Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Review: Beyond Shame by Kit Rocha

Title: Beyond Shame
Author: Kit Rocha
Series: Beyond, Book 1
Genre: Erotic Dystopian Romance
Release Date: 15 September 2012

All Noelle Cunningham has ever wanted is a life beyond--beyond the walls of Eden, where only the righteous are allowed to remain, and beyond her stiflingly restrictive existence as a councilman's daughter. But only ruins lie outside the City, remnants of a society destroyed by solar storms decades earlier.

The sectors surrounding Eden house the corrupt, the criminal–men like Jasper McCray, bootlegger and cage fighter. Jas clawed his way up from nothing to stand at the right hand of Sector Four's ruthless leader, and he'll defend the O'Kane gang with his life. But no fight ever prepared him for the exiled City girl who falls at his feet.

Her innocence is undeniable, but so is their intense sexual attraction, and soon they're crossing every boundary Noelle barely knew she had. But if she wants to belong to Jas, first she'll have to open herself to the gang, to a dangerous world of sex, lust and violence. A world where passion is power, and freedom is found in submission.

Funnily enough, considering it's an erotic romance, the first thing I'm going to talk about here is the world. I love how Kit Rocha (aka Moira Rogers) have set up this dystopian world. There's Eden, the supposed Utopian ideal, but which of course is stifling and desperately corrupt. No sex, no drinking, no ... fun. Surrounding Eden are the Sectors – home to the criminals, the gangs; cage fights, alcohol and lots and lots of sex. Life is freer in the Sectors; more dangerous as well, but at least people can live out there if they're willing to protect and fight for what's theirs. Outside of this are the farms and communes which we haven't learned much about, but which are just as interesting to me. I'm fascinated with all the options that are a possibility. With all the corruption in Eden being hidden by the righteous and the possibilities for things to get better all the way around – I suppose in the end this is why I read dystopians. Granted, we don't get a ton of information about the set-up of the world. There aren't pages and pages of info-dumps, but they're not needed. We learn what we need to as we need to, and I'm looking forward to learning more.

Most books for me hinge on the characters, and in a romance they hinge on the two (or more) main characters. Jasper is a top enforcer for the O'Kane gang in Sector 4. He's honorable, level-headed, somewhat quiet, and surprisingly kind – something I wasn't expecting when I started reading about the top enforcer in a gang in the dystopian world. It was a very nice realization. He also has no limits, anything and everything is on the table as a possibility as long as he is sure that it's wanted. I liked that he needed to know that, and wasn't just going to take extreme advantage. Noelle, the heroine, is from Eden. Raised in nothing but a nearly sterile environment with no touch or love, no kindness or feelings, and definitely no emotions or desires; her only objective in life to be a pretty hostess, knowledgeable about serving and preparing for guests, and then quietly put herself away when the time for her was through. Soon enough she realizes that isn't enough for her and gets caught trying to experiment in this unforgiving place. When she's caught, she's banished – to Sector 4. After some extremely bad luck due to her naïveté, she stumbles into Jasper and quickly begins to learn that what she's always known is just the very tip of an iceberg of possibilities.

The big problem though is the Noelle has no frame of reference for most everything that she's experiencing, and a whole lot of shame for her desires. She feels a nearly instant connection to Jasper, and while this sort of thing can sometimes be characterized as 'insta-love', it's just not here. It's questioned and looked at, examined and thought about. As are all of Noelle's feelings. She not only has to feel them, she has to realize why she wants what she does. I admit to being a little unsure about Noelle at first. I don't hate the virginal-heroine-trope, but it's not my favorite either. The wide-eyed innocence tends to get to me. However, what I enjoyed about Noelle is that for her to really come into her own it was without Jasper. She learned herself when she became truly independent. I loved that small subversion.

Now, the sex. It was definitely hot. Some of the best sex scenes I've ever read in an erotic romance, or period. Things are very hedonistic in the Sector 4 O'Kane gang and we're quickly introduced to the orgies that are common, weekly (or more frequent) occurrences. I said earlier that anything's on the table for Jasper, and that's true for the entire gang. I don't read a lot of menage books, mostly because the politics of relationships with multiple people don't usually work for me. But with everything being so open here, it's hard to find any issues with it. I also was fairly impressed that I didn't have any problems following the scenes that involved more than 3 people; I've read others where I couldn't understand who was on first and I don't know's on third, but it flowed smoothly and naturally for me here.

I also really loved that the female characters were just as liberated (except perhaps Noelle at first) as the men. They could enjoy sex, initiate it, not want it, and any other option they wanted to choose. They could connect with females, or males, multiples or one, permanent or for a single night. The one gender role that seems fairly firmly entrenched is: Men Protect. Women can too, but men do universally – at least so far. I'm willing to see if that continues to be the case, because I liked the glimpses I got of other small subversions. Females are collared or tattooed when choosing a permanent partner, but men can be, too. True, there was only one reference, but it was made so casually (and accepted) that it felt to me like nothing out of the ordinary also.

I feel like there should have been things that bothered me, however they just didn't. I saw too many possibilities for subversion of the norm, I saw too many actual occurrences of subversion. Though there were instances of gender roles and inequalities between the male and female characters there were also very strong examples bucking that trend. And that's what I'm looking for in the end in this situation.

The side characters are just as fully developed as the main characters and I loved that we got to know Dallas, leader of the O'Kane gang, Lex, Bren, Ace, and several others. They're fascinating to me and already so incredibly real – to the point where I can predict some of their actions based on what I know of them. That's comforting, that consistency in character building. It's also nice when a character steps outside of that and you see some new facet.

All in all, this is a fabulous start to a series. If you're looking for some fascinating world building, intriguing characters, and hot-as-hell sex – pick it up. I can't wait to see where Kit Rocha takes us next.

Grade: A-

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