Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Review: Willing Victim

Willing Victim
Cara McKenna

Ellora's Cave/August 2010

From the publisher's website ~

For the past couple of years Laurel's been coasting, hiding in the backseat while her life drifts off course. Then one summer afternoon a tall, built bruiser named Flynn strides in and steers her straight into an infatuation she never saw coming.

Flynn introduces Laurel to things she's never imagined - to the violent but exciting realm of the underground boxing circuit, to rough sex and even rougher role-playing, and to an attraction she craves even as it intimidates her. As Flynn invites her deeper into his world and his life, Laurel has to make a choice - let fear keep her holed up where it's safe, or take a chance and fight for the man who makes her feel more alive than she'd dreamed possible.

Reader Advisory: Although all sex acts are 100-percent consensual, Willing Victim contains role-playing scenarios that may upset some readers who are sensitive about rape, even in a simulated capacity.

First off, please head the advisory above. I found Willing Victim to be a well written story but if this is not your thing, then you should take a pass on this one. McKenna does a good job in making it clear that the simulated rape scenes are consensual and a safe word is in place. Not once did I think Flynn would ever disregard the safe word.

Laurel White is drifting through life. She quit her engineering job to work as a waitress. Not what most would consider a good career move. She's rooming with two other women and has no real direction in her life, until she sees Flynn. It's a chance encounter that brings her into his world and changes her perceptions of herself and what she wants. For Laurel, Flynn is the catalyst that causes her to look deep into her needs and desires and give herself permission to enjoy what Flynn is offering.

Michael Flynn, or just Flynn as he prefers, is a man who's comfortable in his skin. He knows what he likes, what turns him on, what gets him off. He's fine with being different, his kink certainly isn't mainstream but it's his. He owns it. I liked that right off about Flynn. There's no bullshit with him. What you see is what you get. He's very open about what he thinks and has no problem telling Laurel. This takes Laurel by surprise at times but I also think she found it refreshing. No games with Flynn, just honesty. Sometimes very brutal honesty but it opens Laurel up to new experiences and that's what she wants, needs and craves.

Flynn's world is something that Laurel has no real reference point for. He's a boxer - he enjoys it and he's built for it. It's a brutal world of violence and pain. Laurel finds herself fascinated by it and drawn into this dark side of life she knew nothing about. Part of the allure is the feel of the forbidden. The boxing, the sex - it makes Laurel feel things she had no idea were inside her. I liked that she was brave enough and honest enough with herself to admit her attraction to this dangerous man even when her conservative side was telling her she shouldn't be.

Laurel isn't the only one who changes over the course of the story. Flynn does some changing too. His changes are more subtle, following his developing relationship with Laurel. McKenna's writing makes it believable that this man, whose life seems so structured at the beginning, now opens up a piece of himself to this woman who accepts him for who he is. For Flynn, that isn't easy to find. You get the feeling that he's closed himself off from truly feeling anything with any of his other lovers than the basic and often brutal physical aspects that his limited relationships give him.

Willing Victim is a very different romance. And I do think it's a romance. Laurel and Flynn come together for one reason, sex, but as their relationship progresses it changes and grows with their new needs. Each experience leaves an impression on the characters, changing them in ways they weren't expecting. Laurel's changes are more pronounced, with her opening up and realizing that rough sex is what she likes. It isn't an easy thing for her to admit but with Flynn's help, she's able to be honest with herself about what she wants not only regarding sex but also about where her life is heading and what she wants out of it. Flynn changes but I think he was open to the changes but wasn't expecting them to happen simply because of lack of opportunity. Whereas Laurel wasn't expecting the changes because they were out of her realm of experience.

The writing is vivid and graphic with the imagery putting the reader right in the moment, experiencing everything with Laurel. It's told in her POV which was a good move on the author's part. It's Laurel's emotions that we need to know. Flynn is an open book, he puts everything on the table. But Laurel's a jumble of emotions. She's overwhelmed with stimuli and must process her newly gained knowledge. We need to know what she's thinking and feeling not only for the plot to be believable but for the reader to know that everything is consensual, that Laurel wants to be with Flynn and she can stop it at any time. I think that's essential to the validity of the story. If at any time I felt Flynn would have disregarded Laurels needs and used his greater strength to force her to do something she didn't want, I would have stopped reading.

The one major complaint was towards the end when I felt the relationship took a turn and became more than sex. It had been venturing in that direction but when it finally did, it felt rushed. I would have liked more time spent on seeing Laurel and Flynn explore those avenues. The emotional facets outside of sex would have added more depth to the story. While we saw some of this, more would have been nice and lent a greater feeling of completion.

I do want to address the sex scenes with regards to the roughness and the role-playing of forced rape. At any time Laurel could have stopped it. McKenna wrote those scenes as well as what proceeded them, with a talent that left no doubt that Laurel was in charge. That it was her decision to continue in this unconventional relationship with Flynn.

The characters in Willing Victim are well developed with the story being more than the sex and violence. We get to see the insecurities and flaws of these characters. We see how Laurel and Flynn handle their everyday lives as well as the nights they are together. We see them acting the way any couple acts when getting to know someone and deciding what to share about yourself with them. Overall a well written, highly erotic novel.

Rating: A-


  1. Gracious me! What a lovely write-up. Thanks so much, Leslie—I appreciate all the time and effort you clearly put into examining my story, and I'm so pleased you enjoyed it.

    My best,
    Cara McKenna

  2. Cara ~ you're very welcome! As you can tell I really enjoyed Laurel and Flynn's story. :)

  3. Very interesting, but probably not for me :) It's great you enjoyed it! I wish I could be more adventurous in my liking sometimes LOL.

  4. Nath ~ well, you know what you like. :) The excerpt got me, I liked Flynn right off the bat. I think if I hadn't liked him, that would have caused problems.