No Flag by Liz Borino
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Story Rating: 4 out of 5 paddles
Sting Factor (kink): 4 out of 5
For Mike and Will, “No Flag” meant “come home alive”, but will their love survive what happens next?
Captain Mike Kelley does not ignore his intuition, so when sexy bartender Will Hayes captures his heart, Mike embarks on a mission to win him over to a Domestic Discipline relationship. Will accepts with one caveat: Mike must promise not to renew his Army contract. Mike agrees, and they spend a year building a life together, getting married, and starting a business.
Only days before their café’s grand opening, Mike receives news that threatens everything he and Will have built. The Army invokes the Stop Loss military policy to involuntarily extend his commission and send him back overseas. Will, left alone to cope with the café, must rely on the support of old friends who may no longer be trustworthy. Through emails and Skype calls, Mike and Will keep their love and structure alive…until the day a horrific terrorist attack occurs on Mike’s outpost.
Mike awakens in a hospital with a devastating injury and no memory of the attack. As the only survivor, Mike’s memory may be the key to national security. Mike struggles to cope with his injury and Will struggles to support the man who always held him up. Both fear they have lost their previous relationship. Will has Mike back rather than a folded flag, but in the aftermath of war, can they rebuild the life they had before? Especially when those closest to them may not have their best interests at heart?
“No Flag” successfully weaves a multi-threaded story into a highly satisfying whole. The book not only tackles the somewhat unusual form of a Domestic Discipline (DD) relationship with compassion and understanding, but also manages to squeeze in some great points about being an army husband in the immediate aftermath of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), dealing with post-traumatic stress, and the challenges of maintaining friendships when you’re in a relationship.
At the center of all these threads are the two well-drawn main characters, Will and Mike. Army captain Mike has a serious case of OCD, which might explain his desire for extreme order in his house, and that translates for a tall order for Will. Fortunately for the younger man, he enjoys the occasional swat. Of course, actual discipline from Mike is no light paddling. The book rather nicely describes the structure of a DD relationship without going into boring data dumps. It also manages to touch on the misconceptions about such relationships that those outside it may have, including the suspicion of abuse.
Mike and Will’s relationship is strictly (if you’ll pardon the expression) DD, so the kink consists almost exclusively of scenes when Will requires punishment, describing both the paddling and the tender aftercare that Mike administers. It’s a structure that works very well for the two men, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when they are separated, and then have to work out how to rebuild their relationship after Mike’s injury.
The story is not without its flaws, minor though they may be. While the main characters are well drawn, some of the secondary ones are little more than standardized cardboard cutouts. The general who sends Mike off to Afghanistan and then interrogates him on his return is a rather typical buffoon. You have to wonder if our military really is dominated by generals who don’t have any brains, given how often they appear in fiction. However, the biggest cliché is Will’s gal pal – the only significant female character – who turns out to be a bit of a psychopath. You know, the kind that knows Will is gay, but somehow thinks she can ‘convert’ him. However, it must be said that while this character is a rather tired old cliché in M/M fiction, the author does pull it off quite well.
“No Flag” is probably an excellent read for those interested in Domestic Discipline relationships. However, the explanations of DD are introduced to the story so naturally that even people familiar with the topic won’t be bored. With the added dimension of looking at such a relationship under extreme stress, this is a book that can appeal to readers on many levels.
Reviewed by Michael Joseph