For Real by Alexis Hall (Spires Universe #3)

Laurence Dalziel is worn down and washed up, and for him, the BDSM scene is all played out. Six years on from his last relationship, he’s pushing forty and tired of going through the motions of submission.

Then he meets Toby Finch. Nineteen years old. Fearless, fierce, and vulnerable. Everything Laurie can’t remember being.

Toby doesn’t know who he wants to be or what he wants to do. But he knows, with all the certainty of youth, that he wants Laurie. He wants him on his knees. He wants to make him hurt, he wants to make him beg, he wants to make him fall in love.

The problem is, while Laurie will surrender his body, he won’t surrender his heart. Because Toby is too young, too intense, too easy to hurt. And what they have—no matter how right it feels—can’t last. It can’t mean anything.

It can’t be real.

COVER ARTIST: Simoné (Cover), Lennan Adams (Interior)
PUBLISHER: Riptide Publishing
YEAR: 2015
LENGTH: 442 pages
AGE: Adult
GENRE: Contemporary, Romance

Queer Rep Summary: Gay/Achillean Main Character(s), Genderqueer/Nonbinary Minor Character(s).

I read FOR REAL compulsively, staying up far too late and getting up unreasonably early the next morning, pushing myself to read the whole thing in less than a day. It grabbed me, insistent and captivating. I needed to know how things would play out between Laurence and Toby, and I was not disappointed. 

Laurie is almost forty, he needs to submit like he needs air, but playing with strangers feels like going through the motions and his ex-boyfriend moves in the same kink party circles as his friends. Toby is nineteen and desperate to be taken seriously. He knows what he wants, he just needs someone who will believe him and give themselves to him. A single night turns into a weekly arrangement, then transforms into something neither of them can bear to lose. They don't quite know how to bridge the gaps caused as much by the idea of the years between them as any actual misunderstandings caused by the gulf in experience. Both characters are adults, and while this age-gap scenario isn't something I'm generally into, part of what I appreciate is that it rides that edge of acknowledging and incorporating Toby's youth without trying to play up ideas of him being a child (since he's absolutely not one). That dynamic won't be for everyone, but I like how it plays out here.

One of the things Alexis Hall captures so perfectly is that people always are the oldest they've ever been, and dismissing someone's attempts to get the very experiences they lack just denies them agency to little purpose. If Toby is a dom who's ever going to experience consensual kink then someone has to be his first sub. Laurie has complicated feelings about this, what it means for either of them. He thinks that Toby will leave him someday, sooner rather than later, and keeps trying to push him away before that happens. Toby is frustrated by the way Laurie gives himself wholly over during sex, but holds himself back emotionally, erratically. 

This is the first Spires book that's felt even a little bit like a sequel, but I think it actually takes place a year or so before the events of WAITING FOR THE FLOOD. Toby is related to a minor character from that book, and both Edwin and Marius have brief appearances here (my guess at the timeline is based on Marius's reaction to the barest whisper of news about Edwin). I'm generally a fan of reading books in order, but it doesn't really seem to matter where the Spires books are read in relation to each other (at least not so far). This is a self-contained storyline which has its own events and themes, not really wrapping up anything from a previous book, but providing an emotional prelude to some of WAITING FOR THE FLOOD. I like it as the third book, it needs the emotional context of the previous books' tangled relationships and emphasis on the need for both intent and action when caring for someone else. Part of what's happening here is that Laurie starts out thinking he can survive on just action, but Toby can't help but bring love and intent into it, and Laurie doesn't want to admit that he wants that too. 

I love the Spires series and this is an excellent addition to it.

If you like this you may like:

  • REEVE OF VEILS by A.K. Faulkner (Inheritance #4)
  • THE MAGPIE LORD by K.J. Charles
  • SUMMER SONS by Lee Mandelo

Graphic/Explicit CW for sexual content.

Moderate CW for cursing, grief, alcohol, gore, violence, injury detail, medical content, medical trauma, death.

Minor CW for racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, sexual violence, sexual harassment, infidelity, dementia, abandonment, blood, child abuse, cancer, terminal illness, drug use. Harry Potter references.

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A young man stands in jeans and a hoodie, with a buff, older man kneeling naked before him. They are in a living room with softly blowing curtains, lit by golden light.


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