Sunday, December 4, 2011

To Command and Collar

To Command and Collar is a brave book.  With so much potential of turning into a dark story of human slavery, Cherise proved herself again as the master of BDSM romance by filtering the story with such a strong sense of healing and love that it is yet another romantic masterpiece in her Shadowlands series.

The slave ring setting was truly horrific – vivid imagery sent shivers up my spine - and a very brave choice for a romance. Sinclair began this storyline in Make Me Sir when readers first see a brief glance at the demented world of human slavery. The situation wasn’t resolved in one book which is how Raoul gets involved. After Marcus’s new sub Gabi is mixed up in the slave ring while trying to rescue a friend, the tender-hearted hero in Raoul is compelled to help. His mission from the FBI is simple – get seen and be invited into an auction which would allow them to take down the Harvest Association leaders. But Raoul can’t look the other way when he finds Gabi’s friend; so risking months of hard work for the FBI, his Dom instincts demand he bring Kimberly home.

Kimberly desperately wants out of the nightmare in which she is living having been kidnapped, tortured, raped and enslaved. When she finds herself back up for sale after her previous owner returns her and then sold to another terrifyingly large man, she doesn’t believe her self-proclaimed rescuer truly wants to keep her safe. But she feels a connection to Raoul even as she feels her natural submission rising to the surface again; and then relief when he reunites her with Gabi. Sinclair crafted Kim’s recovery, illustrating the post-traumatic stress of the victims rather than jumping right into a relationship with an HEA. Kim was so damaged that Raoul took time to nurture her as she struggles to adjust to life outside of captivity.

The FBI gets a lucky break when Raoul is offered another opportunity to attend an auction. But for the plan to appear real, he must make his ownership of Kimberly look real. After both her friends and the FBI confirm she is safe with Raoul, Kim steps up to help the other women still in captivity and offers herself up to the role of his slave. Having been tortured, verbally abused, raped, and finally when she reveals being kept in a cage, her strength is that much more pronounced and devastating. Yet still so selflessly, Kimberly wants to save the other girls – one of the strongest heroines I’ve seen in a romance. She has the choice to just go home and heal, but instead she puts herself under the control of a near-stranger to save the other women.

I would be remiss not to mention that there were a lot of side stories going on in this story. Setting the stage for future books, I suspect. We see Sadist Sam in action and in the beginning of what I suspect to be his HEA perhaps. We also get to see yummy FBI agents Galen and Vance work as a team to intimidate sweet little Sally. Then, of course, Sinclair included scenes with all the Masters and their subbies – I love that – and some fun scenes as the subbies have their girl-time (and of course get into mischief). Readers will start feeling like they are family.

To Command and Collar had the potential to be an incredibly dark story but was masterfully crafted into so much more. Kimberly's healing through her relationship with Raoul was a beautiful transformation. In a very simplistic view, Kimberly went from one form of slavery to another as she develops a relationship with Master R – Kim herself struggles with this – but I found myself resolving any issues with it right alongside her. Kimberly is submissive; she felt most comfort in the M/s relationship she found with Raoul. And so long as it is consensual, her new lifestyle couldn’t be more different since it was by her choice that she entered such a relationship with her Master R. Absolutely beautiful final scene.

Yet another fantastic addition to the Shadowlands series. With a damaged yet strong heroine and a masterful yet tender Dom, To Command and Collar took me through a whole spectrum of emotions and then left me in awe once again of Cherise Sinclair to relay such a story. 

Not that I think I need to spell it out for you but... this is a 5 Chocolate-Dipped Strawberry read.
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