Review: Drake Restrained

Drake Restrained 1 audiobook cover. A brooding, bare-chested man in a grey suit jacket with a loose black tie gazes out from the cover. Drake Restrained, Book 1 by S.E. Lund.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 15 hrs.
🔥Steamy Content!🔥

Drake Restrained, Book 1 by S. E. Lund is a dark, passionate story, perfect for fans of Fifty Shades of Grey. This audiobook is a retelling of  the author's previous novel, The Agreement, from the hero's perspective.

Audible Summary: "Drake Morgan, MD, neurosurgeon, bass player, philanthropist - Dominant. He doesn't do girlfriends, he doesn’t do sleepovers, and he certainly doesn't do breakfast in bed the morning after. He has his surgical slate at New York Presbyterian, he has a charitable foundation providing surgical tools to hospitals in Africa, he has his Brit Invasion cover band, Mersey, and he has his secret life as a Dominant in Manhattan's BDSM community.

Into bondage, D/s and the occasional dungeon scene, Drake keeps every part of his life separate, the divisions between them neat and tidy. His weeks are filled with surgeries, music, and D/s sex, and none of the well-planned and scheduled parts of his life intersect. That is until Kate McDermott crosses his path and screws everything up. Now, nothing is neat and tidy anymore, for Drake is smitten, and things are going to get messy....

©2015 Susan Elizabeth Lyons (P)2019 Susan Elizabeth Lyons."

Content Warning: This audiobook portrays a Dominant/submissive relationship but also contains elements outside of the contract which some may consider to be coercive and abusive.

When I picked up this audiobook I was expecting it to be a real tonic, after all it purports to be everything I keep saying I want in a book of this type. I don't think I've reviewed a steamy book without mentioning how much I like having the male POV included, so knowing that this story is told through Drake's eyes meant that it held my attention from the start. Whilst I don't care that Drake is wealthy, I was excited to see that he's a handsome, talented neurosurgeon, as I've swooned over many a fictional doctor in my time (as anyone who has tolerated my various obsessions with ER's Luka Kovac, Holby's Nick Jordan, or House MD's Greg House can attest). That he's also a little older than the heroine and loves classic British soft rock was the icing on the cake.

I was also looking forward to it because I love the narrator, Jack Calihan, and knew he would be the ideal choice for a character like Drake. As the heroine was called Kate, his performance certainly felt a little more intimate than it usually does - which definitely added an additional frisson to my listening time! Throw in a smattering of Calihan purring his now-infamous "Good girl..." and I suddenly didn't mind at all that this audiobook was 15 hours long.

Unfortunately, the more I listened, the clearer it became that there were several major flaws in this novel, with some of them being impossible to ignore. The thing I think many listeners will struggle with the most is Drake's behaviour, especially in the early part of the book. I think there's a responsibility when writing kink to be careful not to romanticise abusive behaviour, and be clear about what is actually part of the Lifestyle and when someone is crossing a line.

Though a lot of time was given over to explaining Drake's motivation from a kink perspective, it would not - as I understand it - be considered best practice within the community. Things like Drake's insistence that his sub would eventually be persuaded to perform at the club (rather than the focus being on exploring things that he felt would bring her pleasure, too) go a little against the supportive, consensual tenets underpinning the Lifestyle. There were several occasions - long before Kate had signed a contract - when Drake ignored all her boundaries, and became almost obsessed with breaking her down to get his own way. He planned things like "getting some vodka into her" because he thought she would be more receptive to his persuasion if she's drunk. In this regard it is a complete contrast to the last audiobook I listened to in this genre, Submission by LK Shaw. It's also quite unusual to have a Dom who doesn't like any form of pain or punishment but isn't caring/tender/loving with his submissives either. For someone who has been trained as a Dom, Drake also makes a lot of mistakes with both the subs we meet in this story, but the punishment demonstration felt like it was written with more care and attention than much of the rest, and Drake acknowledged his failings.

Drake's pursuit of Kate in the early chapters is a bit stalkery. When he calls her and she doesn't answer, he sends "lots of encouraging texts" pleading with her to meet with him and allow him to teach her about the Lifestyle, and when she ignores those too he goes to her apartment to try to persuade her, saying:
"I intended to stop by her apartment on my way home, see if I couldn't weasel my way inside and start my seduction of my very reluctant, very new submissive. That's the way I was going to think of Kate from that point forward; as my new submissive, even though she wasn't. I had to think like a conqueror or else I wouldn't display the kind of Dominance that attracted her to me."

The language throughout the early chapters is that of coercion and manipulation, caveated with the excuse that he believes she "wants it" and just hasn't realised it yet. If it were the villain behaving this way and not the romantic hero then it would be seen as the attitude of a Pick Up Artist-style chauvinist and an example of rape culture. (Which is ironic, as Drake is reluctant to indulge Ali's fantasy of being forced because he claims it doesn't turn him on.) He sends her a relentless barrage of texts and emails, often seeming a bit desperate. He was also quite hypocritical, turning up at the opera despite Kate not wanting him there with her family, thereby crossing the boundaries of their agreement after being so angry with a previous partner for doing the same thing to him.

It all made it really difficult to like Drake, and even tougher to be attracted to him, which was mind-boggling given that on paper he ticks almost every box on my pick'n'mix romantic-hero wishlist. I did warm to him as the story unfolded, but it never really felt as if the listener truly got inside his head. It often appeared that he was simply narrating the story rather than living and breathing it. The intimate scenes that I expected to really delve into his pleasure and his experience often shied away from much detail. This happened a few times and I found it particularly strange that this audiobook skipped over an early onanistic moment, which could have offered an opportunity to indulge Drake's fantasies. It would have been a more welcome scene than the lacklustre early encounters which were covered in far greater detail. It felt almost prudish not to explore the experience at all, given that this book is written from Drake's perspective and considering the explicit content elsewhere. Aside from the regular "jolt of adrenaline" he feels and the several dozen times he claims to be "rock hard/hard as a rock", a lot of Drake's desire and its fulfilment is sidelined by a focus on Kate's receipt of his attention. That was a little disappointing given that this is supposed to be his side of the story.

This audiobook's relationship with the intimate scenes in general was quite odd, at times. Drake's initial encounters were unfulfilling, for both the characters and the listener, which is an unexpected way to launch a series of erotic novels. It also finishes on a fade-to-black, which feels like quite a whimper to end on after investing so much time in a story.

Still, everything I've noted so far is subjective, and others may well like the fact that Drake will not take no for an answer and that the intimate scenes dial back the heat a little. Romance novels, and especially erotic ones, cannot possibly please everyone because we each have different limits and peccadilloes. The thing that really made this audiobook difficult for me to listen to was the terribly clumsy and repetitive writing. I appreciate that I'm especially picky when it comes to certain aspects of storytelling, but after listening to sentences like "She stood in front of me, her face turned away as if what I'd said was too hard to face," I really don't think I'm being too hard on this book. Mistakes slip beneath the notice of even the most fastidious editorial process, but when the instances are so numerous it's just not the quality I expect from a published novel by a prolific author. Other notable examples that would have seen me DNF this book had Calihan's narration not kept me immersed, include:

"Then our eyes met, and she looked at me for perhaps the first time since we'd met." and "Come here and sit on my lap," I said, patting my lap. She complied, sitting across my lap, her hands resting on my shoulders. Drake also referred to Katherine as "delicious" four times in the first forty minutes, then continued to do so at least once per chapter for the rest of the book.

Similar repetition occurs with disappointing frequency throughout. I hesitate to say 'on every page' because that is difficult to discern in an audiobook, but I do not imagine that it would take much riffling through a printed copy to find plenty of examples. With a lot more editing this could have been a far better book than it is, which made it rather frustrating to listen to because it felt as if it had been rushed out. Lund has created interesting, attractive characters and given them an enticing story in which to play, but the quality of the execution lets it down. The story and characters have been fairly well developed, but it felt like I was listening to an unfinished draft from a writers' workshop, or a beta-read; technically the components are there and in the right order, but the basic storytelling is lacking. This is also demonstrated by the odd chapter at the end where the protagonists summarise, in detail, the timeline of events that we have just listened to.

Regrettably, it appears that I'm going to leave Drake and Katherine feeling rather conflicted about their story. Now that I have come to know them, I'm intrigued by how they will fare in their next adventure, but I found their first outing tough going. Overall I think that this book would be perfect for fans of Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James, especially those who enjoyed the books from Christian's perspective. Anyone who struggled with "those books", as Drake calls them, may find this series challenging for very similar reasons.

For my part, I'll keep looking for the book that I'd hoped this one would be. If you have any suggestions then please pop them into the comments!

*I received this audiobook free of charge in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

(Click here to buy this book, listen to a sample, or add it to your wishlist!)

No comments