The Dark Garden (2007)

By Eden Bradley

"Rowan Cassidy likes to be in charge--especially in her personal life. Christian [Thorne] has returned home from Europe, hoping to break free from his dissatisfaction and malaise--and discovers the cure in Rowan. He's dying to get his skilled hands on her and watch her surrender, to unlock the mystery of her that captivates him. Determined to be her Master, he makes Rowan a daring proposition: give herself over to him for thirty days."

This is one of the freebies I received at at the Bantam book signing in Dallas. Eden is a cheerful and sweet person, and I liked seeing how excited she was about her most excellent covers. Authors are wedded to their covers, sometimes against their will, and it's great to see when it works out well for a debut. This is beautiful, intriguing, and the cover instantly tells you it's going to be a very naughty book.

The Dark Garden is the first straight erotica I've read, where the sole story arc has to do with sexual exploration. Joey Hill's Natural Law, which I've also read, has stronger and more explicit BDSM elements, but it also had the (mostly unsuccessful) police subplot. Not so with Bradley's debut. This is a straight line sexual journey.

And apparently I don't dig straight line sexual journeys. Rowan's internal waffling came across as much ado about nothing. Even when she breaks down and admits the nature of her past abuse, she provides no concrete specifics to justify her years' worth of mental self-imprisonment. And although Christian hints at troubles with his father, that particular plot thread is left dangling. No resolution. So all of their mental whinging became tedious, interspersed by apparently mind-blowing and multiply orgasmic sex.

Of course, this means the secondary characters, April and Decker, became more attractive to me. They don't whine so much. I found myself skimming Rowan's constant mental monologues to find out more about April and Decker. But I was then doubly dissatisfied with the conclusion to their storyline. She doesn't ask for an explanation? Bugger that!

The constant references to exotic cars (BMWs, Caddies), exotic professions (artist, freelance corporate analyst???), and exotic locales made me think I was reading a new version of all the posh glam obsession that earlier writers like Katherine Stone focused on. Except with sex. Lots of it. And enough free time to pursue it as a full-time hobby. But the fascination with material markers of personality and success leaves me cold. Labels are just not my thing.

Maybe I'm spoiled. Bradley doesn't offer anything in The Dark Garden that I can't find in well-written single title with other elements I enjoy. Yes, I'm talking about historicals. Next week, I'll discuss Bonnie Vanak's The Sword and the Sheath (God, that title is SO unsubtle), which had all of the sex but also a nice plot, great historical details, and a more substantial cast of characters. I guess I'm greedy because I want both.

However, for fans of erotica with light BDSM play, this debut does a solid job. I liked meeting Eden, and far be it from me to explore a little bit of Teh Hawt.

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