Schulz’s debut offering straddles genres. It is a dystopian cowboy romance, and it examines some well-worn territory of the slave trade, gender equality, and at times, I made parallels with modern sex-trafficking.
This book is a full-length novel, but it is a prequel to the series Schulz has created, in which a gender war has erupted.
Women rose out of the war as the victors and relegated men to positions of slavery and servitude.
The book follows the structure of a romance series, in which we meet and watch the hero and heroine find their happy-ever-afters.
One might describe the series as a saga series, as the main plot continues into the next book.
A future that repeats the mistakes of the past
In some respects, the world-building reminds me of slave narratives published to emphasize the cruelty of individual owners.
Except there are no black slaves.
The slaves are men, regardless of their color or race.
Women buy, sell and trade men as though they are possessions.
Although the book depicts scenes of torture, an idyllic setting occupies the majority of the book. This idyllic setting finds its strength in equality and respect for all human beings.
But the horror of displacement and gender inequality surrounds this idyllic setting. A bit like a water hole in the middle of a desert.
Schulz introduces the reader to Darla Cain very early on.
She is a cruel but very rich owner, who hates men.
The book hints that Darla may be a victim of domestic abuse and that is why she hates men. But in any event, her cruelty knows no boundaries.
A hero haunted by the abuse he received at the hands of his mistress
When we meet Jake Nichols, Darla has shackled him to the ground in a stone cell. Jake suffers from repeated injections of the fear serum, and he pleads for mercy. A pitiable sight to imagine. I believe, at this point, he wants to die.
He has been categorized as a breeder (classic dehumanization). And he has displeased Darla, which has caused her to punish him. This is where the book makes me think of modern sex-trafficking.
The overall argument of this book, as far as I can see, is that a woman can become a sexual predator as much as a man can.
Because of the skills Jake had before the war, he is offered the chance to work on the construction of a house and help out with the cattle for about six months for a neighboring mistress.
At the time, he is shackled to the floor. He has limited choices. So he takes the chance, and he is delivered to his temporary mistress naked, in chains, shivering from the fear serum, welts and bruises all over him.
Over the coming months, Jake begins to heal from the abuse and sexual assaults he has suffered. The flashbacks are painful for him, and it takes him time to accept his new surroundings.
The woman who didn’t want another casual affair
Monica Avery has taken in many individuals who would ordinarily have been bound in intolerable situations.
She doesn’t believe that men should be slaves, but she’s also not looking for a relationship.
She has had enough of casual affairs with her lovers.
Instead, she is building a home for herself, and she needs someone to help her complete the construction, so this is how she comes upon Jake.
She borrows Jake from Darla.
She is instantly drawn to him, and she patiently waits for him as he experiences emotions that range from anger to fear to anxiety. At times, she doesn’t know how to help him, but she is patient.
She wants to love him. She wants him to love her.
Several times, she tells Jake, “I won’t hurt you.” Women have the ability to draw on a short burst of energy called hysterical-strength, in which they can fight a man if they need to.
It struck me that Schulz has turned the male/female relationship on its head, so that now men are fearful of women beating them.
I noticed though that even in this world where women are dominant, the women are still fearful of men. Their position is still very much defensive.
This book contains scenes that may be triggering for women and men who have experienced sexual assault, rape, humiliation, and verbal abuse.
Schulz is an author to watch with an interesting approach, and I identified with her in many respects because my first book Trelloran Seduction covers similar territory but uses a different approach.