PUBLISHER: Self Published
RELEASE DATE: 28th August 2013
FORMAT: Ebook, 376 pages
GENRE: Dark Romance
Tess Snow has everything she ever wanted: one more semester before a career in property development, a loving boyfriend, and a future dazzling bright with possibility. For their two year anniversary, Brax surprises Tess with a romantic trip to Mexico. Sandy beaches, delicious cocktails, and soul-connecting sex set the mood for a wonderful holiday. With a full heart, and looking forward to a passion filled week, Tess is on top of the world.
But the lusty paradise is shattered. Kidnapped. Drugged. Stolen. Tess is forced into a world full of darkness and terror. Captive and alone with no saviour, no lover, no faith, no future, Tess evolves from terrified girl to fierce fighter. But no matter her strength, it can’t save her from the horror of being sold. Can Brax find Tess before she’s broken and ruined, or will Tess’s new owner change her life forever? (Goodreads)
I am no stranger to books that are tagged as “Dark Romance”, so going into Tears of Tess I had certain pre-conceptions of what I was in for. How wrong I was. Winters has created a book that turns the genre on its head by giving readers a story with a plot that has more twists and turns than a roller coaster, and two lead characters you become incredibly invested in.
Tears of Tess opens with our female protagonist, Tess, in a seemingly happy relationship with her long-term boyfriend Brax, a boy you could happily take home your mother. He should be what every woman strives for. He isn’t cruel to Tess, and they seem to get on well enough. Yet, we find out that not everything is rosy in their relationship. Tess has deep dark desires. Desires that involve a hint of BDSM. Rather than the soft gentle lovemaking Brax gives her, Tess wants to be dominated. She yearns for him to be more of a take charge type of guy, yet every time she broaches that subject, Brax shoots her down.
It is during Brax and Tess’s trip to Mexico, that Tess has her safe predictable life ripped from her in the most horrific fashion. From the moment Brax stubbornly refuses to return to the hotel instead of entering the shady “café”, we realise that time is running out . I found myself screaming at the book for them to run. The outcome is so clear to see, but I was helpless and could only watch as the horrific scene played out.
This is where Winters excels in her writing. You are so clearly an observer to Tess’s plight and yet you are powerless to do anything to stop it. We are forced to watch as Tess’s captors try to break her down. They want to demote her from a human to nothing but a product to be bought and sold. Yet, it is through this very treatment we see the emergence of a woman who chooses to fight back. She refuses to give in and instead becomes whole.
When Tess is “sold” to her new master, she continues to fight to keep her identity. The battle of wills with her new master, mysteriously named Q, begins. The power flips between Master and slave throughout her captivity and you really don’t know if he is friend or foe. What you do get is an inkling that everything is not what it seems. This is explained fully as the book reaches its conclusion.
What made this book truly exceptional was the characterization of Tess. For me she could have easily fallen into my most hated characteristic, that of the “Meek Damsel in Distress.” Though she started off pretty generic and need I say weak; the Tess we see at the end is completely changed. The experience has made her more confident and she is now a woman who knows what she wants, refusing to settle for second best. She has a feistiness that you rarely see in this genre without it becoming a paradox.
As this is told mostly in the first person narrative from Tess’s point of view, you are given a very limited insight into the other characters that Tess comes in contact with. This is both a positive and a negative to the book.
On the positive side, I was able to become more in tune with Tess’s situation and plight. It also gave me a better understanding of how Tess thought and reacted to different situations and people. This helped create a very well rounded character, but this also prevented me from forming any real connection with any of the other characters, especially Q who is billed as Tess’s love interest.
From the growing relationship that developed between Q and Tess, I was able to build up the picture of a man who is very much an enigma to everyone around him. This included the staff that he had working for him. When we are first introduced to him, we expect a hardnosed, sadistic SOB. The first impression does seem to indicate that, yet as time goes on we see that there is this image is a protective shell to someone else. Another reviewer had commented that he came across very un-Masterlike is his behaviour and in terms of the tradition Dominant in these type of relations. Although this is true, we find out the reasons why he guards his own dark desires so closely. Without spoiling it too much, these are very valid and show how these alternative relationships can so easily morph from one of equality and trust, to that of true slavery. I would have very much liked to see this explored deeper than the few instances it was mentioned.
My only real criticism of Tears of Tess is how two particularly harrowing assaults on Tess are resolved. The first, where a guest of Q sexually assaults Tess when she is helpless, left a bad taste in my mouth. I understand what the author was trying to achieve by showing how Tess’s life could have been at the hands of the perpetrator, but the way in which how Q helps Tess get over this trauma just felt wrong to me.
This is repeated again when Tess is in the hands of two despicable strangers after she tries to escape. Though this could have been a lot more brutal and only there for shock value, Winters manages to pull it back. Like the previous instance, the same method is used to help Tess move past the experience. Yes, Q is her master and she really should not have any say in what happens to her, but when you find out more about Q’s background, it makes you question him all over again.
Tears of Tess is not without its faults, but if you can overlook these, you will find a really great book. The character development of Tess is executed in an almost flawless manner. I was hooked on this book almost instantly and I couldn’t put it down. Thankfully I have both Quintessentially Q and Twisted Together, the next books in the series, to look forward too.
PEPPER WINTERS LINKS
Tears of Tess