From the publisher:
Pleasure knows no bounds . . .
Gwen Hamilton is always looking for a thrill. Not even running a secret BDSM club can fulfill her true desires. It's only when she's backstage at a rock concert and attracts the eye---and experienced hands---of guitarist Mal Kennealy that she finds that perfect combination of danger and excitement she's been craving. Calling herself "Excrucia," she revels in his uncompromising dominance each night. And yet by day, he knows her only as Gwen, his new escort for public appearances.
Excrucia blows Mal's mind with her enthusiastic submission to his harshest commands. Even though he has a reputation for never seeing the same woman twice, he can't help being tempted by the woman willing to fulfill his every fantasy. And when Mal discovers that Gwen---the sweet arm candy designed to soften his surly public image---is really Excrucia, he never wants to let her go. Finally he can indulge his absolute power. But dancing too recklessly on the razor's edge could cut deeper than he bargained for . . .
I have a bunch of thoughts about this book, but the first is that hoo, boy, it is probably not for the faint of heart. That “Queen of Hot” blurb on the cover isn't even the half of it. “Light” BDSM, this ain't. Our hero, Mal, is a Sadist with a capital 'S,' which is fine by our cheerful pain slut, Gwen, but their scenes might be too much if your liking for kink extends only so far as a little slap and tickle with clearly communicated boundaries and safe words. If, however, you like your book boyfriends to play with literal fire, well, you can come sit by me.
Wild Licks is the second book in Tan's Secrets of a Rock Star series and follows broody guitarist Mal on his quest to avoid ever re-evaluating his belief that he's a monster who breaks women, and Gwen, little sister of Ricki from the first book, Taking the Lead. The set-up invokes much-loved romance tropes of fake relationships and mistaken identities, throws in some perils of fame, even a little bit of 'this girl is off-limits because she's basically my best friend's sister,' and then runs headlong into two people who are actually kind of perfect for each other on paper getting out of their own damn way. Or not, as it happens.
There was a bunch of stuff that made me squee, especially the links to Tan's long-running web series, Daron's Guitar Chronicles, (Baby Ford!) and the little shout-out to Lord Lightning. I love the idea that all of these characters are playing around in the same universe. I also loved that, since we're talking rock stars, there will be groupies, and not a single one of them was slut-shamed. (By the author, each other, or the band members; there's one shitty security guard.) This book also did a great job of fleshing out the characters for the third in series, Hard Rhythm, which comes out in January. I don't want to have to wait that long for more of Maddie and Chino. AND Tan did the impossible and made me miss the brief and terrible moment I lived in the Central Valley and could get my grabby hands on quality Mexican food at any time. Well played.
Mal, as a character, reminds me a lot of this graph:
He's a giant, English boarding school educated, high fantasy role-playing, DORK. And I mean that in the most loving way possible. Sure, he's all broody, rock star Dom on the outside, but inside beats the heart of a nerd. Which makes his whole “I'm a mooooonster” shtick a little more ridiculous.
Both characters, but especially Mal, grapple with personal world views that are very black and white. There's a lot of either/or, this versus that in the way they both approach problems. That being said, it's awesome to see the heroine of a BDSM romance who has done so much of the emotional heavy lifting to be comfortable with her sexuality, she's still sussing out all of her kinks, but she's totally fine with the fact that she's kinky. Gwen spends almost zero time being ashamed of the way she likes sex and it's awesome. Mal, on the other hand, is really, really invested in the 'I'm a terrible, terrible man' thing, which is nonsense. He's a sadist who wants to cuddle you after, not a monster.
And I appreciate a story that pretty clearly illustrates why kinksters harp about communication and negotiation so damn much. These two don't bother to negotiate beyond, “you'll do whatever I say? Good.” and it comes back to bite them both square in the ass. Using your words is good, people.
Spoiler? I guess. There is a kink-related accident in the book that requires one of them to go to the hospital. The way it is handled, from the super-hot scene leading up to it, to the way Mal lists in his head all of the tiny failures that lead to disaster, to the way they both handle it poorly in the aftermath, both illustrates their characters and exactly why it is such a big deal to talk about things like 'how do we handle this if something goes wrong?' before someone is tied to a massage table being tortured for fun.
There were a few things that I didn't like, mostly minor. One thread of the story gets dropped early on and then resolves itself a little too neatly, almost as an afterthought. If an ex who's not supposed to have his number texts the hero in the first few pages, I'm expecting her to be an issue and not just disappear. And without giving away too much, I wanted the HEA to be a little more organic, and not catalyzed by an outside force. They were so close to getting there on their own, I wanted to see that happen without external interference.
Overall, as pretty much always, Tan gives us two sharply-drawn characters who exist in a clearly-realized world that I totally want to hang out in some more. When's January?
Full disclosure: I got an early copy of the book through the author's newsletter, with encouragement to review. Which is a fair trade for getting my grabby fangirl hands on it several weeks in advance, so thanks again to Cecilia Tan!