Note: This ARC was provided by Riptide Publishing in exchange for an honest review.
Staged was written by Kim Fielding and is the third novel in the multi-authored Belonging 'Verse series, which is set in an alternative universe where slavery is legal. The first two novels in the series, Anchored by Rachel Haimowitz and Counterpunch by Aleksandr Voinov, are personal favorites of mine so the bar for this third installment in the series was set rather high. I'm happy to say, however, that the author did a fantastic job that would make those before her proud. These books aren't easy reads and there are triggers that I need to point out if you do decide to check them out. There are various forms of abuse and non-consensual acts of violence and sex, i.e. beatings, rape, etc. (Don't confuse this with the consensual acts of BDSM that are found in the series.) If you're fine with the aforementioned, I highly recommend the series.
Sky Blue was sold into slavery when he was only eight, the name he carries being the one given to him by his first Master, having no recall of going by any other name. His singing prowess has helped him create a niche of sorts, although he still ends up rented out to whomever pays his current owner for sexual acts. When he's suddenly bought by a peddler of slaves and, in turn, sold to a man named Morgan Wallace, Sky is at a loss. He isn't there for his singing so what is it exactly that his Master needs from him? He's treated relatively well, experiencing things he's never been able to in his thirty-two years. His Master seems kind and generous, albeit grumpy. But then he's lent out to his Master's friends, whose sadism appears to know no bounds. There's more going on than his Master can reveal, but the truth may come out too late for Sky.
One of the things I like best about this series is how different each of the stories are. Yes, the main characters are composed of one slave and one Master, but the back stories for each main character and the corresponding tales they share when they're paired together are creatively distinct, so the series is far from being boring or stagnant. Like any other slave, Sky prefers knowing what it is that's expected of him and what he is allowed and not allowed to do. The thing is, his new Master, Morgan Wallace is unlike any Master Sky has ever met before. Maybe because Morgan Wallace is actually Mackenzie Webster and the differing names are just one thing that has Sky's mind cluttered with questions. As a reader, it's clear that there's a whole lot more going on than meets the eye. The mystery helps make this a very intriguing read.
Sky is a pawn and his purpose was quite clear and simple a far as Mac was concerned. However, the pawn soon begins to mean more, and with that shift, Mac's best laid plans go awry and he's forced to choose between sticking to what's been agreed upon or to come up with something new. The dynamic between the two main characters is interesting because Sky has been a slave all his life and Mac is obviously quite new to being anyone's Master. They both face their respective dilemmas and how they resolve the conflicting thoughts and feelings they experience are what make this such a great read. Both the characters and the story were well-developed, allowing for the reader to truly become immersed in their world and the unique relationship that was evolving between Sky and Mac. I'm giving Staged 4.5 stars out of five stars. ♥
Read my reviews for the Belonging 'Verse series:
Anchored by Rachel Haimowitz (book one) - four stars - My Review
Counterpunch by Aleksandr Voinov (book two) - five stars - My Review
Staged by Kim Fielding (book three) - 4.5 stars - My Review (posted above)