I’m not sure how to categorize this book. I’m not even sure how to summarize it. Master of Pleasure by Delilah Marvelle is Book 5 of the School of Gallantry series and the first one to deal with sado-masochism.
I must admit that the prologue of this book grabbed my attention. The young Maxwell Gregory Thayer is basically a prisoner in a French Monastery specializing in beating abnormal tendencies out of its male “students”. Maxwell wonders about the intelligence of corralling all these depraved boys together where their shared tendencies can find an easy outlet, but attraction to the same sex is not Malcolm’s problem. He appears amazingly normal as he fends off their unwanted advances and defends the innocence of others. It is only later we discover his vice, an addiction to pain. Somehow doing the right thing always seems to be twisted into a blame game with the reward a sadistic whipping which Malcolm enjoys too much for his own comfort. Yet, he is more than ready to return home to his family when an incident becomes an excuse to keep Malcolm confined against his will for another year, at his father’s expense.
Enter Nassar, a young Persian prince who has willingly come to the Monestary to study the Bible and Christianity as opposed to the Moslem religion. After being aggressively rescued by Thayer from attack by a determined young man intent on having his way, he witnesses Malcolm’s harsh punishment. Nassar pays a ransom so that his new friend can escape further beatings and live with him as an adopted brother at his palace. Thus Malcolm does not return home, but begins life with a new family.
It seems Thayer’s old family is kind of messed up. When Malcolm’s mother died, his father, the Earl of Brayton, feeling a need for penance, sells all his worldly goods, and lives like a pauper with his two sons. Yes, Malcolm has a twin brother who is just as warped, in fact even more so. The only way to tell the difference is from a scar Malcolm received from the forceps which hastened his birth. The two brothers use pain to compete, often to the point of harming themselves.
The rest of the book deals with Malcolm coming to terms with who he is and whether he can ever develop a relationship with a woman. At least one which comes close to normalcy.
Whereas the sex within this novel is not as graphic as a typical erotic novel, it is at times explicit. The topic can be disturbing and one wonders how many people with such tendencies existed in the aristocratic society during the Regency and Victorian periods. This is also the story of Leona Olivia Webster who is trying to raise her young son, Jacob, while keeping ahead of the creditors, as well as a complication involving her ex-lover who is attempting to “adopt” his son to appease his barren wife. Malcolm, despite his love of pain, cannot bear to see others wronged and feels compelled to help her out of her difficulties, at least while he remains in London on business. After which he must return to his role as Admiral of the Persian Navy leaving Leona to fend for herself.
Although the topic is fascinating in a twisted sort of way, there is quite a bit of repetition in Malcolm’s thoughts as he obsesses about his problems. The plot kind of bogs down a bit in the middle, and is very abrupt in its resolution. The story, at times, moves along at too quick a pace while at other times it lags a bit. A better balance needs to be maintained. Although Malcolm is well rounded, the other characters, including Leona, could be fleshed out some more. The exploration of a possible love connection between Malcolm and Leona also needs to be further developed.
However, a fascinating topic which I’m sure will be explored in Marvelle’s new series The Whipping Society.
I give this book three stars.
I would like to thank Netgalley and the author for allowing me a free download of an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.