Reviewed by Anne
Disclaimer: I won a free copy of this book from the author.
OK, so I just finished reading Beyond Shame and I LOVED it! I’ve been on a string of a bunch of A/A+ reads. It’s not just that I’m in a good mood – I’ve genuinely liked all of these books. Beyond Shame goes beyond like for me, and it’s going on my best of the year list for sure!
First off, let me say that this is a dirty book. Reading it made me feel dirty in a very, very good way. Back when I read Maya Banks’ short story in Cherished I had problems with the group sex and it made me feel dirty in a yucky way. Not so in this book.
There is m/f, m/m/f, f/f, m/f/f sex and some fairly big parties. However, the heart of the story is the m/f relationship between Noelle and Jasper. There’s also some kink, but the consent is never questionable, so I had no problems with it.
OK, let me back up a bit. I think the right word for the setting of this book would be dystopian. It’s a dark, post-apocalyptic world. It reminded me of the Hunger Games world in feeling, and also in that it has one extremely rich city/center/region, Eden, that lords over the rest of the relatively poor ones. This story has a very urban feel as well.
Noelle is one of the privileged few. As a daughter of a powerful politician she’s been raised in a repressed society that reminds me of historical romance. There’s an emphasis on politics and purity. However, the book begins with Noelle having been disowned and thrown out of Eden into one of the sectors surrounding it. Luckily for her, she quickly is picked up by Jasper, one of the members of the gang that runs the sector she was abandoned in. Oh, and I forgot to mention – why was she disowned and thrown out? Fornication! And drinking! Noelle took it upon herself to find out what this sex stuff was all about. She wonders if there was something wrong with her. Everyone else seems able to resist their sexual urges, but she sought it out.
So, Noelle is abruptly banished from the home she’s known and thrown into a dangerous sector. Thankfully, Jasper sees her and is feeling protective, and just like that, she’s being folded into their gang, the O’Kanes. I will say, this quick acceptance was a weak plot point for me, but as the dystopian setting is fantasy to me, I can just blink and go with it in a way I wouldn’t be able to in a contemporary setting. ‘Cause, you know, I am kind of a gang expert. /<sarcasm>
So, the O’Kanes are a dangerous and powerful gang. They are family to each other. They run the sector – and maybe other sectors, too? They make alcohol, which is how they make money. Two of the very high ups in the gang are smitten with Noelle, so her protection continues and her entrance to the gang comes quickly. Unlike any urban legend I’ve ever heard, there is no ritual killing or beat down required for joining the gang.
So, where does the sex fit in? Everywhere. As repressed as Eden was, the sectors are in-your-face sexual. They embrace their sexuality and aren’t shy about their bodies. Noelle is both intrigued by and ashamed of her interest and attraction. The gang is accepting of this, but they bring her into their world one experience at a time. By that point I was fully accepting of this world and the gang and I found the sex to be incredibly hot.
Noelle is rescued by Jasper, but quickly taken in by Lex, girlfriend to the gang leader, Dallas. Lex and Dallas have an interesting relationship which they haven’t formalized with the tattoo neck bands that are the symbol of permanent relationship in this gang. (By the way, I really need to read more about Lex and Dallas. Now. I don’ want to wait until next year when their book comes out!) So, Lex likes Noelle. Actually, Lex like likes Noelle, so she really enjoys teaching Noelle all about her sexuality. Jasper and Dallas are happy to be part of Lex's teaching program. And while Noelle has a really strong preference for Jasper, she’s also very attracted to Lex. And really to everyone.
For her whole life Noelle was taught to suppress all her feelings and sexuality. Now she’s being encouraged to embrace it all. It’s overwhelming, and she still has feelings of shame, wondering if what she’s doing is really ok. To top it off, Noelle finds out she gets off on pain and being ordered around. That seems really dirty to her, and it’s confusing. Jasper, luckily, understands that and is dominant himself. However, he’s worried that Noelle will wake up one day and realize she was just trying everything out and was wrong. She’ll decide it really is all bad and shameful and she’ll be mad at him for introducing her to it all. So he encourages her to find her own way. He’ll be there along the way, but how will she know what she likes and doesn’t if she doesn’t give it a try?
So it starts with Noelle getting permission and encouragement from Jasper to spread her sexual, ahem, wings and see what she likes and how she really feels about it all. That evolves into Noelle gaining confidence in herself and what she enjoys. She comes to see she doesn’t need Jasper’s permission to do any of that, but at the same time she figures out that she really does enjoy being bossed around by him, and all the things that she likes, well, they are even better with Jasper.
At the same time all this is going on, we meet other gang members. We see some of the politics going on in the world and how that affects the O’Kanes. I’m not big on politics. These seemed coherent, though and kept my interest. There’s plenty of sequel bait and I was very distressed to realize this is a NEW series. No!!!! I have to wait for the next book!
The books are written by Kit Rocha, who also writes as Moira Rogers. Interestingly, Kit Rocha is actually two authors who work together.
A final word about the BDSM aspect of this story, especially for Kay. I’d give this a moderate kink rating. There’s some bondage and some spanking. There’s some bossing around. But no blood, and it’s all very well written so that it’s clear that Noelle enjoys it. That’s my sweet spot for kink. I’m interested to hear what Kay thinks after she’s read it since my kink acceptance level is a little different than hers.