• Read my review of an earlier book set in the same world, Impact

This book is not officially part of the series, per the author, and it works very well as a stand-alone. But, both main characters here are featured in Impact, and the overall friendship connections involved in the larger cast of characters are more interesting and carry a bit more weight if you have read the previous book. Hawthorne understands the weight that all relationships, whether platonic or romantic, can carry for women, and I appreciated that she continues the evolution of Harper and Bailey’s friendship here.

This book is also the full story of a surprise reveal that occurred at the very end of Impact, explaining how characters independent of the previous heroines meet and develop their own relationship. It’s the sort of meet-cute that only seems possible in fiction, but Harper and Bree also feel like people who just happen to exist in a fictional universe instead of down the street from me in the real world. Whereas Impact goes the more obvious route of an experienced dominant character helping a submissive explore these tendencies, Play flips this script on multiple levels. I had so much fun following along as Harper takes the first steps as both a baby Domme and a baby gay as she indulges in elements of herself that she never really allowed herself to imagine before meeting Bree. That being said, I was equally fascinated by how Bree embraces her journey of self-discovery regarding her own submission and how she wants to explore it in her relationships.

Yep, that’s relationships plural. On the main level of this book, it is an entirely monogamous F/F romance story. However, Hawthorne’s characterization and storytelling ability deftly balance this “active” element of the book with the knowledge that both main characters are bisexual and that one of them firmly identifies as polyamorous. Thus, Harper and Bree’s arc toward happily ever after includes discussions of polyamory, including with people of other genders, but does not feature on-page practice. All of this is integral to the character development that is at the heart of this story. Instead of an unnecessarily angst-ridden dark moment, this book highlights the satisfaction of two separate people growing as individuals, together. Along the way, we also a few delightful “idiots in love” moments, along with the sheer adorability that is mutual girl crushes developing into a deeper emotional connection.

Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars. Cross-posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

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