Xanthe Walter’s first self-published novel is a whirlwind of delights. Ricochet is a romantic BDSM comedy with fantasy undertones which is rife with complex characters who inhabit the alternate universe she’s created where sexuality is more freely expressed and gender isn’t an issue as everyone identifies as either sexually dominant, submissive or a switch (or more rarely non-dynamic) and it’s that dynamic that draws them to a potential partner.
Ricochet is set in a world that the author created and explored through five fan fiction novels, though you do not have to have read them to understand the societal rules in play here. Xanthe deftly weaves the explanations and intricacies of this universes social mores through her character’s actions, dialogue and innermost thoughts.
Her leading men are as different from one another as they can be. Rick O’Shea is a freewheeling, fun-loving dom with a spanking fetish, an actor playing a precocious sub on the hottest show on television – Collar Crime. Matt Lake is a fastidious sub, suffering from anxiety and OCD as well as being an actor and one of Rick’s co-stars on the show. They’re friends who playfully tease and snipe at one another, who relish working with one another but never consider one another as a potential partner as they’re both looking for different things. Rick is a playboy who has a strict policy of “no repeats” – he staunchly refuses to bed the same sub twice; Matt is looking for a reliable, steady dom – someone he can serve without giving too much of himself. When things finally become heated between the two, Rick backs off telling Matt to find a steady, reliable dom who will take care of him and it isn’t long before Matt finds himself swept off his feet by an incredibly wealthy, well-connected, and, on the surface, perfect dom. It’s only a matter of time before circumstances bring matters to a boiling point and lives are changed forever.
The sex scenes are robust; at the beginning, we watch our leading men as they engage in unmeaningful and sometimes unfulfilling sexual encounters with unsuitable partners until eventually they finally reach the conclusion that the reader (and their co-workers) were hoping for from the start. It’s an often times painful to journey to witness, but necessary in order for the characters to become the person the other needs. Although there are a few scenes between couples of the opposite sex, a majority of the sexual situations in the book are between male couples. While this might be off-putting for some, the sex scenes aren’t pointlessly written and are a woven throughout in such a way that they become an integral part of the tapestry of the overall story. As would be expected in a BDSM novel, characters engage in kinky sex – spanking, bondage and the like – but these acts are presented as extensions of who the characters are at the very core of their being and not merely for gratuitous titillation.
There are a couple of very discreet nods to Xanthe’s loyal fan fiction readers, which alternately had me snickering and laughing out loud. Although this is her first self-published, completely original character-driven novel, Xanthe has over a dozen fan fiction novels under her belt from several different fandoms. All of those novels include a vast array of three-dimensional original characters that are just as engaging as those from the fandom in which she’s drawing from. It comes as no surprise then that in Ricochet she populates her landscape with lush, fully-formed characters who aren’t all bad or all good, but who are tinged with various shades of grey.
That leads me to the obvious comparisons between this novel and E.L. James’ best-selling novel 50 Shades of Grey. Admittedly, I haven’t read any of James’ books. I’ve read excerpts and listened to snippets of famous people reading from them which were enough to convince me that even though I wanted to support a fan writer gone pro and the idea of her work was rather intriguing to me, the execution was sorely lacking. While both authors find their roots in writing fan fiction and use BDSM has a backdrop, the similarities end there. James’ hackneyed, juvenile prose is well-suited to the Twilight fan base from which she emerged, whereas Walter’s powerful writing flows expertly and rushes the reader headlong into a beautifully crafted world from which you won’t want to leave.
I feel duty-bounded to tell you that when you curl up with it in your favorite comfy chair, be sure to give yourself the time to fully immerse yourself in this marvelous novel because once you pick it up, you won’t want to put it down. Although she’s already set the mark quite high for herself with her first-rate debut, Xanthe Walters is an author you should keep an eye on because she shows the promise of even greater things to come.