Darker by Ashe Barker
Total-E-Bound Publishing, 2013
Darker continues the saga of brilliant, emotionally fragile Eva Byrne and her demanding, dominant partner, Nathan Dark, which began in the first volume of this trilogy, Darkening. That book has an abrupt and shocking ending, as Eva loses consciousness while being caned by Nathan. In my review of Darkening, I objected rather strongly to that conclusion, for both narrative and – shall we say – humanitarian reasons. However, the abortive beating actually provides a promising beginning for book two, a bridge to foster communication and the revelation of secrets.
Nathan is appalled at what he’s done to Eva, but also furious that she didn’t use her safe word. Initially the misunderstanding threatens to tear them apart, but the connection between Eva and Nathan is too powerful to be destroyed even by such a traumatic event. He nurtures her, comforts her, and forces her to reveal her secrets. Their discussions lead to confessions and new accommodations. Nathan begins to realize that despite her devotion and her desire to please him, Eva is not a true submissive, like the other women he has dominated. Pain isn’t part of the equation. Eva enjoys his dark games, but only because of the mutual pleasure they engender. Indeed, she’s too strong an individual to ever be anyone’s slave. Nathan can see that – now he has to convince Eva that he really doesn’t mind, that he wants her, under pretty much any conditions.
Compared to Darkening, Darker is a quiet book, focusing squarely on the developing relationship between the two protagonists. Darkening begins with a car crash on stormy night. Not much happens in Darker, at least in the outside world, aside from a number of soul-searching conversations, plus many delightful and varied sexual couplings (including a searing scene where Nathan initiates Eva into anal sex), In fact the time frame of Darkening is quite compressed. Most of the action occurs during a single weekend, when Eva and Nathan are on holiday in Leeds. As in the first book, Ms. Barker provides a strong sense of place. I’ve never been to Leeds – I’m not even sure where it is – but after reading this novel, I might well recognize the city.
Ms. Barker excels at expressing the nuances of a relationship. Her dialogue is one hundred percent convincing - her characters’ motives and behavior, too, at least for the most part. Darker gives the reader a chance to get to know both Eva and Nathan far more intimately than Darkening, where each to some extent was hiding behind a mask or playing a role. Darker is more raw, more honest – but also, perhaps, more satisfying because Nathan’s and Eva’s love for one another can no longer be passed off as simple sexual attraction.
Once again, the book ends with a bit of a cliff hanger, though a less disturbing incident than in Darkening. I was soothed by the inclusion of a preview chapter from the third book in the trilogy, which made it clear that the family accident would only bring Nathan and Eva closer to one another.
Obviously, I’m going to have to read Darkest, part three. I know the ending will be happy, but I’m curious to see what happens before that point.