Saturday, April 7, 2012

Willing Victim by Cara McKenna

TITLE: Willing Victim
AUTHOR: Cara McKenna
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 41k)
GENRE: Contemporary erotica
COST: $5.20

An attraction to blue-collar Flynn seems simple until Laurel sees his rough-and-tumble attitude inside the ring of an underground fighting club. According to his friend with benefits, Flynn likes his sex rough. Very rough. An intrigued Laurel agrees to watch to see if it’s something that might interest her, but her reaction is far stronger than she anticipated…

I had some issues with the first erotica title I read by this author, and though this doesn't knock it out of the ballpark, it still manages to be hot escapism.

Laurel is twenty-nine and waitressing at a tourist trap, disenchanted with the opportunities her engineering degree has scrounged up. In an attempt to have a peaceful afternoon, she ends up witness to an argument between lovers, but they ignore her attempts to keep it civil. A stranger appears out of nowhere, manhandles the boyfriend into moving it elsewhere, and then walks away. Laurel is intrigued and chases him down. He takes up her offer to buy him lunch, but when she gathers the nerve to ask this man out, he turns her down, saying he’s not most women’s type. She presses, and he finally tells her to show up at a bar on Saturday night, tell them Flynn sent her, and then see if she’s still interested in a date. On Saturday night, she witnesses an underground boxing club, with the man – Flynn, she learns his name is – one of the most brutal in the ring. She also sees him kissing a woman, and discouraged that he’s got a girlfriend, confesses to her that Flynn invited her to watch. The woman laughs it off, saying they’re just friends with benefits, that Flynn likes his sex rough and is willing to take her to dark places most men won’t. She invites Laurel to come watch them after the fight, an offer Laurel eventually accepts. What she sees about Flynn intrigues her even more, and she and Flynn then arrange to hook up on their own.

There’s a warning on the publisher’s site, stating that though everything is purely consensual, the role-playing and rape fantasies that get acted out might prove too much of a trigger for some readers. While this warning is valid and probably necessary – it’s better to err on the side of caution when it comes to these sort of triggers – the story isn’t nearly as rough as I expected it to be. Sure, Flynn uses rough language, spanks and slaps, bosses women around as he wants, but in all honesty, it never feels overboard. That’s largely due to remaining in Laurel’s perspective throughout the entire book. Because she always feels safe, the reader does, too. Flynn is never as menacing as he could be.

That being said, most of the sex is hot. Very hot. Very, very hot. The base nature of their first encounters do smooth out as the story progresses, and honestly, I didn’t care for the final sex scenes nearly as much as the initial ones (nor the implication that developing feelings means kink preferences aren’t important anymore), but that’s likely due to a pacing and structural issue rather than the scenes themselves.

See, this is erotica. It’s sold as erotica. For three-fourths of the story, it is erotica. But suddenly, in the last quarter, a bunch of emotions are introduced that are likely meant to show the viable shift from hooking up to dating. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s all so rushed and out of the blue that it never feels genuine. Flynn doesn’t suffer from it; his casual comment that Laurel was supposed to ask him out for a date but instead they’ve only hooked up is proof he’s been thinking about her and dating prospects. Laurel is the one who suddenly spills secrets, and it just never makes sense.

Up until this point, though, I liked Flynn and Laurel for what they were. Flynn is blue-collar Boston, surprisingly articulate even with his often brusque manner, while Laurel is relatable in her insecurities and desires. The ending is meant to introduce a potential HFN (unnecessary in erotica, in my opinion), and I think I could be convinced these two have a future based on the characterizations I saw up until that jarring last chapter or two. But that’s not the point of erotica. This should have been all about the heat. In that respect, it worked, providing an intense exploration into less romantic fantasies. I’m in for more. Definitely.


8/10 – Until the last fourth that didn’t seem to fit, hot and heavy


8/10 – Though it devolves into more vanilla as the story progresses, it’s still pretty darn hot


7/10 – I liked them more for the first ¾’s but found the emotional dumps in the last bit unbelievable and out of place

Entertainment value

7/10 – If this had stayed firmly within the realm of erotica, this would’ve been higher. As a hybrid, it doesn’t work as well

World building

8/10 – I don’t know if the boxing is necessarily realistic, but damn if I couldn’t see and smell everything



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