This book is the beginning of a new series, but one of the heroes is an important secondary character in previous books by this author. I can confirm that this book does work as a stand-alone, but I was thrilled that Grayson got the metaphorical upgrade to anchor a new collection. I first read Hawthorne via her more kink-based romances, and while there’s been plenty of spice in her last half-dozen books, this novel is a triumphant return to form. Grayson and Rob don’t have a traditional onscreen “meet cute,” as they’ve been working together for a while and have already established a delightfully flirty dynamic. Instead, we’re dropped in the middle of sparks just beginning to truly ignite between them, which means this book starts hot and only builds from there. Even their conversations are sexy AF, and I knew immediately that I was not prepared for the impending highs or lows of this story.

So, how does a relationship work between two people who identify as dominant? Note that this is far from a vanilla romance, which is the first obvious solution. The other is that one of the heroes is really a switch, but Hawthorne digs into her characters to create both excellent development and unexpected plot twists without traveling either of those routes. Grayson does verge toward being a switch sort of Dom, who are usually brats. And I am here for bratty Grayson, but it turns out he’s just a Dominant brat reeling from other unexpected changes in his life. Shifts in friendship dynamics can be even more difficult than relationship drama, and this might be a large part of the inciting incident that finally pushes Grayson and Rob together, but it doesn’t form the basis for a solid relationship. As much as I enjoyed the excellent game of push and pull between them, I appreciate that Rob, who definitely never wavers in his Dominant identity, leans into said identity to do the right thing by Grayson, even when it’s not the easiest.

It’s not the first risk Rob takes where Grayson is concerned, and when the first one didn’t have nearly as much pushback from Grayson as I expected, I knew the real conflict would be a doozy. Then, it wasn’t an overt conflict but instead an unexpected compromise that elevated everything between these men (including the feels). Then I was crying at 9 AM on a Saturday, but the tears are more than worth the result.

Characters shouldn’t exist in a vacuum, and the secondary characters intrinsic to Grayson’s external plot may have already starred in their own stories, but I’m pretty sure things work without extra context here. Grayson doesn’t “grow up” in this book so much as he learns (the hard way) that friendships cannot be static. Luckily, he has gained new friends along the way. Being extra vague here is the only way to touch on this element of the book without including spoilers, but I’ll note that Wesley continues to be the absolute delight I adored in his own book and that his coming into his own as an adult is a lovely thematic counterpoint to Grayson kind of doing the same.

Hawthorne is my go-to example of an author who is excellent at showing that power exchange and kink play well together but are not completely reliant on each other in terms of actual relationships. Here, she highlights an incredibly “nontraditional” power exchange that never diminishes the established core of the characters while still including a few of the expected tropes of the subgenre. Don’t let the fun title of the series fool you – the kink can be fun, but if each book in this series features even half of the intensity regarding power exchange as this installment, I look forward to the rest of this wild ride.

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

Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars
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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Humbled (Trophy Doms Social Club #1) by Kate Hawthorne

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