Beyond Shame

By Kit Rocha

I read this book as part of the Beyond Series Bundle (Books 1-3), which is what the sidebar information is for.

Noelle is a child of Eden, the rich and technologically powerful city of a post-apocalyptic world. As the daughter of a councilman, she had everything she wanted except the opportunity to feel. Eden's religious elite embrace a doctrine of strict Puritanism: Even hugging one's children was frowned upon, let alone anything related to sex. Noelle was too rebellious to settle for that, which is why this book opens with her banished from Eden, ejected into Sector Four. The sectors are the city slums, full of gangs and degenerates and violence, only a slight step up from the horrific farming communes. Luckily for her, she literally stumbles into one of the lieutenants of the O'Kane gang, who are just as violent as their reputations but who have surprising sympathy for a helpless city girl.

My shorthand distinction between romance and erotica is that romance mixes some sex into the plot and erotica mixes some plot into the sex. Beyond Shame is erotica, specifically BDSM erotica. The forbidden sensations that Noelle got kicked out of Eden for pursuing run strongly towards humiliation, which is tangled up in the shame she was taught to feel about anything sexual. There is a bit of a plot surrounding the O'Kanes who take her in, their leader, some political skulduggery that eventually involves people she knows, and some inter-sector gang warfare, but it's quite forgettable (and indeed I've already forgotten most of it). The point of the story is Noelle navigating a relationship with Jasper (among others) that involves a lot of very graphic sex.

I was of two minds about reviewing this. Erotica is tricky to review, since to an extent it's not trying to do what most books are doing. The point is less to tell a coherent story (although that can be a bonus) than it is to turn the reader on, and what turns the reader on is absurdly personal and unpredictable. Erotica is arguably more usefully marked with story codes (which in this case would be something like MF, MMFF, FF, Mdom, Fdom, bd, ds, rom, cons, exhib, humil, tattoos) so that the reader has an idea whether the scenarios in the story are the sort of thing they find hot.

This is particularly true of BDSM erotica, since the point is arousal from situations that wouldn't work or might be downright horrifying in a different sort of book. Often the forbidden or taboo nature of the scene is why it's erotic. For example, in another genre I would complain about the exaggerated and quite sexist gender roles, where all the men are hulking cage fighters who want to control the women, but in male-dominant BDSM erotica that's literally the point.

As you can tell, I wrote a review anyway, primarily because of how I came to read this book. Kit Rocha (which is a pseudonym for the writing team of Donna Herren and Bree Bridges) recently published Deal with the Devil, a book about mercenary librarians in a post-apocalyptic future. Like every right-thinking person, I immediately wanted to read a book about mercenary librarians, but discovered that it was set in an existing universe. I hate not starting at the beginning of things, so even though there was probably no need to read the earlier books first, I figured out Beyond Shame was the first in this universe and the bundle of the first three books was only $2.

If any of you are immediately hooked by mercenary librarians but are back-story completionists, now you know what you'll be getting into.

That said, there are a few notable things about this book other than it has a lot of sex. The pivot of the romantic relationship was more interesting and subtle than most erotica. Noelle desperately wants a man to do all sorts of forbidden things to her, but she starts the book unable to explain or analyze why she wants what she wants, and both Jasper and the story are uncomfortable with that and unwilling to leave it alone. Noelle builds up a more coherent theory of herself over the course of the book, and while it's one that's obviously designed to enable lots of erotic scenes, it's not a bad bit of character development.

Even better is Lex, the partner (sort of) of the leader of the O'Kane gang and by far the best character in the book. She takes Noelle under her wing from the start, and while that relationship is sexualized like nearly everything in this book, it also turns into an interesting female friendship that I would have also enjoyed in a different genre. I liked Lex a lot, and the fact she's the protagonist of the next book might keep me reading.

Beyond Shame also has a lot more female gaze descriptions of the men than is often the case in male-dominant BDSM. The eye candy is fairly evenly distributed, although the gender roles are very much not. It even passes the Bechdel test, although it is still erotica and nearly all the conversations end up being about sex partners or sex eventually.

I was less fond of the fact that the men are all dangerous and violent and the O'Kane leader frequently acts like a controlling, abusive psychopath. A lot of that was probably the BDSM setup, but it was not my thing. Be warned that this is the sort of book in which one of the (arguably) good guys tortures someone to death (albeit off camera).

Recommendations are next to impossible for erotica, so I won't try to give one. If you want to read the mercenary librarian novel and are dubious about this one, it sounds like (although I can't confirm) that it's a bit more on the romance end of things and involves a lot fewer group orgies. Having read this book, I suspect it was entirely unnecessary to have done so for back-story. If you are looking for male-dominant BDSM, Beyond Shame is competently written, has a more thoughtful story than most, and has a female friendship that I fully enjoyed, which may raise it above the pack.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2021-04-27