A cover of the re-released The Dark Garden promises "If you loved Fifty Shades of Grey, then you'll love this." While this may be true, it won't be because they are similar books. Eden Bradley's 2007 book is yet another caught up in the rebranding craze inspired by 50 Shades. However, it is true that 10% of the sources I consulted for this project considered The Dark Garden a good fit--both male protagonists are named Christian, after all...
Rowan Cassidy is a Mistress at an exclusive BDSM club in Los Angeles. After an abusive experience as a submissive during her college years, Rowan is determined never to let anything out of her control again--yet she's been secretly writing about submissive experiences. When dominant newcomer Christian Thorne catches her eye, she's ready for a change. Christian sees a deep need in Rowan that he wants to explore in a safe space, and he proposes an agreement wherein they will delve into her submissive side over a thirty-day period. Despite her misgivings, Rowan accepts the challenge.
As he patiently guides Rowan toward self-discovery, both Christian and Rowan struggle to avoid developing deeper feelings that might complicate their therapeutic relationship. Christian doesn't want to take advantage of Rowan when they've agreed not to have sex; Rowan keeps getting close to understanding more about herself, but her automatic response is to run. The subplot, which is more overtly concerned with BDSM and is actually rather sweet, involves April--new to the scene--and Decker, who is notorious for his unwillingness to settle with one partner. Their romance provides some much-needed relief from the emotion and angst of Christian and Rowan.
Despite the fact that the male lead is named Christian and the story explores some aspects of BDSM, The Dark Garden is not much like Fifty Shades of Grey. Rowan's strength and experience masks her uncertainty, and Christian doesn't demonstrate a need to be dominant in all aspects of her life. The thirty-day bet is similar to the conceit of Beautiful Disaster, however, as is the characters' determination not to get together when they clearly want to be together romantically. There are some "posh" elements--Christian and Rowan aren't hurting for money--but there isn't a lot of label name-dropping. In terms of "bondage as a road to healing," I found it similar to (although not as explicit) another book I read for this project, Joey W. Hill's Holding the Cards.
The Dark Garden was a bit of a struggle for me to finish. I got it as a library ebook, though, and had to finish it within fourteen days before it disappeared. I'm not sure I would have made it through if not for April and Decker.