Control is Kingsbridge’s third online novel, offered for free, and written in (mostly) weekly installments. This book, started in September 2013, finished in late July and topping in at 167k words, is a thrilling and sexy sci-fi story set in a world like ours, but more “future-y” (aka more gadgets and tech), and made up of different countries that are dealing with some obvious tensions, where a very strategic assassination could lead to war.
The beginning of this story starts with a bang as MC Joaquin, a government security agent, leads an assault on a crime lord, but his mission’s success leaves him with an unexpected deliverable—a young man who had been the crime lord’s sex slave. Due to the power of a very special “obedience collar,” he has no recollection of who he was before his slavery, only that he lives for his Master, and not just for his Master’s touch and good graces, but also his very life is tied to who his collar is linked to, and when the crime lord is assassinated, his system starts to shut down, and is moments from death. In order to save his life, Joaquin is forced to take on the role as his new master, and from those chaotic first moments, their lives are intricately tied together.
Control is a very interesting and compelling read as the mystery of “Misha” unspools through the story as well as the growing relationship between Misha and Joaquin, although they face a very big difference of motivations. Misha wishes to please his new master in any way possible (and is punished with pain by the collar if he is not regularly fulfilling his master’s sexual needs), and Joaquin detests being in a place of control over Misha, and is striving to find a way to not just help Misha regain his memories, but find a way to full extricate him from the collar’s control without killing him. Along with those challenges, Joaquin’s agency is still tracking the leaders of the syndicate that had enslaved Misha, and through their investigation, find out some deeper, darker forces are at work.
Kingsbridge plays with a very interesting angle on dub-con or dubious consent, as Misha has no way to refuse orders, and is driven to have and want sex by the collar, so cannot truly consent. Joaquin finds being intimate with Misha as akin to rape because Misha cannot refuse, but unless he helps “relieve” Misha during these instances, Misha is racked with terrible pain. They are both hostage to the collar’s control, and Joaquin, even as he has sex with Misha, a man who he finds incredibly beautiful and would be attracted to under normal circumstances, feels intense guilt, and fears that whenever he is successful in freeing him, that Misha will only see him like the rapists who had enslaved him before.
Little does he know that finding out Misha’s true persona will add a whole new layer of mixed feelings.
I’m not a fan of rape and non-con, but I didn’t find Control a hard read in that aspect. I mostly felt bad for both Misha and Joaquin as they were working through these issues, and although there are some references to what happened to Misha before, it’s not graphic.
Overall, this was a very compelling read, and I think fans of Kingsbridge’s other novels Close Protection and Blood Red will enjoy this one a lot. Also recommended for fans of sci-fi/dystopia/future M/M stories, and who won’t mind a little d/s sexual dynamics in their reading.
My main down point is that I felt some of story’s steam drop off a bit in the last quarter or so. The climax is good, as is the ending but I didn’t feel the same kind of intensity as I did earlier in the story. That, and I would have loved more of an epilogue. No spoilers, but more post-climax time would have been great to provide that new, unhindered perspective. (Maybe I’m just greedy though and not ready to leave Joaquin and Misha’s world yet.)
But overall, a great read, especially for being a free novel. Kingsbridge’s focus now will be reworking her online novels for publication, which is a stellar idea. I think she’s a really interesting voice to add to the published m/m genre, and she does a bang-up job of mixing plot, character growth, and sex in one saucy, incredibly readable package. You can read all her work now for free, so if you’re interested, I recommend checking her out. (All her novels are long, so if you want to read them on an e-reader, I recommend Story Master as a resource to make the e-files.)