Ninja Recommended Sneaky Reads

Rhyll reviews: Taken by Charlotte Stein

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We’ve all had them, those pleasant fantasies where Brad Pitt runs into you at the day spa and refuses to allow you leave until he’s given you a full mani and pedi, or aliens that look like Chris Evans abduct you for a ménage a cinque, or a hot wookie forces you to accompany him to ballroom dancing lessons…

You know, whatever blows your hair back.

But I can’t imagine any other author getting away with such an outrageous plot (and making me like it) as that in Taken, especially in such a short romance (ten chapters). The plot of Taken is essentially that of a young woman falling for her ‘accidental’ captor, and the ‘capture fantasy’ is alive and well here, albeit a modern version where both adults are aware of what’s going on psychologically and why it’s turning them on, and both are also aware of the risks and understand the concept of consent. 

In case you’re young and sheltered (in which case, boy, are you on the wrong website) a ‘capture fantasy’ involves a woman or a man (but more commonly a woman) kidnapped or held against their will and subject to the wicked will of their captor. 

Yes, kids, that’s a thing. A submission and dominance kind of thing (although earlier romance novels never explicitly acknowledged that).

In the romantic version, captor and captive end up living happily ever after, or at least happy for now, while the non-romantic version looks and smells a lot like rape (albeit some fantasy version of that). It’s a trope that goes waaaay back –think of all those historical novels where maidens are captured by pirates, sheiks, clansmen, highwaymen and almost anyone else with a penis. And yet the trope also has a bazillion contemporary faces, both in speculative fiction (where many a handsome alien or dragon shifter takes a captive) and erotic romance, where the fantasy is often explicitly discussed and the scene negotiated. 

My personal preference is for stories where consent is explicit and communication about fantasies takes place before any ambitious enactments, so I was glad that Taken fell into that category. I’m not a fan of bodice rippers anymore (though I was in my teens and will passionately defend them against any haters) and while I’ve tried erotic romances in which the boundaries of consent are pushed or disregarded (e.g. Wanderlust) I find them too disturbing to enjoy. So I was pleased that the ‘capturing’ in Taken was accidental, and that the captor was an unwilling one.

Just how ‘accidental’ can handcuffs be, I hear you ask.

Well, Johann, owner of a bookstore (and right there we know this hero is gonna be alright because he owns and runs a bookstore) catches Rosie’s almost-friend trying to start a fire in his store but captures Rosie instead of Marnie (the world’s worst friend). He intends to hold Rosie in the basement just long enough for the police to arrive—before realizing that since he has a rap sheet the fact that he’s locked a young woman in his basement might not work out too well for him. He then panics and makes the situation worse by handcuffing her to a bed so he can leave her there while he thinks about his predicament. But when he calms down and returns to unlock the cuffs and free her, the key breaks off in the lock.

Don’t you hate that?

Stein does more than just get away with this plot, she does a great job with it considering how easy it would be for the hero captor to come across as creepy and sleazy. Instead he comes off as adorably overwhelmed, both by the heroine and their situation, and his own awkwardness.

I could keep talking like this until the end of time. He just told me that his favourite book in the store is a rare edition of Grimms’ Fairy Tales where the wolf in Red Riding Hood has an erection, which is awesome for two reasons. The first is that he quite clearly loves the old gruesome versions of the stories with everyone getting their feet cut off and strangling themselves with hair. And the second is his awkwardness when he realizes he just said erection to me.

I fully enjoyed Rosie’s needling banter and inner monologue, which manages to be innocent and wicked at the same time, and frequently hilarious. (Don’t ask me about the hair-trigger vagina.)

Unintentionally filthy things are still waiting around every corner, just waiting to spring on us when we least expect them. He thought he was just innocently talking to me about books—the saftest subject there is.

Then bam, suddenly we have a rampant cock right in the middle of it.


And…

I was starting to think he really might be that one—you know the guy you read about in romance novels who just gets you and sees you want a spanking before you know you do—and it’s kind of a letdown to think he might not be.

Given the capture fantasy element, the gradual unfolding of the couple’s relationship (and exploration of kink) is unexpectedly sweet, as is the level of concern they show for one another's welfare. Since I prefer romances where the characters treat one another well, I found that satisfying and was happy with the ending for the two characters (unique as they are). 

I think this is one of the more unusual books by Charlotte Stein that I’ve read, both due to the way she turns the capture fantasy on its head by creating an unwilling, concerned captor, and the way she’s uses language to dramatic effect. Examples:

Your cardigan alone screams my dick is bigger than your arm.

And: 
“Why do you want to sit down?”

“Oh I don’t know. So we can share stories, talk about old times, learn little details about each other the way people usually do before they turn into angry bears in heat.”


And: 
…in the absence of sex, everything somehow becomes sex. It’s like sex rushes in to fill the sex void.

Yes, this book is different but I love different, and I know there are plenty of other romance readers out there who do too. The book is available from Amazon and you'll find all the other buy links and whatnot here.

P.S.

If you decide to go ahead and read it, make sure you look up the name Francis Dolarhyde (if you don’t already recognize it) so that you’ll get the joke that’s neatly slipped in somewhere in the middle of the book.

Blurb:
It was just a prank I didn't want to be a part of. I never meant to hurt anyone, least of all Johann Weir. You wouldn't know that he sells literature for a living. He has these wild eyes—eyes that light something up in me—and he must be twice as big as I am, with strong, warm hands. Hands I try not to imagine everywhere.

He scares me. And thrills me.

But now the deed is done, and I have to face the consequences. He says he just wants to hold me here until the police come, but it's been hours and I'm still here.

Chained to a pipe in his back room like a prisoner.

The only person I have to talk to is Johann, and I tell him dark, shameful secrets—secrets that involve the metal around my wrist and him standing over me. But I can't stop. I need him to know everything. I need him.

Johann has his own secrets—ones he wants to tell me too. And more than anything, I want to listen. And maybe, before he sends me away, he'll punish me.

Just a little.

Just enough.

Excerpt:
“What are you doing?” I hiss, because seriously this was not what we discussed. She just said she was going to come in here and do a bit of mischief, not burn the goddamn place down. I thought she meant creasing the corner on page seven of War and Peace, and to be honest even that was too far for me. The books in here are absolutely gorgeous. The owner might be a maniac. It all seemed like the very worst thing in the world.

And then she starts in on actual arson.

Oh god, she plans to commit arson.

“I told you: teaching him a lesson,” she says, and I can see it in her hand.

A can of lighter fluid, that she’s getting ready to spray.

“This is not a lesson Marnie. This is suicide.”

“No way you think that pompous jackass is going to do anything? He’s not going to do anything, and besides we can be out the door before he even knows.”

“The door is past where he is right now.”

“Yeah but I bet he’s super slow.”

“I don’t think he’s slow Marnie,” I say, but even I have no real idea how right I am about that. I picture him lumbering after us as we dash down the street. I think of him sort of catching me as I round the shoe place on the corner. I do not expect him to be so quick that he comes up on us before we even know he has moved. That is not just fast. That is pretty much super human and insanely stealthy. For a second I think something mad like did he take off his shoes to do it?

And then all my thoughts are cut off at the knees.

They have to be, because oh my god he just grabbed me. I swear to god he grabs me. His enormous arms go right around my middle, and not in a simple and straightforward restraining sort of way. He actually lifts me clean off the ground. I see both of my feet kick up in an arc, those cute purple Converse suddenly so small and silly seeming. I should have chosen something more adult, I know, and now I am going to be murdered while wearing them. "

About the Author:
Charlotte Stein is the acclaimed author of over thirty short stories, novellas and novels, including the recently DABWAHA nominated Run To You. When not writing deeply emotional and intensely sexy books, she can be found eating jelly turtles, watching terrible sitcoms and occasionally lusting after hunks. She lives in West Yorkshire with her husband and their now totally real and completely nightmarish dog.