For too long, French teacher Collette Banks has locked her deepest desires away in the darkest corners of her mind. But now, she’s taking matters into her own hands by applying to a secret and exclusive society devoted to matching people with their ideal partner—or partners…
Founder Jude Duval has set up strict rules for admitting people into his world. But when he interviews Collette, he finds himself breaking protocol. Her innocence disarms him. Her willingness to explore her own sensuality delights him. And her spirit challenges him—enough to take her on as his own protégé .
What starts out as Collette’s erotic awakening will draw them both in deeper than either of them could have ever imagined…
This is not your usual BDSM erotica. Many novels concentrate on bondage and submission but Protege takes a more psychological tact with an emphasis on discipline.
Collette found a random link to Fernweh, a company that matches kinky people to their lifetime mates. With an algorithm and much magical hand waving they tell if two people are matched to such accuracy that some couples opt for arranged marriages. It’s presented as, “many people using our service like that, and our algorithm is that good,” but I had a hard time swallowing it. The track record is impressive though, with 500 couples matched and married with only two divorces.
Jude is once of the divorcees, natch. He’s also one of the founders of the company and meets with Collette to discuss her application. Sparks fly and he decides to be her mentor during the trial period, helping discover her likes and dislikes, hard limits and “more please”s.
Right around here I started doubting Colette. “She’d read a lot of [BDSM] literature, mostly on the Internet,” but lots of stuff still shocks her. For example, she never realized spanking was a possibility and turns bratty when Jude says she needs one (for being bratty, natch). And on her application she only has a couple hard limits, not because she’s interested in everything but because she has little idea what’s possible. This was a big red flag for me.
A lot of psychological issues are covered in the interview process, so much so that it takes up the first 20% of the book. I’m always on alert for the BDSM as therapy trope but thankfully that’s not here. Jude tries to figure out what makes Colette tick and what potential triggers and pitfalls may create hangups going forward, which strikes me as through and smart. The whole book has more thinking than doing, so if you’re not interested in the mental angle you may want to pass.
Anywho, Jude sets her up with an IUD (huzzah birth control being talked about reasonably!) and they drive to his off-the-map chateau. There he promises to introduce her to every item on the checklist so she can see what she likes… but they don’t do very much. I was expecting that list to run the gamut but only a few limit pushing scenes are presented.
I’m not sure I like the way BDSM as a whole is portrayed. Several times Jude warns that romance novels are unrealistic, which… yeah, that can happen. And some of the talk is wonderful, like when he emphasizes that “no behavior or fantasy is judged, so long as it’s consensual and no one’s being placed in immediate danger… we want to unveil the fulfilling truth of our sexuality in an environment that’s accepting of diversity”. Right on. He gives Collette lectures about BDSM. He founded a BDSM matchmaking company. He must know a lot about it.
But he has no idea why Collette would be into discipline. The calls another Dom for advice. “It doesn’t feel healthy, Ezra. I’ve delivered enough floggings in my life to know when someone’s reaching a subspace. There isn’t the same pivotal switch with this.”
Because it’s something completely different! Not every one likes getting spanked for the arousing bits. Some like being disciplined because it helps them process and move past something they did wrong. How doesn’t he know about this?
And despite the diversity talk Jude and Colette both look down on another Dom whose tastes run counter to theirs. Grah.
In general the characters feel more like a collection of sexual proclivities than people. This person is a Dom, she a sub, she’s a bi switch, he likes things rough. Early on we learn that Colette likes to sew and makes her own lingerie but the idea is never revisited. In fact, as things progress she loses more and more of her personality, wanting nothing other than to serve her Dom. She hints that she may return to the world of work at some point but I don’t see it.
A threesome sequence also bothered me. Some of my quibbles turned out to be due to the hero’s hangups and emotional baggage, but the whole scene felt off. It took me a while to realize why – we never see the threesome from Colette’s point of view. We’re in Jude’s mind the entire time as he watches and goes crazy with possessive Dom-ly-ness. So later, when she says she liked it, it comes as a shock not only to him but to us, too.
While the novel is iffy on BDSM as a whole it does explore the idea of “gentle” domination and service well, both sexual and domestic. Jude wants Colette to kneel because she feels he’s earned the privilege of her service. She enjoys cooking and anticipating his needs because it satisfies her desire to be a caretaker. It’s not something I’m into personally but I understand why it works here, which is my benchmark of decently written kink.
Quibbles aside I found Protege to be an interesting exploration of the psychological aspects of one kind of BDSM. If you like living out in characters’ heads, welcome home. If you like more plot and there there try Tiffany Reisz’s The Siren instead.
Thanks to Intermix and NetGalley for providing a review copy.