Goodreads Reviews: Games Boys Play by Zoe Rider
Brian and Dylan have been best friends for years. They have no secrets between them, except for the ones they’re keeping from each other.
When Dylan lets himself into Brian’s apartment to drop something off, it couldn’t be worse timing—for Brian. He’s tied himself up to play out a kidnapping fantasy. He’s mortified, but Dylan is intrigued. He even offers to help Brian out next time he has an urge to be tied up.
No. That’s all Brian can think. No way. But the idea of someone else being in control overwhelms his thoughts—and self-bondage is suddenly a pale substitute for the real thing. He gives Dylan permission, on a trial basis, and comes face to face with a side of Dylan he’s never seen before. A really hot side.
As their games pick up steam, so does their relationship, along with Brian’s courage to go after the things he wants. Like, Dylan.
It might be happily ever after, but there’s one secret left, and it could ruin everything.
(Note: This review discusses the big "reveal" towards the end. I have marked it as a spoiler, but so far as I can tell there is no way to hide it like you do on Goodreads.)
I was pleasantly surprised by how strong I thought this was. I've noted in other reviews how certain books really fit my idea of a good, solid example of erotic fiction, and this book absolutely does.
In erotic fiction, as opposed to contemporary or other genres with some (or a lot) of erotic content, the main focus of the story is almost completely on the erotic relationship and, usually, on sex. Many of us use the "porn-without-plot" label to designate those books where not much happens except sex, or, for me especially, where I don't find the sex and erotic relationship interesting enough to carry a book.
I call Games Boys Play "erotic fiction", because the overwhelming focus of the story is on Dylan and Brian's experiments with bondage fantasies. The other aspects of the story grow out of it--how Brian, the book's narrative center, feels about the escalating intensity and elaborateness of their acts, his understandable worries about how his feelings towards Dylan might be changing, hidden aspects of his own personality that come to light, and so on.
For me, strong, insightful erotic writing explores how sex and intimacy change you. The kind of acts that sometimes get labelled "kinkery" are not there just to titillate or shock, but because those acts, and the desires that provoke them, have the potential to force people to confront assumptions about themselves, inhibitions, illusions, fears, self-deceptions. There is a nakedness to complete helplessness, both for the individual and the dynamic between two people, that makes certain habitual deceptions and comfortable assumptions impossible. When done intelligently and sensitively, it can also make for a great read--which this book emphatically is.
My only qualm was that I wanted more on Dylan. We are only given Brian's perspective, which I thought was very well done and insightful. But Dylan, despite the not-very-revealing "reveal" towards the end, remained a mystery. Rider does a wonderful job hinting at Dylan's motives and the kinds of desires that would lead him to go as far as he does. You get the impression that in a way he has even less control or self-knowledge than Brian does, which is a really cool twist, and a relief from the very irritating and ubiquitous "all-knowing Dom teaches the repressed sub what he truly wants" dynamic in most D/s fiction. There is a sense that Dylan is making some quite uncomfortable discoveries about what he likes--which strikes me as authentic. If I suddenly discovered how much I wanted to backhand my closest friend and business partner, I would have a lot of soul searching to do. (There was a similarity here to Lana McGregor's His Roommate's Pleasure, which I also really admired, but there are a lot of hints that Dylan is more conflicted than Josh in that story, which I thought added a lot of intriguing complexity.)
START SPOILER: But I did end up feeling more teased than satisfied by what we did learn about Dylan. The revelation that Dylan is gay, and has been hiding it all along, did not really cut it for me. The whole story feels like it's leading up to a relationship between Brian and Dylan, so the reader is already expecting some kind of gay-for-you or similar revelation. The fact that Dylan is gay felt a lot less momentous than that he's willing to go to such incredible amounts of trouble to play out these elaborate kidnapping fantasies--and with Brian of all people. Where are these feelings coming from? Has he explored them before? His orientation also felt a lot less momentous than the fact that he'd kept his sexuality hidden, which in our day and age actually requires an explanation. Keep it hidden from fans, perhaps, but friends and family? We're not told they're raging homophobes or fundamentalists, so it says a lot about Dylan that he chose that route rather than just coming out--I believed it, but I wanted more about why. The prolonged secrecy from his loved ones seems to tie into the kidnapping and domination fantasies, which struck me as incredibly fertile ground for exploration. Perhaps because most books focus on the sub and his or her motivations, I found Dylan more unexpected and provocative than Brian (not that Brian's in any way lacking), so I just wanted more of Rider's great insights into what makes him tick. END SPOILER
Bottom line: I really recommend this. It's a very hot read--hooray!--but also a great example of what erotic fiction can, and at its best, should do, which is explore depths and complexities in the characters that could never be revealed in any other way.
Rating: FOUR Stars
(Originally posted on Goodreads)