Author: SE Jakes
Cover Artist: Kanaxa
Buy Link: Bound by Honor: Men of Honor, Book 1
Genre: M/M Contemporary BDSM, Military
Length: Novel (58, 570 words)
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Cole
Review Summary: I couldn’t stop reading this intelligent romance with a unique spin on BDSM, a mystery subplot, and real, compelling characters that tugged on my heart and begged me to cheer for them and the HEA they worked so hard for.
** This review might be considered to contain spoilers **
A promise forces two men to bare themselves…completely.
Men of Honor, Book 1
One year ago on a mission gone wrong, Tanner James failed to save the life of Jesse, his Army Ranger teammate. Before dying in that South American jungle, Jesse extracted a promise that won’t let Tanner rest until it’s fulfilled—no matter what it costs him.
Damon Price loved Jesse, but problems in their relationship had come to a head right before Jesse left on his final mission. Now a reluctant Dom and a man still in mourning, he’s not happy when Tanner appears at his BDSM club. And even less happy with Jesse’s last request—that Tanner sub for him for one night.
After a rough start, Damon realizes that the tough soldier, despite his protests, aches for someone to take control. And Tanner senses a hesitance, an insecurity in Damon that makes him wonder if he’s simply a placeholder for Jesse, or if their tentative connection could grow into something more.
For Jesse’s sake, they agree to try one weekend together. Then duty calls, and a series of attacks that have been happening near the club hits too close to home, making both men wonder if giving their hearts is a maneuver fraught with too much risk…
The first thing I realized about this book is how drawn in I’d become right from the very first page — in fact, I was drawn in before I opened the book, from reading the blurb. The idea of a dead man matchmaking his friend with his lover was a unique premise to a story (one that isn’t a paranormal) and immediately grabbed my attention. Despite my rather unceremonious description just now, this issues that this book deals with are very serious and are dealt with a real way by the characters. The more multi-faceted the characters became and the more the author bared them open to the reader, the more I appreciated a story that didn’t gloss over the difficult parts in their relationship, and instead used the story to work through the characters’ problems. Sometimes this made the story difficult to read, but I felt more for the characters than I would have otherwise. They really worked for their HEA.
This first book of the Men of Honor series by S.E. Jakes tells the story of Tanner and Damon. Tanner is an Army Ranger who has spend the last year mourning the loss of his best friend Jesse on the force and in their Special Ops team after his untimely death in battle. Left in a position where Jesse was slowly dying and all he could do for his friend was ease his pain, they have time to talk before Jesse passes and Tanner is rescued 10 hours later. He is left with a request from Jesse — to wait one year and then visit his boyfriend Damon, the owner of a BDSM club and a famous local Dom and repeat to him his dying wish — that Tanner sub for Damon for one night. Tanner is a soldier through and through. He is honorable, honest, tough and smart. There is no way that he can deny his friend’s request, no matter that he’s a top and has never bottomed for anyone, much less subbed. BDSM is not his scene, though he doesn’t begrudge anyone their lifestyle. Yet, in honor of his fallen friend and hoping to alleviate his lasting guilt that he couldn’t save his friend, he heads to Crave at the one year anniversary of Jesse’s death, needing to bear this one night of submission to put his grief behind him.
Damon has been grieving for Jesse for the past year, caught in a helpless cycle of denial, pain, and guilt over Jesse’s death and the failure of their relationship. He feels guilty that he fought with Jesse before he left. From past experience in the forces himself, he knows that no soldier can go into battle with other things on his mind and expect to make it out alive. He also feels guilty for the secrets he’s kept from Jesse, from everyone over his life but his best friend LC, and wonders if he had confided in Jesse, would it have made a difference in their relationship anyway? Would it have balanced a relationship that was built upon Damon fixing a broken Jesse and not asking for anything in return? When Tanner comes to the club with his request, it angers him — at Tanner, at himself, and at Jesse, who wouldn’t leave the forces for him and got himself killed. Therefore, he takes Jesse’s dying wish, and in anger, forces a public scene on Tanner, on a man who he knows isn’t a sub in a mockery of Jesse’s dying wish.
Despite their explosive first meeting, both Damon and Tanner can’t seem to stay away from one another. As the days go on, as their relationship progresses into something neither one expected, they start to realize that maybe Jesse knew what he was doing when he set up their meeting. Though both of them seem to make mistakes at every turn, they start to understand that being vulnerable to one another and together is better than being safely closed off and alone, and that what they expect of each other they should be able to live up to themselves. They have a lot to learn about themselves before a relationship between them can actually work, but it is worth it to try. Still, they are both stubborn fools and no matter how they might initially identify as a Dom or sub, or how those identities change over the course of the story, it is like pulling teeth to get either of them to really submit to the other in any way.
Though there is some variation on the roles they play (and they get very complicated when they, or we, try to understand them as either Dom or sub), both of these men are Alpha males (ergo, lots of masculine growling, fighting, and sexing 😀 ). For Damon, being a Dom is a part of his life that has grown out of his fear to relinquish control in any way, to anyone. For Tanner, he hasn’t allowed himself to admit that what he really desires is to bottom. Originally, he sees this as submitting (especially since the situation is in a BDSM context) and he hates that his attraction to Damon is strong enough to get him to give up his cherry for the first time, no matter how many times he insists that he’s a top. Damon does all he can to steer the progression of their relationship into a sort of training for Tanner to become his sub, though there isn’t really anything in play but power dynamics (no whips, etc.). Their relationship is a bit of a runaway train and it is Damon’s only way of pretending that he’s in control of it. Though he has been outgrowing the BDSM community for some time, only staying with it for Jesse’s sake (who needed to submit to him), it is his only way of controlling his feelings for Tanner and the guilt he feels. On the other hand, Tanner very soon realizes that he needs Damon and more importantly, that Damon needs him, and he sets out to fight for Damon when Damon starts to break down and refuses to fight for himself. The dynamics of the characters in this story, and also the secondary characters (LC’s book is next, but he is a very important character in this book as well) are so layered that it was thrilling to read this book, which relied mostly on internal conflict to usher the plot along. I think this can be difficult for a reader to enjoy unless it is done very well, because having so much conflict within a relationship can make the book overly angsty, while at the same time turning the reader off of the characters (too whiny, TSTL, etc.). This book was set up to be an ansty read from the very beginning, but I was pleased to find out that the characters don’t dwell on their emotions too much, just enough to convey their feelings to the reader, so the book didn’t feel overly dramatic.
This book also surprised me in a way that very few books have before. Rarely have I read a book that deals with BDSM where the culture isn’t the center of the story. Here, BDSM is used as a means for the characters to express their desires, expectations, and pre-concieved roles in their relationship. The story isn’t actually about BDSM at all, and in fact, when the characters start to really investigate their feelings and desires and discover this, they realize that they are outgrowing those roles, they’re evolving just as their relationship is, and it is away from the community. Once they find the tools to express those feelings and emotions, they start to investigate having a rather vanilla (though still very rough and tumble) relationship. I appreciated this move from the author, because it showed that she takes her characters seriously and allows them to drive the story, which is what makes this story compelling in the first place.
There are a lot of other things in this book to be admired: there is a subtle, yet significant mystery subplot about various attacks happening outside of the club that was handled very well and tied in with the story perfectly; the story is very action oriented, which works well with the characters, who are action driven men; the descriptions are very sensory detailed and the prose is excellent; there is quite a bit of sex in the story, and every scene was needed — in fact, this makes sense because sex is a way that these two characters can work through their problems without actually having to own them through dialogue, so the sex scenes often freed them to further their emotional growth within themselves and their relationship; and finally, but maybe most importantly, this story was a real page-turner for me. I didn’t want to put it down.
This is a book that a lot of readers will like. Those who like the hurt/comfort theme will be satisfied, though the characters often trade those roles. Also, those who love angst will love this book, though I didn’t think it was mired in it. Instead, I felt more like this book was serious and dealt with real people who are going through extraordinarily difficult times in their lives. It might be heavy at times and a serious story, but it isn’t angsty because the characters don’t tend to brood. Though there is a small mystery subplot, there isn’t enough to satisfy mystery lovers. I call the subplot a mystery because of the expert way that SE Jakes wrote the tension, suspense, and slow revelation of the impact and meaning it has for the character’s lives. In reality, this story is about a relationship, and how two men work diligently to better it from start to finish. I can’t wait to read the other books in this series. The second book, due later this year is about LC, Damon’s best friend and one of my favorite characters. A lot of his story is told here.
I absolutely loved this book. I can’t recommend it more highly than I already have.