Review: For Real by Alexis Hall


Title: For Real (Spires Universe)
Author: Alexis Hall
Genre/Themes: Romance, MM, BDSM, May-December
Release Date: 1 June 2015

Author links: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads 
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My Rating: 4 Stars


Laurence Dalziel is worn down and washed up, and for him, the BDSM scene is all played out. Six years on from his last relationship, he’s pushing forty and tired of going through the motions of submission.

Then he meets Toby Finch. Nineteen years old. Fearless, fierce, and vulnerable. Everything Laurie can’t remember being.

Toby doesn’t know who he wants to be or what he wants to do. But he knows, with all the certainty of youth, that he wants Laurie. He wants him on his knees. He wants to make him hurt, he wants to make him beg, he wants to make him fall in love.

The problem is, while Laurie will surrender his body, he won’t surrender his heart. Because Toby is too young, too intense, too easy to hurt. And what they have—no matter how right it feels—can’t last. It can’t mean anything.

It can’t be real.


Where do I start with this? Probably with the disclaimer that Alexis Hall is my favoruite author at the moment and I'd describe us as friends on the interwebs.

I greatly enjoy his writing and he is one of the few writers out there that I would read anything they write. Having said this, I took reading this book as a personal challenge, since I'm not a big fan of BDSM romances and stories with big age gap rarely work well for me, but, hell, this is Alexis, so it's not surprise I enjoyed this book quite a lot.

I feel a comparison with Glitterland is unavoidable not just because both stories are set in the same time and place. There are certain similarities between the stories and the characters of both books and I don't think it's a bad thing. What I didn't particularly like is the sense of instalove I got in both cases. We see the gradual development of the relationship between Laurie and Toby (as well as between Ash and Darian) but things start pretty quickly for both couples - they meet at a club, there is an immediate attraction and the one-night stand develops into deep and meaningful relationship.

It came as a surprise to me but it was the age difference that I liked so much in the story. The exploration how two people (Toby 19-yo dom in the making and Laurie  - 37-yo disillusioned and experience sub ) build a relationship and find their way to one another - was an amazing reading experience. If I have to sum up this book in one word, it'd be INTENSE. Mr. Hall tells the story of two people coming together - defying labels and expectations. They are nothing alike but they complete the other one perfectly. And the best quality of the book for me is how real the emotions of the Toby and Laurie felt - the hesitance and reluctance of a jaded, somewhat scarred older man and the enthusiasm and sense of invincibility of youth.

In his interviews talking about For Real, Mr. Hall describes this book as the the kind of BDSM he wants to read. It quietly but insistently subverts of all norms, not just in BDSM romance, but in general - social status/class, sexual relationships, stereotypes of education and beauty. I can't judge how authentic or realistic the BDSM aspect of the story is and I don't really care about it being true to life. What I love about the story is that Mr. Hall made me care about Toby and Laurie (and their friends) and believe in their connection and love. 

I really liked Toby's voice - his character was done brilliantly, all the confusion of being young and pretty much on your own, trying to find your place, direction in life, it felt so very real and familiar. Yet, Toby was special in his own way, open, full of life and light, yet insecure, shy - just young, a typical 19 yo.

There is also a lot about Laurie that I liked too. He shows us that you can fuck up even when at 37 but can also learn at that age, and dream and find love/happiness. Making mistakes and occasionally losing direction/yourself is part of being adult, not an inconvenience of the teenage years which passes away as we grow older. I found it easy to relate to many of his emotion - grief for the past relationship, inability/unwillingness to move on, resignation to live as it, fear of opening up of letting someone new in. Still, his introspection came as too much at times. I loved the tiny glimpse we got into Laurie as a medical consultant but felt his life outside being with Toby/club scene remained rather vague.

I have to admit that the BDSM was the hardest element of the story for me to understand/appreciate. I love how it was not just a kink, merely role playing, but it was all a matter of intimacy, of trust, of love. It's the hottest story by Alexis Hall I've read but it was never sex/kink for its own sake. It's all intermixed with a detailed exploration of human emotions - love, loss, grief, hope.

One of the strengths of the story were the full developed characters, both Laurie and Toby were more than just dom/sub, but the rest of the characters really stood out, especially Laurie's friends, the Oxford crowd (we see Edwin there :) and Dom the Dom. I wasn't the biggest fan of Toby's mother, though she is an intriguing character and dislike was a personal matter. 

Alexis' writing style is a little purple and a lot of erudite in general and it's clearly seen here. I really enjoy his way with words - it's just the right amount of challenge to keep me invested in the story and not make me frustrated for being over the top/too anything. Still, I'd describe Mr. Hall's style as an acquired taste and it might not work for everybody. I'd encourage you to give his works a try though. They are brilliant!

In short, For Real tells a surprisingly emotional and intimate love story where BDSM is more than sex kink but rather of a way for these two characters to be themselves and to be together. Recommended read!

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Kobo / Riptide

My reviews of other books by Alexis Hall:
Glitterland - 5 Stars
Prosperity - 4.5 Stars
Liberty and Other Stories - 5 Stars
There will be Phlogiston - 4.5 Stars
Sand and Ruin and Gold - 5 Stars

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