Other Reviewers: Goodreads
This week’s review is about Dark Horse by Kate Sherwood. Note that this is a three book series with the HEA until book three, Of Dark and Bright. While I think that to get a full picture of the story you need to read all three books, I will only be reviewing what happens in book 1 this week.
Since read #1 of Dark Horse on 9-1-12, I have completed the book 4 times in less than a month. This leads me to believe that I find something compelling about the story. But is it just the “hot kinky sex” of an ménage, or is it the author’s writing and plot?
This book is an ménage. Most folks who read that and they think “hey, kinky sex time! Whooo hooo!” But the reason that I love ménages is for the complexity of story. In a typical romance with two characters, there are classic issues: trust, chemistry, commitment, and love. With ménages we have those same issues, but with additionally factors such as: time management, jealously, and social/family stigma.
Book 1 is about the beginning of the relationship between Dan Wheeler, Evan Kaminski, and Jeff Stevens. Evan and Jeff come to the horse farm in Kentucky that Dan works to purchase an event horse for Evan’s sister (Tatiana). While there, Jeff and Evan find him attractive as well as think he is perfect to come work as their new horse trainer. Can the three find a balance between work and play? Is Dan ready for a new romance?
At first, Evan appears to be the rich, young, fit playboy; we see him as the indulgent older brother who will buy his younger sister anything she wants. But what we find is actually an older brother who has had to raise his sister through their combined grief of their parents’ death and the take-over of the family multi-million dollar company. A conversation of Dan and Jeff about Evan:
He thinks about his words. “Evan seems a little intense.”
Jeff nods, and seems to think for a moment before speaking. “Evan’s parents died six years ago, and he had to grow up pretty fast. Had to take over the family business, and take care of his sister. He’s done well by going after what he wants and not letting anything get in his way, but he hasn’t learned a whole lot of subtlety yet. That’s how he is with business, and that’s how he usually is with his sex life.”
This is an example of how the relationship works; because Evan and Jeff are an established couple Jeff is often the more approachable partner for Dan when asking questions about the relationship. The conflict with Evan’s character is how he learns to deal with two partners whose background is not as affluent as him.
Jeff is the glue that holds the relationship between the three together. He is the mild mannered one, horse rider trainer and artist whose role seems to be peacemaker between the other two hotheaded males. Another difference is that Jeff is significantly older than the other two. I believe that part of his laid back role in the ménage is due to his life experiences. One example that we see frequently is how he provides guidance and emotional support physically with Evan (and later Dan):
Evan looks abashed. “No, of course. You’re right.” He grins apologetically. “See, like I said, I can be bullheaded.”
Jeff puts a gentle hand on Evan’s neck and shakes him ever so slightly. Even Dan doesn’t miss the way Evan leans into the touch, and Chris looks like he wants to do a victory dance. Dan doesn’t look forward to the gaydar-bragging that is sure to follow.
The scenes between Jeff and Dan early on are actually my favorite of the book and it demonstrates how effective Kate Sherwood is in describing an emotionally charged scene.
The conflict with Jeff’s character is how he learns to deal with his fear of his age as compared to Dan and Evan. Note that this conflict truly unfolds through the other two books of the series.
The main issue that Dan deals with is entering into the relationship after the established relationship of Jeff and Evan. His personal history with fear of abandonment, feelings of inadequacy, and his partner’s death all combine to make him shy away from the relationship.
“I’ve been ‘like part of the family’ before, Robyn… it never lasts. People say the dog is like part of the family, right before they get rid of it because one of the real kids gets allergies.”
This also makes Dan’s character someone who we as a reader can relate. We all can find faults with ourselves, whether with our bodies, our minds, or our social standings. One of the conflicts in this relationship then is how Dan deals with his fears and how the other guys find ways to reassure him of his value.
I think that this book is about the enduring quality of love, and when you get an opportunity to grasp it — take it. Dan and Justin had a deep love, and Dan thought it was never possible to find that type of love. But now he has found a partnership with Evan and Jeff that just might work.
What I find compelling about this story is that we do not see them jump into bed with each other. In fact, their first sexual act does not happen until 81%. We spend most of this first book just getting to know the three main characters. Because of Dan’s loving relationship with Justin, the author spends a good deal of this book watching Dan work through his grief. So, my enjoyment of this book has nothing to do with the “hot kinky sex”, but rather with the development of the relationship of the triad.
As mentioned before, I love poly relationship romances because of the inherent complexity of the story. For example, there is a higher chance of jealously and trust issues in a poly relationship. How do they handle the division of emotional labor between the three? How does each part of the triad work with the others; does one person’s strengths compliment another’s weakness?
Ms. Sherwood excels at writing a story that is still exciting and compelling without a large amount of sex scenes. Earlier I mentioned how a poly relationship (think M/F/M) would be out of the “social norm” and thus that added tensions adds to the conflict of the story. With a M/M/M story, we already have that “non social norm” with homosexuality we already have that, so for this story worrying about social norms is less of an issue. Also keep in mind that we have a large amount of money so that skews any type of “realistic” problems that actual poly relationships might have.
What could be better?
There is a bit of angst in this story, especially with Dan, who is our main perspective in this story. I would not say that it needs to be improved, but I would advise that you be comfortable with the conflict.
As mentioned in the strengths, while I can believe the poly relationship is realistic, having one of the partners who is super rich and can solve many of the problems with his money and power, this would probably not be “typical”. But hey, this is a romance fiction, right?
I loved this book and it is on my “favorites list”. It is a combination of character development, relationship development with a sizable pinch of angst. I will note that book 1 is my favorite of the three, I really enjoyed the second, but the third book did not compare to the first two in my opinion. Overall, I recommend the book and series!