I was pleasantly surprised by how strong I thought this was. I've noted in other reviews how certain books really fit my idea of a good, solid example of erotic fiction, and this book absolutely does.
In erotic fiction, as opposed to contemporary or other genres with some (or a lot) of erotic content, the main focus of the story is almost completely on the erotic relationship and, usually, on sex. Many of us use the "porn-without-plot" label to designate those books where not much happens except sex, or, for me especially, where I don't find the sex and erotic relationship interesting enough to carry a book.
I call Games Boys Play "erotic fiction", because the overwhelming focus of the story is on Dylan and Brian's experiments with bondage fantasies. The other aspects of the story grow out of it--how Brian, the book's narrative center, feels about the escalating intensity and elaborateness of their acts, his understandable worries about how his feelings towards Dylan might be changing, hidden aspects of his own personality that come to light, and so on.
For me, strong, insightful erotic writing explores how sex and intimacy change you. The kind of acts that sometimes get labelled "kinkery" are not there just to titillate or shock, but because those acts, and the desires that provoke them, have the potential to force people to confront assumptions about themselves, inhibitions, illusions, fears, self-deceptions. There is a nakedness to complete helplessness, both for the individual and the dynamic between two people, that makes certain habitual deceptions and comfortable assumptions impossible. When done intelligently and sensitively, it can also make for a great read--which this book emphatically is.
My only qualm was that I wanted more on Dylan. We are only given Brian's perspective, which I thought was very well done and insightful. But Dylan, despite the not-very-revealing "reveal" towards the end, remained a mystery. Rider does a wonderful job hinting at Dylan's motives and the kinds of desires that would lead him to go as far as he does. You get the impression that in a way he has even less control or self-knowledge than Brian does, which is a really cool twist, and a relief from the very irritating and ubiquitous "all-knowing Dom teaches the repressed sub what he truly wants" dynamic in most D/s fiction. There is a sense that Dylan is making some quite uncomfortable discoveries about what he likes--which strikes me as authentic. If I suddenly discovered how much I wanted to backhand my closest friend and business partner, I would have a lot of soul searching to do. (There was a similarity here to Lana McGregor's His Roommate's Pleasure, which I also really admired, but there are a lot of hints that Dylan is more conflicted than Josh in that story, which I thought added a lot of intriguing complexity.)
Bottom line: I really recommend this. It's a very hot read--hooray!--but also a great example of what erotic fiction can, and at its best, should do, which is explore depths and complexities in the characters that could never be revealed in any other way.
Rating: FOUR Stars