Markham is a “new” author, but I am already familiar with their work in a different area of the romance genre under another pen name. I may have been predisposed toward the writing, even if this is the first F/F novel I’ve read, but it more than lived up to my expectations – in fact, it blew them away. Bailey and Isa are not simply gender-bent versions of characters typical to Markham’s other novels. This author truly understands the myriad ways that women differ from men, including how they often react and relate to other people.
Though I understand why it is such a popular trope, the newbie sub getting inducted into the kink lifestyle by the experienced Dom (or Domme) is not all that attractive to me as a reader (an entirely subjective opinion). However, once again I know that Markham is always one to break expectations in the most interesting ways, so I looked forward to how that would happen here. The circumstances in which Bailey and Isa first meet may have been completely accidental, but everything beyond that is all within Bailey’s confident power. Instead of Isa inducting the “natural” submissive into their relationship, Bailey does her research and knows her interests. She wants Isa to help her find out whether things are actual preferences beyond the mental appeal. Conversely, a past relationship has shaken Isa. Not to her core, because she is still sure of her wants and needs, but she carries a genuine fear that Bailey will use her for that academic curiosity and then move on. Her fragile confidence underlies the way she handles her attraction to Bailey with her fear of getting too close.
Though I find a nervous dominant character to be adorable, I felt so much for Isa and her genuine worries. Concern that the person you are dating will find someone better is a relatively standard relationship woe. The intimacy that develops so quickly when power exchange and kink are added to a relationship adds an interesting twist to the arc of Isa and Bailey’s romance in which one person is new but trying to get close, and the other is experienced and doing her best to avoid investment.
Bailey does not “heal” Isa, but Isa’s desire for Bailey eventually outweighs her fears so that she begins to better reconcile her past with her present. At the same time, Bailey faces personal conflict when her friend group is not as supportive of her new relationship as she deserves. Markham does an excellent job of portraying how the loss of a friend or friend group can be just as difficult as any other sort of breakup, which is often an experience specific to women. In terms of conflict between Bailey and Isa, Markham also does not shy away from the essential conversation about how power exchange can hit differently for American women socialized to be “strong and independent.”
This will probably never be my go-to subgenre when reading romance. However, I’ve been reading everything by this author’s other pen name for a few years now, and I see myself continuing this trend for this name as well. Markham brings such a unique twist to standard genre elements that I always look forward to seeing what story they tell next. (And I’m definitely hooked on the subtle cliffhanger regarding secondary characters included in the final paragraphs of this book.)
Disclaimer: I received an advanced review ebook from the author.