, but I hadn’t had the courage to read Soft Focus. Why? I suppose I need to give you just a bit of information before I tell you why this book helped me in the way that it did. Last year, I read a book where the BDSM relationship was full-time, and at the end of the book the Dom took severe advantage of the sub in a public setting. Their trust was destroyed (probably as ground to write another book), but my trust in the author, and sadly in the sub-genre was completely shattered as well. I realized then, that I was reading about a sub-genre that I didn’t really know a lot about. Yes, I understood Safe, Sane, Consensual. It is pretty straightforward, but the application of it isn’t. I was afraid to read BDSM again, but I decided that I’d give Soft Focus a try.
This book is about the journey of a man into BDSM with the right teachers. Ethan is an m/m erotica writer. He does everything he can to find a subject that totally enthralls him. Then, he digs deep into research and come out on the other side with a story, hopefully about real men in that situation. On the flight home from his day-job as a freelance photographer on a safari in Africa, Ethan sees a BDSM magazine in the hands of the passenger next ot him, and after striking a conversation with the man about the publication he is reading, Ethan decides that the BDSM community is going to be part of his next project. He records the name of the Dom in the magazine that has caught his eye, and after finding out that he and his sub will be attending a conference near him, he arranges to meet them both at the conference to start his research.
David and Kiyoshi are quite a famous couple in the BDSM circuit. David is a skilled Dom who teaches classes, theory and practical, at different conferences during the year. Kiyoshi, his sub, is also equally famous, both for being David’s long-time sub, and for his own grace, beauty, and submission. They love each other very much, but they have a somewhat tenuous connection. Ethan is completely taken by them, and within only a few hours, decides that if he really wants to learn from them, he will enter into the community for the weekend. He soon learns that almost all of his thoughts about BDSM are completely wrong, though there are many within the community as well who are unable to grasp the finer points. David does not rule with an iron fist, just as Kiyoshi does not relinquish power when he submits to David. The power dynamic is fluid and constantly changing, just as a relationship does. Soon, however, David starts to love the place he has come to settle within the couple’s dynamic. Will they feel the same? Or will they let him go at the end of the weekend as he originally wanted?
The beauty of this particular story is the lens through which the story is told. We are told the story from Ethan’s POV as he learns about the community himself. He is an objective audience to David and Kiyoshi’s relationship (though he soon becomes part of it). Yet, with the possibility of their weekend menage lasting no longer than the convention, Ethan is able to retain the mask of partiality. Therefore, while we are able to see the BDSM community from the inside out at the same time as Ethan is able to understand the true meaning of the community — of power, and the dynamics of giving and receiving it, in a fresh and new way. The dynamic between David and Kiyoshi, and later as Ethan seems to take pleasure in pushing the boundaries of their relationship, helped me to understand the benefits that David and Kiyoshi, and Ethan as well, receive from a relationship in the context of BDSM. Likewise, the way that they viewed the community helped. Though they may seem the perfect Dom and sub in public, it is only that — a display. In private, the one who ultimately holds the power is Kiyoshi. It was fascinating to watch Ethan learn this, and then see the community through their eyes.
The characters in this story are wonderful. David is sometimes an enigma, because he rarely lets his mask of dominance slip. Ethan is an open book to us, not only because he tells the story, but also because the nature of submitting and alternately dominating for the weekend leaves him naked. His emotions are raw. Kiyoshi, though, is by far my favorite character. He is dynamic — coy, beautiful, and a powerhouse of strength while later becoming almost frail when faced with certain circumstances. I think the characterizations are more important in a menage story than in a traditional two-person romance, and this story is possibly one of the most romantic I’ve read.
I have already re-read this book, and I know that I will do so many times in the future. The reason that I didn’t rate this book a five star read, no matter how much it has affected me, is because I feel it is only the start to their relationship. Luckily, Reno and Jaye mentioned in their interview with Wave earlier this week (seen here) that they will be writing a sequel to this story soon. I can’t wait. This story is a great one for those that like to read about BDSM, however I would also encourage those who don’t normally read in this sub-genre, but are curious, to try it out. I wish I had read this book earlier. A word of caution, however: there is one scene that is difficult to read, though I found it necessary to the plot, as it highlights the lessons that Ethan has learned from David and Kiyoshi and what true BDSM is all about. Plus, the sex is HOT HOT HOT!
Retraction: I misspoke previously about Ethan’s feelings towards the other writers in his genre — I stated in an earlier version of this review that the protagonist (Ethan) felt the majority of romance written by women weren’t representative of real men, and the characters didn’t feel like real men. I realized on re-reading the book that this statement was incorrect and I have no clue where that idea came into my head! Thanks to Wave for helping me with the retraction 🙂