**Note** I am not an expert in BDSM and my opinions are just that, opinions.
I remember reading in a book once, forgive me if I forget which one, about a female lead says something along the lines, “Well, it’s not like there’s a Bondage 101 book out there”. Meaning, one size does not fit all; you have to experiment and find out what works for you and your partner. Moreover, just because you might read a lot of romance books with BDSM, does not make you an expert on the topic. In fact, there are some excellent books out there on the subject, I personally value the Loving Dominant by John and Libby Warren. If you have a vanilla husband/wife and you want to see what he/she thinks, or what he might be comfortable trying, I do recommend that book.
MacKenise and Alex do a house-switching thing, while she looks for a veterinarian job and Alex has a conference to attend. Mac feels compelled to go into his locked Dungeon (back story will tell us why) and Alex catches her. Mac has no money and cannot risk her reputation in the new town, so she agrees to “play” his sub to help him out of a separate bind so that he will not tell the company about her deceit. Their relationship progresses while she tries to find employment, but what happens if her horrifying secret is revealed?
Alex is an established Dom, belonging to a private club that we get a peek into early on in the novel. If you have read the Shadowlands Club series that Ms. Sinclair also writes, you get a taste of that flavor here. To me, this is a lighter version of the Shadowlands series. If you can handle this book’s intensity, then try Shadowlands. If you are uncomfortable with Alex’s actions in The Dom’s Dungeon, then you would not enjoy the Shadowlands Series.
What I like about this female lead is that Mac is emotionally damaged and not fixed in the first three chapters. I hate when we have someone who is dealing with rape, incest, or some other violent assault and somehow just by being loved by a good man she is instantly cured. In real life, if we are abused by a male then no matter how sweet the new love might be, we still flinch at the same things. Healing takes time. And patience.
Without giving too much of the plot away, we learn that she was forced to be a prostitute briefly (one year when she was 16) until she was helped by a man who in essence became her father figure. This man led her to want to become a vet and it is his death is one of the catalysts to move to Seattle. We have a female who despite gaining a positive environment and starting a good career still believes herself dirty inside and can not allow herself to feel the pleasure of sex (or a relationship). We hear her tell herself often, “Whore’s don’t get off.”
Mac is an illustration of how BDSM can actually help someone deal with their past emotional traumas. I have read books (fiction/nonfiction), how for some individuals, aspects of the BDSM lifestyle psychologically benefits them (sexual or not). [For a very intense example of this type of benefit, see Tymber Dalton’s fiction novel The Reluctant Dom]. For example, individuals who cannot express emotion except through pain, then the caning or whipping allows a catharsis and helps them move through their emotions. However, this pain is not done in isolation, it must have context. For instance, if I slammed my hand in the car door, I am not going to orgasm instantly. However, if I have an attentive Dom (otherwise, would they even be a good Dom?) he would guide me through a scene properly, possibly even giving more pain than that car door. Again, we must have context. There is an early scene where Alex recognizes for whatever reason Mac cannot allow herself to orgasm:
“I’m going to restrain you, little cat, because your mind, for whatever reason, thinks you shouldn’t do this and tells you to stop. But I’m not going to stop, and there will be nothing you can do about it.”
Read that again: “I’m not going to stop”. When she is restrained and has no control she gives herself the freedom to orgasm because it is out of her “control”. In this case, this was what she needed to move forward. But as we said in the beginning, one play does not fit all. There is a fine line between creating a rape scene that could be horrific to a rape victim and someone in this situation where the control and restraints actually helps Mac deal. There is a process of negotiation, a building of trust, and what is often called the “transfer of power”. Mac allows Alex to restrain her, to give her pleasure and to help her psychologically past her block. But at any time, Mac can stop it. This is the balance.
With this trust comes honesty. While a Dom is observant to watch for physical tells to help guide her through the emotional landmines (or purposefully over), often sexual assault does not make a visual cue. Alex is aware based on her actions that there is some sort of sexual trauma in her past so he moves slowly forward, but still pushes her past her comfort zone. This is early on and we see how this type of relationship actually helps her deal with her pain and shame.
Cherise creates male characters that make me uncomfortable. Now before you think it is a bad thing, let me explain. She makes male characters that are not vanilla and never will be vanilla. You might see in other romances that while the guy might have rough sex with his female lead, he does not illustrate any other Dominant characteristics. There is an entirely different psychological profile of a Dom and it has nothing to do with if he ties up his bed partner.
To say that Alex does not love Mac because he provides her discipline is not to understand the Dom/sub roles. Ms. Sinclair does an excellent job of letting the reader understand the roles and understand how the Dominant reasons. For example:
A Dom had a duty to give a submissive what she needed, not always what she wanted.. and to administer punishment as required.
Look at that word: “Duty”. There is a level of responsibility that a Dom accepts when he takes on a sub, which has nothing to do with how he might physically control them. He is responsible for their emotional health and must provide what their sub’s needs, in addition to the fact that the Dom’s actions provide something that they need. This is more than just two or more people getting their freaky sex on.
Think about your childhood. A child feels safest when there is continuity. For example, I know that if I had stayed out past my curfew, there was a punishment for that action. Now, it could have been simple. I could have just called and asked to stay out later and been granted permission. But because I was not honest, I was punished and subconsciously I was reassured by that consistent discipline. In the example above with Mac’s restraints, she did not want to be tied up, but she needed to be tied up. Alex noticed this need and gave it to her.
Acceptance is something that we strive for, in life, from our coworkers, supervisors, our friends, family, and/or spiritual mentors. However, what about our own acceptance of ourselves? This book deals with the concept of forgiveness of our past (our own actions) and acceptance that it has happened, but we are still good people. Mac learns to love herself and thus is ready to accept Alex’s love. Alex finds in Mac someone who accepts all of his needs and allows him to be himself.
This books demonstrates how BDSM is not just about hot sexy-time, but is about melding two complementary needs to form a cohesive unit. Mac needs the security of the discipline and Alex’s authority in the bedroom and Alex needs to feel the control. There are many levels of BDSM and this only one aspect of the culture.
The strength here is that we deal with a targeted section of the scene and Ms. Sinclair does a masterful job of demonstrating the mind of a Dom. To me, she really gets how they think and Alex is not a poser. We understand his actions and can recognize his motivations.
What could be better?
This book is mostly about the relationship, while there is a little intrigue, it mostly surrounds Mac’s past. If you are looking for suspense, then this is not the book for you. I would say that the only possible improvement was character development of the male lead, Alex. But, because we were dealing with such emotionally charged issues with Mac, I think it would have been too much drama if we had to “fix” Alex too. I think Ms. Sinclair chose well. If you are looking for a Dom who struggles character development, then read her Mountain Masters series.
If anyone asks me about what is a good place to start if they want to read about BDSM, then I tell them Cherise Sinclair and then would suggest starting with The Dom’s Dungeon. This is an excellent example of demonstrating the emotional necessity of the lifestyle and not that it’s just some excuse to wear leather, whip someone and go “yeeee hawww!”.
If you are looking for a well-written, emotionally intense novel that walks the reader through a woman’s acceptance of herself then this is the book for you. You will not be disappointed.