A Guest Review by Jenre
A prince of industry, an imprisoned gladiator, fistfights instead of ballrooms — Cinderella just got hotter.
A master in the arena but a slave when combat is over, Jabez is a cage fighter raised on the streets. Wealthy young Andreas Fortias rescues him from his bleak existence, offering him the chance for a new life. But Andreas will have to break through more than a slave cage to touch Jabez’s heart. And Jabez may have to risk his new freedom to save his lover, so together can they expose a truth which may change their world.
I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Bonnie Dee’s m/f romance books and I’ve always found them well written with good characterisation. When I saw that she’d written a m/m book and that it was set in the future, which is a setting I usually like, I snapped Cage Match up. Sadly, this book failed to impress or engage me.
The book begins well and in fact if it hadn’t been for the first section of this book, I may have graded it lower. Andreas is one of the priviledged. He lives in what used to be Boston which has been rebuilt after a devastating plague. The rich are now completely seperate from the poor and criminal class and live in opulent splendour, wasting their lives on amusements and corrective surgery to make themselves look perfect. One of the amusements is watching the cage fights between men. This is a violent often deadly sport, similar to dog fighting where two men fight until the other is dead or unconscious. The way that the fight is described is a mix of thrilling and repulsive as both men grapple desperately to save their lives. The descriptions of the blood-thirsty crowds was also effectively done and I was drawn into the story quickly through the eyes of Andreas who is the heir to a large corporation and one of the disaffected rich.
Afterwards, for a fee, a spectator can visit the victor in order to have sex with him. Andreas is particularly attracted to one of the fighters and his friend, the odious and frankly rather OTT Timon, pays for Andreas to have a special visit with the fighter, Jabez. When Andreas meets Jabez the attraction towards him deepens into full blown lust. The sexual tension between them works well even though Jabez is essentially Andreas’ whore at this point, something which Andreas feels both a mix of shame and excitement about. Andreas is also horrified to discover that the cage fighters are prisoners who are working off a prison sentence rather than doing it for the money as he first assumed. Andreas then goes on to ‘rescue’ Jabez by buying his indenture and taking Jabez back to his house so that Jabez can become his personal trainer.
It was at this point that the story started to go downhill. For a start Andreas lives in a safe environment where there is no crime. He doesn’t need to defend himself against enemies or learn martial arts in order to protect himself. Yet he and Jabez train in fighting skills for most of the book. It all just seemed contrived and I could see that it would be leading to a forced ending. Andreas insists that Jabez is not his personal whore and that he only wants a trainer, not sex, but that doesn’t last too long before both men are in bed together supposedly because that’s what Jabez wants. The story is your typical rich man/poor man scenario and all the cliches and stereotypes are wheeled out one after the other. Andreas is young, innocent, easily influenced by his friends. He lives in an ivory tower well away from any nasty people. He’s spent a lot of time amusing himself with trifles and has been spoiled by his mostly absent father. As well as this he is just a ‘nice guy’. Jabez grew up an orphan in ‘Brick city’ where the criminal class and poor are locked behind high walls so they don’t desecrate the city of rich people. He is rough, distrusts everyone, cannot read or write, is world weary and down to Earth. There was nothing wrong with these two men or their character other than I’ve read these types over and over again and, frankly, I was bored.
Everything that happened after Jabez arrived in Andreas’ house was utterly predictable. I knew they would end up having sex; I knew that Andreas would develop a conscience once he’d heard Jabez’ tale of woe; I knew that Andreas’ father wouldn’t approve of his relationship with Jabez; I guessed the ending and pretty much how it was going to occur. I’m sorry to say that I had to drag myself through the second half of the book and only finished it because I knew I would have to write this review.
There were some good things about the book. I liked the world building and the idea of the two separate societies. Jabez’ memories of living in Brick City were affecting and I actually liked his character and the way that he resisted and fought against Andreas at the beginning. There were a few nice touches like the jet-gliders but most of this future world was very similar to ours which gave the book enough realism to be believable.
Unfortunately, I can’t say I can recommend this book which is a shame because I’ve always liked this author’s writing before. It may be an auto-read for fans of Bonnie Dee, but I know that she has written much better books than this.