Review: A Strong Hand by Catt Ford
I picked this book up because I’m trying to suss out where I want to submit HERO once Dan is done giving it a once-over, and in so doing I have been very heavily surfing publishing sites for places that publish m/m fiction, reading submission calls and weeding out publishers by their formatting/presence/type of work offered. I’d seen A Strong Hand reviewed on a few sites, so when I found it again on Dreamspinner I decided it was time to give it a try.
Obviously from my garbled squee last night, I was blown away. It isn’t so much that this is some amazing, earth-shattering book that the whole world must read, but more that it hit all the right spots for me and succeeded in doing what mainstream NY published romances have utterly failed to do for me for years: carry me off. Ford has a beautiful, easy style: she knows how to use words, but she doesn’t beat you with them or pause to bask in her own power (the reason I usually retch when I read lit fiction). Nice, clean, sharp style that gets the hell out of the way and lets the story shine. But more important than this (though I do adore clean style) is that she just nailed, nailed, nailed character.
The two heroes, Nick and Damian, are real people, with real motivations and real reservations, and the plot is, essentially, their navigation of their relationship. Ford pulls off what is so damn hard in a romance: the reader knows the whole time that these two belong together, knows they both love the other, but we have to wait until the end to see it happen. And it works. The distance between the two men is something that needs to be navigated, and it needs to take the time Ford gives them. My favorite part is that Damian’s fears regarding Nick’s potential affection are particularly spot-on: Nick didn’t even consider that he might be gay before Damian, and he is a lot younger. There’s a lot of sense in thinking that while the relationship means a lot to Damian, it might just be a stepping stone for Nick. And so the novel feels like the space and struggle the two of them need to find themselves, and one another.
I am a sucker for well-explored vulnerabilities, and this book is full of that. But the real treat in this story is the BDSM angle. I have run into a few BDSM stories in my day, and generally I have needed to run away. I hesitated on this book because I was afraid of that element, but one of the reviews I read made it sound like it was very BDSM-light, and since the premise was that we would be watching a young man’s exploration of this lifestyle, I hoped I would be able to “experience” a bit of this without feeling unsafe. This is, very much, what A Strong Hand was for me. The story took me right to the edge of my comfort zone, but never pushed me over. My favorite parts, actually, were when Nick used their safe word, “London,” and when (even better) Damian prompted him to use it, recognizing when he didn’t that it was time to stop. The thrill here wasn’t the danger or naughtiness of BDSM but the beauty of it, and the display of love and trust that the heroes’ relationship revealed.
A Strong Hand is an incredibly sensual story, but the most erotic and exotic aspect of it is the exploration of the two male characters, who, after two hundred pages, we leave quite convinced they are a solid and nearly perfect match. Along the way we get a titillating, thrilling, and satisfying ride.