The Dark Garden
by Eden Bradley
(Bantam, $13.00, NC-17) ISBN 978-055-3589733
Rowan Cassidy has control issues, which is probably why she likes playing the Dom so much. A member of a trendy BDSM club in Los Angeles, Rowan loves exploring her dominant fantasies with pretty submissive young men. Then she locks eyes with Christian Thorne and knows she’s in deep trouble.

Christian is an artist home from Europe and is looking to re-enter the scene. His first night back at Club Prive’, he sees Rowan. Oh sure, she’s dressed like a Dom, but he sees right through her façade. She’s a submissive all the way, and he wants nothing more than to challenge her.

Rowan takes Christian up on his challenge – thirty days of being the bottom to his top. She’s wildly attracted to him, but scared out of her mind. A past abusive relationship has left scars, and Rowan is determined to prove Christian wrong. She is not submissive. She is in control. Too bad she’s also a hypocrite.

The problem with The Dark Garden is that the reader knows throughout of the course of the story that Rowan is denying her true self. It is naturally understandable that she would be very leery and frightened of being a submissive given her past ordeal. However, this is the same woman who leads group discussions at Club Prive’ to new members entering the scene. The same woman who explains to potential submissives that just because you’re a bottom doesn’t mean you’re weak. It doesn’t mean you haven’t any power.

It’s all well and good for Rowan to give this advice to others, but to actually take it to heart in her own life is another matter entirely. This makes her an extremely frustrating character. The reader spends the whole novel wanting to smack her upside the head and it’s not until Christian calls her on this hypocrisy towards the end of the novel that it finally begins to sink through her thick skull.

Unfortunately Rowan tends to detract from the novel as a whole, which is actually quite good. Bradley has a lush writing style, and her descriptions of Christian’s art and Club Prive’ are quite rich. Also, Christian is a very yummy hero – an understanding Alpha male who is practically Beta. I had to remind myself that he was a Dom. There’s also an interesting secondary romance between a playboy Dom at the club and the girl determined to catch his eye.

Bradley shows promise in her first mainstream novel for New York publisher Bantam. However, heroine has a tendency to grate on the reader’s nerves, between her failing to take her own advice and running scared for the entire novel. Maybe if the author hadn’t included the scenes with the orientation group Rowan’s failure to see her hypocrisy wouldn’t have been so glaring. As it is, she sinks an otherwise interesting novel down to being merely acceptable.

--Wendy Crutcher

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