The Master by Tara Sue Me

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by garlicknitter. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Erotic Romance category.

The summary:

Tara Sue Me’s New York Times bestselling Submissive series continues with a delicious new story that explores the thin line between pleasure and pain. . . .
 
She’s ready to try again. . . .

Sasha Blake is scarred from a BDSM session gone wrong, but she can’t deny how much a strong Master turns her on. Determined to overcome her fears and rejoin the Partners in Play community, she asks Abby and Nathaniel West to set her up with a Dom who can help her feel safe again as a sub. They know the very experienced Cole is exactly the kind of man who can push all of Sasha’s buttons—and she soon wants to go much faster than she had planned. . . .

Cole knows that Sasha is not the kind of submissive he needs. He wants someone who will serve him 24-7, not a part-time partner. Still, the further they go into their play, the more Cole begins to wish he could make Sasha his all the time. . . .

When forbidden desires turn into scorching action, Sasha and Cole come face-to-face with their demons—and realize their scorching relationship might be too dangerous to last. . . .

Here is garlicknitter’s review:

I initially had a hard time getting into this story, but once I did, I enjoyed it very much. I think the initial problem was because this is book eight in a series, none of which I have previously read. The story started off with a meeting of a lot of characters who would be well known to fans of the series, but of course for me it was like being dumped into a group of strangers. I had trouble remembering names and kept mixing people up until I had hung out with them long enough to have some idea of their individual personalities.

So, basic story: Pretty much everyone in this book is into BDSM to various degrees. All the named characters are or have been members of the same play group. Some of them have already formed long-term relationships (presumably in earlier books). Sasha, the heroine, is a submissive, but (TRIGGER WARNING for abuse) she was hurt badly by her previous Dom in a scene where he had her bound and gagged and they had not set up a safe signal. (He ends up being permanently kicked out of the group because of this incident and his behavior afterward.) Sasha still wants to be a sub because that’s what turns her on, but now she’s prone to panic attacks when asked to do some things. She asks for help from the play group, and they pick out a Dom to retrain her, someone they know has the experience to really help her reestablish trust. (At first I was like, uh, does she get any say in who retrains her? But within the first few chapters it is clearly stated that if she doesn’t want to work with their choice she can ask for someone else.)

The Dom the group chooses is Cole. Not everyone thinks he’s a good choice, because he’s apparently really intense when he plays. (I don’t feel like this really came out in the book – it’s stated repeatedly that he’s so intense, but the described scenes didn’t seem especially intense to me – I kind of assume any kind of BDSM play would be intense to the participants, and the scenes read about like I would expect, given that.) However, intense or not, Cole is really good at taking care of subs and keeping them safe, which is exactly what Sasha needs. He starts off carefully with her – one of the first things he tells her is he won’t be having sex with her. He’s just going to retrain her in being a submissive. I wasn’t initially sure what he meant by that, since (like most non-participants, I imagine) I tend to think of BDSM relationships as being about kinky sex, so taking the sex out doesn’t seem to leave much to do.

Of course that’s an oversimplification. Sasha needs to get past her trust issues, and for that she needs someone utterly trustworthy – Cole can be that guy for her. He’s very clear what behavior he expects from her and very strict about enforcing his rules, but he makes it clear that even when he punishes her for breaking his rules, he will always make her as safe as he can. For one thing, every time she uses a safe word, he praises her lavishly. Also, when he tells her what he expects from her before they play, he always asks her if she has any questions. He doesn’t assume he always knows what’s best for her, he checks with her, and when he thinks she has concerns she’s not being open about he uses his Dom powers to push her to be more candid.

Of course the no-sex thing doesn’t last. As Sasha progresses in her retraining, as she becomes stronger, she wants more domination. She genuinely enjoys submission. Serving a Dom turns her on, being bound turns her on, being flogged turns her on, etc. She knows Cole is good at all those things, and she also finds him incredibly hot, so naturally she comes to want more from him. She knows he was previously in a 24/7 Master/slave relationship, and she’s intrigued and wants to try a taste of that, but he spends the first half of the book explaining why she’s not ready. He’s explaining to himself as much as her; he also finds her incredibly hot and likes her submissive style. Eventually, at the end of her initial retraining, they do have sex, and once that happens he gives in to what they both want and agrees to a temporary Master/slave relationship, which is a resounding success. The rest of the conflict is a typical “I love him/her, but he/she deserves better/isn’t ready/wants something other than what I have to offer,” which is neatly resolved with friends of each pointing out that they seem to be stupid in love with the other and maybe they should follow up on that.

Without being a BDSM aficionado, I’d say this book does a good job demonstrating the principle that being a Dom is not just about ordering subs around and using them to get off – job number one is taking care of the sub, keeping them safe, giving pleasure as well as taking it, and making sure that even if some of the play hurts, it doesn’t actually harm.

Grade? I’m going with a B+. The writing was clear and didn’t get in the way of the story. This is a big deal for me – clunky writing can make it impossible for me to engage with a story. The characterizations were reasonably believable – or at least I was able to ignore potential issues like how does a journalist (Cole) have this much money? As stated above, I found the final emotional conflict pretty typical, but it was handled nicely and I was happy for everyone at the end.


The Master by Tara Sue Me received an A in a previous RITA Reader Challenge Review.

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