Laurence Dalziel, a thirty-seven year old trauma surgeon, is worn down and washed up. And for him the BDSM scene especially is all played out. He’s tired of pantomiming submission, and he’s long since given up looking for more than hollow release.
Then he meets Toby Finch. Nineteen years old. Fearless, fierce, and vulnerable. Everything Laurie can’t remember being.
Toby doesn’t know who he wants to be or what he wants to do. He doesn’t know how he ended up where he is or where he’s meant to be going. But he knows, with all the terrible certainty of youth, that he wants Laurie.
He wants Laurie on his knees. He wants to make him hurt, he wants to make him beg, he wants to make him fall in love. But while Laurie will surrender his body to Toby’s desires, he won’t surrender his heart. Because whatever they have, however right it feels, he knows it can’t last. Toby has to live his own life, and Laurie has to let him.
It can’t be for real.
I will make no secret that I love the writing of Alexis Hall, I really do, and the previous book in the Spires Universe, Waiting for the Flood, is easily one of my favourite reads this year.
So when I read that this was an age difference, social difference kinky romance, set in my home city of London I begged and badgered to get an early copy, which I rarely do. (In the spirit of full disclosure I know Alexis Hall, but in no way has that coloured my review). I hoped that that For Real would be a different take on a trope that seems incredibly popular at the moment, BDSM, and I was not disappointed. Plus the cover is gorgeous. The book is narrated in alternate first person , and it’s a joy to read.
Toby Finch, our Dom, is 19 years old, prone to acne, skinny -and he knows that he’s a Dom, but he is terribly inexperienced. On one level he is a typical 19 year old, unsure of where he is going in terms of his career, treading water working in a dead end job living with his bohemian mother.. On the other he is sure of who he is emotionally, in a really clear and distinct way. At no stage does Toby hesitate or second guess either his sexuality, or his emotional connection to Laurie. I found this incredibly refreshing; most authors dealing with younger protagonists would lather on the angst, or the lack of life experience. Hall, like Toby, is brave; so while you recognise his youth and inexperience most of the time, to me, he felt like the more mature of the two MC’s. His love and quoting of poetry resonated with me, and I could totally understand that while academically he hasn’t soared; his emotional intelligence was incredibly high. Toby is hope, the future and light.
Laurie, our Sub, is knocking on 40, he has an incredible job, and on paper a fantastic life style, but he is lost. Laurie was once in love, and this relationship has defined his life, while it’s clear that the relationship is over, they move in some of the same social circles, and so it’s like a wound that has never really healed. Initially I found the character of Laurie so incredibly sad, he is a frozen man, caught in the Amber of regret and what should have been. As the older MC he knows where he is going in his professional life, but emotionally he is lost. Laurie’s character starts almost as a dead man walking.
From the moment that Toby and Laurie meet you know that this is something special, these are not flawless beautiful people, but they have a kind of complementary beauty that is way better than that. And as each man grows and develops ,or discards ,levels of behaviour it was incredibly romantic.
Hall takes the obvious – age difference, kink, top and bottom and subverts then all, but he does it subtly and with humour and kindness, the relationship between Toby and Laurie is beautiful to read, their immediate sexual attraction and kink is used to explore the incredible need that they have for each other; so that at no way does the sex (and there is quite a lot) ever feel like JUST sex. I have read a few BDSM books where the objective seems to be to spew as much kink and sex on the page for total titillation. This is so not that kind of book, these guys recognise that they fulfil not just each other’s sexual but their emotional needs as well, and watching them work towards this was special. There were some fun side characters—the bisexual best friends with an obviously open relationship, Angel with the purposefully vague gender, Dominic the Dom (who played the alto-sax and seemed to be an unbearably nice guy), the free-love mother, and the academics. and Toby’s granddad. All written with affection, and the dual POV is fantastic, both men have very distinct and different voices.
My gripes with this were slight, its long, and I think that maybe it could have been trimmed a little. Toby, a 19 year old British man, uses the expression Dude, a lot, and it didn’t ring true for me.
I have read everything by Alexis Hall, and For Real is one of the best that he has written. There are common themes that run through his work, the loss of love, the emotional wasteland that happens without it and the joy and hope in finding love again, and they are present here in spades. If you don’t normally read m/m I would urge you to give this a try. I rarely re read romance novels, but I will totally be making an exception for this book.
Grade: A- (for the over dude-ness)
You can buy a copy here.