Maya Banks' Sweet series was often recommended as a readalike for the 50 Shades trilogy in the sources I consulted, coming in third behind Sylvia Day's Crossfire trilogy and the Anne Rice Beauty trilogy. Much like the Wicked Lovers series, the stories revolve around a set of friends and co-workers, with each book featuring a different pairing. The series was originally published from 2008-2012, but all six books were redesigned and released again at the end of 2012, I suspect in response to the popularity of 50 Shades.
Sweet Surrender is the first book in the series. I read the mass market paperback version (pictured above), which I had the foresight to purchase for my library before I had any idea I would want to read it. Go me! Mild spoilers below.
At the instigation of his partner's father, Dallas cop Grayson Montgomery comes to Houston looking for leads on his partner's unsolved murder. He begins by getting a job at a local security firm in order to get close to Faith Malone. He believes that Faith's mother is connected to his partner's killer, and expects Faith to provide the connection he needs to crack the case. Faith works at the security firm for her adoptive father and has only recently severed her relationship with her neglectful mother. She's also beginning to realize some things about her personal life, especially about her sexual desires. Faith wants a man to take control of all aspects of her life, not just sexually. More than anything else, she wants to be taken care of. Meanwhile, Gray is a man who wants to be in complete control. The spark between them is strong and instantaneous, but Gray doesn't want to be distracted from his goal by starting a relationship with Faith, especially when he's in her life under false pretenses.
However, Faith's natural curiosity about submission and her mother's sudden reappearance in her life combine to throw the couple together so often that they are unable to deny their attraction. The only questions are whether their burgeoning relationship will be able to survive Gray's duplicity . . . or the killer that is hot on her trail.
Like Forbidden Pleasure and Mine to Hold, Sweet Surrender features a male protagonist in law enforcement. And, as with those, the "thriller" plot doesn't hold together as well as the development of the romantic relationship. Unlike the heroines of those books, however, Faith takes a much more active role--first in her self-education about submissive desire, and then when she finds herself in danger. There is a moment in which she and Gray clash over the depth of her involvement; she comes to realize that if she wants a man to dictate her sexual experiences, she must let go of her preconceived notions of how it will play out. These details of their developing relationship are interesting, but it feels as if Banks has left half of the equation blank--even though we learn about Faith's past, her history with her abusive mother, and her evolving concept of desire, we learn precious little about Gray. It seems like a missed opportunity when he could be a much more well-developed character. However, since all the action takes place in the space of perhaps three weeks (maximum), perhaps this isn't surprising.
This is a book about dominance and submission that does not venture into the pain part of the equation. It's adventurous and kinky without being completely over the top, which in my opinion is what makes it a good 50 Shades readalike. However, Faith is a true submissive, which is completely unlike Ana.
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