Title: The Zebra-Striped Shirt
Author: Cameron Vale
Publisher: Vagabondage Press
Cover Art: n/a
Buy Links: Amazon, ARe, Publisher
Genre: contemporary, BDSM
Rating: 4 out of 5 rating stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: An unusual take at BDSM, dark, intense and heartbreaking in places.
***Warning: contains dub-con, violence and hints at abuse***
Jon Ellerman is Master of all he surveys: a successful businessman and millionaire. The one thing he hasn’t learnt to control yet is himself. Bored on a routine European business trip, he unexpectedly finds himself on a collision course with Danny – the wild, uncontrollable enfant terrible of the Parisian fashion world. As the fire of attraction is lit, who will step in to stop everything spiraling out of control? If Jon cannot master himself, or Danny, who will?
First of all, the blurb is a bit misleading since it reads as if this book were about Jon and Danny. Well, one the one hand, it is, but there’s a very important person missing, namely Stan, Jon’s business partner, ex-lover and ex-Dom. Dom extraordinaire, as a matter of fact–imperious gaze, scary domineering powers, omniscience and all-alpha-maleness included. Which means, the story turns into some kind of sort of threesome at some point. If this isn’t your thing, you might want to stay clear. Also, it’s written in third person, multiple POV present tense, something that some readers might find off-putting.
With these provisos, on to the story: Jon and Stan produce custom-made toys, accessories and clothing to cater to the BDSM crowd of any color and preference. They’re recommendation only, word-of-mouth exclusive but very, very successful that way, and so Jon can afford to buy his clothes at a fashion designer’s, even have them presented to him in a private fashion show. That’s how he meets drop-dead gorgeous Danny, diva model, designer’s muse and one of the rudest and most provocative guys Jon has ever met.
From the first moment onward, Jon knows he HAS to have Danny. And the zebra-striped shirt he wears (which, on a side note, turns into some kind of metaphor for their relationship and plays a role several times in the story, hence the title). So Jon goes on a date with Danny, during which Danny showers Jon with insults and offense. But for Jon, the attraction only grows stronger. He wants nothing more than to grab this impossible brat and tame him. On the other hand, he can feel Danny’s deepset vulnerability and the pain which hides under the abrasive exterior. Danny is a challenge that tugs at the new Dom’s heartstrings and brings out all the possessive and protective instincts in him.
However, their first session goes terribly wrong, and Jon has to turn to his own former Dom, mentor, friend and partner Stan for advice. As hard as Jon tries to be what Danny needs, things go spiraling terribly out of control. Bearing Danny’s pain on top of the barely healed wounds of his own past proves a burden that threatens not only to break Jon, but Danny alongside with him.
This story is different from any other BDSM story I’ve read so far. Usually, the roles of Dom and sub are clear from the beginning, but this wasn’t the case here. Jon’s role was as undefined as the man was himself; I must admit I was a little surprised when he turned out the supposed Dom in the relationship. After reading the whole story, I’m pretty sure the author went for exactly this effect purposefully, and I must give kudos for that. Worked perfectly and made the whole ecperience all the more intense.
For the first half of the book, I hated Danny, really really hated him, and I couldn’t for the life of me understand why Jon would let himself be treated like a complete doormat by Danny. However, the reason for both their behavior came clear over the course of the story, and by the end I couldn’t help but feeling for both of them and rooting for them to get what they both needed.
Theirs is the most fucked-up, strangest dom/ sub relationship I’ve ever come across. Fascinating, though, meeting a failible dom who’s so at odds with himself and a sub who’s so raw with ingrained pain he practically screams with it. I’d have loved to see them sorting it out by themselves, but then the story got hung-up on their respective issues and needed a superhumanly powerful super-dom to save them both. Who, fortunately, was oh-so-conveniently handy to help sort out the mess Jon and Danny had made of their relationship.
Other than this, this story was great, very emotional, and competently told in a gripping, compelling narrative voice. I couldn’t put it down.
Until I reached the very abrupt ending, that is.
Unfortunately, The Zebra Striped Shirt tells only half the story. It stopped at a crucial point and left me high and dry with “what, that’s it? Where’s the rest of the book?” Well, I’ll need to wait until the sequel comes out, I guess. Sorry, as much as I enjoyed the story and as much as Jon and Danny grew on me and I wanted to see them happy and healed–that’s not a cliffhanger, that’s a cheap way to try and sell more books.