Slavery, Sex and Society–Two Belonging ‘Verse Books

Hi there! Today I’m featuring two M/M novels that deal with some pretty intense topics–notably slavery. The Belonging ‘Verse, as it is called, is an alternate reality where slavery has never been illegal. It is a worldwide experience with millions of slaves held, traded and bred annually.

In some ways, I found the perspective extremely refreshing. As a woman, I’m quite used to the expectations of subservience in my sex. The double standard of demanding competence and, in the same turn, acquiescence. It’s not the easiest dance to master, and certainly fosters hostility which must be masked–less a woman be called out for her assertiveness (Read: bitchiness).

In both of these books men are the protagonists. They are ones being held against their will, subservient, with little-to-no autonomy, no ability to refuse a direct order. For me, the parallels to dysfunctional relationships were numerous, and chilling. Further, the larger social context of slavery (which still exists today even if not openly) was dealt with in a manner that was completely rendered and harrowing. These are not romantic books. They are political statements. And they were phenomenal.

Anchored (Belonging, #1)About ANCHORED:
Network news anchor Daniel Halstrom is at the top of his field, but being at the bottom of the social ladder—being a slave—makes that hard to enjoy. Especially when NewWorld Media, the company that’s owned him since childhood, decides to lease him privately on evenings and weekends to boost their flagging profits.

Daniel’s not stupid; he knows there’s only one reason someone would pay so much for what little free time he has. But dark memories of past sexual service leave him certain he won’t survive it again with his sanity intact.

He finds himself in the home of Carl Whitman, a talk show host whose words fail him when it comes to ordering Daniel into his bed. Carl can’t seem to take what he must want, and Daniel’s not willing to give it freely. His recalcitrance costs him dearly, but with patience and some hard-won understanding, affection just might flourish over fear and pain. Carl holds the power to be an anchor in Daniel’s turbulent life, but if he isn’t careful, he’ll end up the weight that sinks his slave for good.

My Review:
ANCHORED is not a love story. It’s not even a like story, really.

What it is is a GREAT story.

This book is set in an alternate universe where slavery is legal worldwide. It is otherwise set in contemporary NYC. This review is for the 2nd edition book which was re-released Sept 2014.

Daniel is a slave. He’s also a celebrity news anchor. His network bought him at age 11 and he’s been a faithful slave, reporting the news for NewWorld Media for years now. Unfortunately NewWorld is struggling financially and they’ve decided to lease out some of their commerical properties–like Daniel–to buyers overnight and on weekends. Daniel’s being prostituted out for an annual rental to one buyer, at 6 million dollars. And, he’s terrified.

See, slaves like Daniel are communally housed, but not allowed any physical relationships. His only experience with sex was being raped by men as a child. He had a clandestine “lover” with whom he shared a few trysts, but no penetrative sex. And, Daniel’s worst fears are realized when he enters his new master’s home–he’s been leased to a man. Okay, it gets worse: the man who is now his master, Carl, is a talk show host on a competitor network. Yikes.

Carl has longed for Daniel for years. Aroused by Daniel’s physical beauty, and his intellectual persona on TV, Carl expected a partner to share his empty nights with witty repartee and mutual passion. Daniel isn’t sure what to do–he’s essentially a virgin, and can’t read Carl’s mixed signals.

If Carl ordered Daniel to have sex with him, Daniel would have submitted, but Carl never does that. No, he treats Daniel like a Freeman, which only confuses Daniel more. Carl wants a willing partner, and Daniel is unwilling. It, honestly, is a complete failure to communicate, but the end result is Daniel receiving “training” in his new role as a pleasure slave that is unconscionable to Carl, Daniel and the reader.

Okay, so I’m gonna say, this is the only time I’ve read a rape and felt so incredibly visceral about it. The absolute clinical and violent manner in which Daniel was coerced into sex was so distressing and so riveting. I kept hoping against hope that someone would step in, that Daniel would not be harmed. It was frightening, and yet I could only see the story unfolding in this way.

Daniel’s plight called to the fore the political injustice of this fictional world–and gave context in the inequality of our actual world. So many millions of people are either legally (fictional) or financially (real world) subservient that the choice to engage–or not to engage–in sexual relations is not always within one’s power. It was a harrowing, honest, and enlightening experience for me. Other reviews highlight this as well.

Carl is a terrible master, not because he is violent or coercive–because he is weak. He has no interest in ordering around a slave; he really doesn’t like being a slave owner. His two other slaves are virtually autonomous, with Carl having no desire to reprimand them–not that they act out. In fact, Daniel doesn’t act out–he just isn’t sexually interested and refuses to please if he isn’t ordered. Well, at least until he’s “trained”. After surviving that experience he’s ready to serve Carl as often as possible, in whatever way necessary, to prevent any further training.

Carl learns the consequences for his folly in renting Daniel, and makes amends in the best way that he can. He is a truly good man, and didn’t understand how his dissatisfaction with Daniel would manifest as torture.

I was particularly touched when Daniel reflects on the difference in emotional attitudes between slaves and Freemen. A Freeman, like Carl, can have/give love to Daniel–because he has autonomy.

On the other hand, Daniel could have respect, or even affection, for Carl, but he didn’t feel free to love him. The power imbalance was too great to have equal footing in something so visceral as love. Daniel appreciates that he always faces the risk of being sold to someone else, so he guards his love carefully to ensure he’s not emotionally damaged by what amounts to a commercial transaction.

It was a very powerful commentary, and one I probably didn’t even fully appreciate–regardless of how moved I felt by it. There are some tender moments in this book, but it isn’t a tender tale. As I said, it’s not a love story. I was glad to see that Daniel was satisfied in the end. That he was safe and protected. This book will stay with me long after I expect. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Interested? You can find ANCHORED on Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

About the author:

Rachel Hainowitz is a “M/M erotic romance author, freelance writer and editor, sadist with a pesky conscience, shamelessly silly, and proudly pervish. I’m a twitter addict (@rachelhaimowitz), and I blog every M/W/F at Fantasy Unbound. To learn all about my current and upcoming projects, please stop by my website. I love to hear from folks, so feel free to drop me a line anytime at metarachel (at) gmail (dot) com.”

Counterpunch (Belonging, #2)About COUNTERPUNCH:
Fight like a man, or die like a slave.

Brooklyn Marshall used to be a policeman in London, with a wife and a promising future ahead of him. Then he accidentally killed a rioter whose father was a Member of Parliament and had him convicted of murder. To ease the burden on the overcrowded prison system, Brooklyn was sold into slavery rather than incarcerated. Now, he’s the “Mean Machine”, a boxer on the slave prizefighting circuit, pummelling other slaves for the entertainment of freemen and being rented out for the sexual service of his wealthier fans.

When Nathaniel Bishop purchases Brooklyn’s services for a night, it seems like any other assignation. But the pair form an unexpected bond that grows into something more. Brooklyn hesitates to call it “love”—such things do not exist between freemen and slaves—but when Nathaniel reveals that he wants to help get Brooklyn’s conviction overturned, he dares to hope. Then, an accident in the ring sends Brooklyn on the run, jeopardizing everything he has worked so hard to achieve and sending him into the most important fight of all—the fight for freedom.

My Review:
This story is fantastic. It is set in an alternate universe where slavery still exists, in contemporary London. Brooklyn is a 27 y/o slave sold to a boxing consortium, and he’s burning up the heavyweight division. Brooklyn hasn’t always been a slave. He was born a freeman, and was sold into slavery following a conviction. In his free days he was a married man, a policeman in fact. A chance encounter resulted in a murder conviction, when manslaughter (or no charge) would have been the ordinary course. Brooklyn is haunted by the memory of the riot where he was dispatched and a girl died. He suffers real guilt, but as a slave his feelings do not matter.

He is housed in a communal living space where all his actions are controlled by armed guards, and rented out as a boy toy when he is not training or fighting. Some of his “johns” have been female, many male. He’s not adjusting well to slave life, but channels his rage into his fighting, which helps.

Nathaniel rents Brooklyn one night, and learns that his experience as a slave is not always about what is taken from you. In Nathaniel’s sphere, Brooklyn is cherished. Allowed what little freedom a slave can be afforded.

Nathaniel becomes a regular renter, and Brooklyn is able to claim a small bit of his humanity back through their encounters. Soon, Nathaniel reveals that he is interested in re-opening Brooklyn’s conviction; he felt he was scapegoat–wrongfully accused and convicted due to an abuse of power by the victim’s father. Brooklyn almost can’t bear to hope to escape his lot as a slave, but he does. He trains harder and harder, trying to compartmentalize his fear and mortification of slave life, and he gains even greater acclaim in his boxing.

Then, there’s a big problem in one of Brooklyn’s fights, and he freaks out. His breakdown results in a loss of his connection with Nathaniel and abuse he had never before endured in his slavery. The climax comes fast and furious, with a chance for redemption and “freedom” offered if he throws his big title fight. Brooklyn is a steadfast man, and his HEA is just around the bend.

I really enjoyed this alternate universe, legal slavery, because it served as a greater context to discuss racial relations (most Blacks in this world are slaves) and the inequality of wealth and power, and how it corrupts. Brooklyn is a good man. He is in a bad spot, and makes the absolute best of it. He does not let his situation defeat him. He does not take the “easy” way. He strives, and perseveres. He fights for his dignity, even when it is continually ripped from him. He endures unspeakable cruelty, and achieves his ultimate reward on his terms.

I am a sports fan, so the boxing milieu was amenable to me, but I don’t think it was too much for an average reader to absorb. It was all very well described and the context always felt appropriate. I also enjoyed the boxing history vignettes, as I grew up in the 80’s watching Sugar Ray and Mike Tyson and others find their titles, so this was a little piece of home. And the writing/language was superlative. The author notes how readers will likely balk at his “British” English, but for me, an Anglophile, this story could not be authentically told any other way. It kept me up way too late because I absolutely could not stop reading once I opened it.

The smexytimes aren’t overdone, and pack a good balance of sensuality and heat. They take a while to develop, which was unexpected, and pleasant. It allowed me to really enjoy Nathaniel and not see him as another exploiter in a vile system. And, later, when he worked behind the scenes to help Brooklyn, I really grew to love him. I think Brooklyn did, too. I received a copy of this book via NetGalley.

Interested? You can find COUNTERPUNCH on Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

About the Author:

“Aleksandr Voinov is an emigrant German author living near London, where he works as a writing coach, complementary therapist and freelance corporate editor. At 39 years of age, Voinov has written more than a dozen novels and commercially published five print books with German publishers. After many years working in the horror, science fiction, cyberpunk and fantasy genres, Voinov is now primarily writing contemporary and historical erotic gay fiction. A recurring theme in his fiction is “the triumph of the human spirit” or an individual rising to challenge the status quo in a world gone bad.”

You can connect with Aleksandr on his website, on Facebook and/or join his Facebook group here. He has an author forum at Goodreads and is active on twitter.

Thanks for popping in my friends, and keep reading!