💙 I read this for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2018 Reading Challenge, for the category of: Dark Romance. For more info on this challenge, click here. 💙
Remember when FIFTY SHADES OF GREY came out and people were like, "This is weirdly uncomfortable - this feels more like the ownership of another human being than a romance"? Well, Celia Aaron decides to take squick a step further in COUNSELLOR, because hey, wouldn't it be fun if a girl and a millionaire signed a contract where he would actually own her?
Stella's father is going to jail and Sinclair represents the opposing party. He meets with her on the DL and presents her with some papers and then says, "Hey, baby - be my slave for a year and I'll nix all the charges against your pops. But if you refuse, I'll make sure that he gets raped and probably dies in prison LOL. But seriously, sign or bad things will happen to your dad."
Faced with that kind of ultimatum, Stella signs the contract "willingly" while he is literally panting at her ear like a horny pervert insisting that she do so (alarm bells, anyone? no?) and promptly becomes a slave. As it turns out, Sinclair is part of this creepy group of people who have resurrected the slave trade in the South. I'm sure they have a name, but let's just call them the Slave Appreciation Society. Sinclair is in the running to become Sovereign, which is basically President of the Slave Appreciation Society, which means that he gets tithes from their income and also power and prestige. Oh, and that he breaks freaking slaves that he kidnaps. Let's not forget that part.
You become Sovereign by having weird, Hunger Games-like human versions of "dog shows" only instead of fighting for their lives, the audience has an orgy while watching the "contestants" (read: slaves) get forcibly tattooed with branding marks, paraded around naked on a runway while people catcall and grope, and then whipped 25 times (one time for each decade that the Slave Appreciation Society has been in existence). It's a truly bizarre and disturbing scene and I found myself both fascinated and horrified.
I know the slavery thing is going to be a deal-breaker for some, and I feel like even the author kind of had a "oh no!" moment when she realized that writing an erotica novel about romanticized slavery in the modern-day South might be triggering for some because at one point, Sinclair casually says, for no apparent reason, that this new slave trade isn't about color. To be fair, it isn't. All of the slaves at the competition are white (if I remember correctly). That doesn't make what you're doing any better, bro.
I don't mind reading "captive" romances as long as they're done well, but I feel like this one was executed pretty badly. Don't get me wrong - it was breakneck AF, and I sped through it while hating myself for each page read, unable to help myself - but there were some pretty huge problems that made suspension of disbelief fall utterly flat on its face. There are some pretty awful psychological elements that come into play for Stockholm Syndrome, and if you're going to write that book but wuss out at the idea of making the heroine hate the hero, then you really shouldn't write captive romances because as uncomfortable as it is to write a romance where the hero and heroine hate each other (for good reason), I think it's more uncomfortable when this is just glossed over as normal.
Seriously, why are people doing this? Sinclair keeps saying that he has to do it for duty, family, etc. Why? You have dirt on high-powered political people and if you really wanted to get out of it, all it would take was a whisper in the right ear, and all of this would come crashing down like the f'd up Jenga tower that it is. Whining about how you're powerless to stop what you're clearly capable of stopping just makes you a spineless weenie. Also, where are they getting these people, these slaves, from? Stella was blackmailed and one of the women was a prostitute - what about the others?
Also, I thought it was really creepy how quickly Stella started fantasizing about Sinclair. Right after she's kidnapped, she starts touching herself while imagining them doing it in the shower (uh?) and then right after he whips her so badly that they have to medically induce unconsciousness, she and him do it. The beginning was great, because she hated that jerk and with good reason, and I thought, "Oh, cool, a heroine who isn't going to take this BS, and will give the hero something to think about." #Nope. All of that flies out of the window as soon as she scopes out his hot bod and killer jawline.
The book ends on a cliffhanger, encouraging you to buy the next one, but I think I'm going to call it quits with the Slave Appreciation Society for now. Go figure, hey?
1.5 out of 5 stars