Staged Whispers by Cassandre Dayne
Link to buy Staged Whispers
Story Rating: 2.5 out of 5 paddles
Sting Factor (kink): 4 out of 5
Dylan, Cole, and Brandon have a good life together. They’re all insufferably hot, their landscaping business is booming, and the sex is fantastic. Everything seems perfect until a secret from Dylan’s past comes back to literally haunt him – his brother’s vicious rape and murder. Alienated by his visions, tormented by past wrongs, convinced of his own guilt, he begins to fall apart, and it’s up to the other two to save him. If they can.
Maybe a mild trigger warning on this one; there’s no flashbacks, there’s only some brief discussion of what happened.
The sex here is hot. There are no whips and chains, no ropes and paddles, just rough sex and lots of it. Lots of D/s with verbal domination, lots of delicious dirty talking. It’s very good. If you want something flashy with all the bells and whistles, this probably won’t give you what you’re looking for, but if you want hot sex that’s mostly of the “Go here, slave; do this, slut; and by the way, I own your ass” variety – and I am a huge fan of that – there’s plenty of that here. It’s not super-strong, the relationship remains playful and affectionate throughout, and there is not anything like a 24/7 dynamic here. Just three horny guys who fall into having sex whenever they feel like it.
Cole, especially, is ragingly sexy, and the best character in the book. He’s commanding but good-hearted, rough when he needs to be and approachable and gentle the rest of the time. A nice mix of traits, instead of an inflexible stereotype.
My only complaint about the sex is that anal sex – also known as the best sex known to humankind – is not always, or even usually, painful for the receiving partner, especially if they’re getting it on a regular basis. This does fall a bit into the women-writing-gay-men pitfall of “Hurts every time.” I’ve seen a lot of that lately, and it’s frustrating. I do like painful-pleasurable sex, so I feel kind of odd pointing it out, but . . . these are three men who live together and fuck together, and . . . well . . . it’s not going to be that much of an issue.
The story itself is a naturally compelling idea, and the author throws some interesting twists in there. My main complaint is that the supernatural elements didn’t definitively appear until about a third of the way through, when they should have been established more firmly much sooner. The book’s biggest problem is the compression of plot as things begin to escalate. Normally this is a good thing, it keeps the tension high and keeps the reader turning pages, but things went so quickly – after beginning so slowly – that the reader isn’t left with enough time to really appreciate or explore what is happening. The plot twists and complications aren’t given their due, especially toward the end, with one medical disaster after another imperiling Dylan’s life.
Dylan, too, lacks agency; he seems to exist mostly as a punching bag. Awful things happen to him. Awful things happen to him again. And, finally, really awful things happen to him. Cole is the protagonist of this story, even though he’s sharing equal stage time with Dylan. He’s the one working to fix things, find things out. He’s the one who has to come to terms with his own supernatural powers and embrace them so he can help his friend. Dylan is the point around which the plot revolves. Cole is the one trying to control the spinning top.
The ending is abrupt, and ends with bad news just after we thing everything has been resolved. I can’t tell if it’s the lead-in to a sequel, or if it’s an authorial cheap trick, the “dun dun dunnnnn” and then fade to credits, so that we know we’re dealing with a Dark and Tragic Story Where Life Does Not Have A Happy Ending. That kind of thing works when done well, but here it felt forced and rushed. After being hurried through so much, we, as readers, have a sort of whiplash, and we really aren’t able to put the final twist into any sort of perspective. It doesn’t have the meaning it should.
So: sex, good; storytelling, interesting but frustrating; writing so-so. You could do worse. Then again, you could do better.
Reviewed by Naamah