Blue Ruin 1: Some Kind of Stranger by Katrina Strauss

Derek Graves’ desire for the perfect sexual “prisoner” has left him with a dark reputation and a string of jilted lovers. He needs a partner who wants the pleasure and the pain he can give. After his search lands him on the wrong end of the fantasy at the hands of ruthless predator, Derek returns to his accustomed hunting ground of Blue Ruin with one purpose in mind: revenge.

He gets it, but he also ends up rescuing the predator’s next intended victim, a homeless blue-haired waif who is just Derek’s type. He brings the incoherent young man home, needing to find out what he saw, and ensure he won’t tell anyone. The scenario couldn’t be more perfect to service Derek’s dominant fantasies.

Shane “Blue” McGowan wakes up groggy, blindfolded, and chained to a stranger’s bed. Upon finding himself in luxurious surroundings, the cunning Blue realizes two things: he has no desire to return to a life on the streets, and his handsome captor stirs strange and unfulfilled longings in him.

Manipulating the terms of his own “imprisonment,” Blue swings a place to stay in exchange for his silence about a second stranger left beaten and unconscious behind Blue Ruin. To sweeten the deal, Blue agrees to become Derek’s submissive. But as their relationship progresses, Derek finds himself wondering whether Blue is truly at Derek’s mercy, or is Derek at his?

Blue Ruin 1: Some Kind of Stranger is the first book in Katrina Strauss’ popular Blue Ruin yaoi series. In this series, Ms. Strauss takes the fundamental elements and archetypes that are featured in the Asian illustrated novel (manga) and presents them in Western-style yaoi prose, all the while maintaining the aesthetics of the yaoi tradition. In the introductory book to the series we meet the two beautiful “bishie” (effeminate-looking male) protagonists ~ Derek who takes on the role of the “seme” (dominant) and Blue the “uke” (submissive). In true yaoi style, their relationship is depicted in the context of a dramatic plot with plenty of angst, the resolution of which is highly climatic but with a happy ending.

As the seme, Derek is looking for a uke that can fulfill his sexual fantasies and desires. He needs a partner that craves both pain and pleasure and that can willingly submit to him. While frequenting his usual haunt Blue Ruin for the purpose of exacting revenge on a predator that had previously hurt him, Derek finds Blue.

Blue is a pretty, eighteen-year old blue-haired waif that has dropped out of school, is homeless, and is trying to support himself by busing tables at Blue Ruin. When Blue becomes the predator’s next victim, Derek steps in to rescue him leaving the predator for dead.

Blue wakes up from his drug-induced ordeal blindfolded and chained to Derek’s bed. Derek offers Blue sanctuary in return for Blue’s silence about the stranger left beaten and unconscious behind Blue Ruin. Blue has no desire to return to the danger of the streets, but more importantly, Derek arouses strange and unfulfilled yearnings in him. Blue agrees to become Derek’s submissive.

Blue Ruin 1: Some Kind of Stranger was my introduction to not only the writing of author Katrina Strauss but also to yaoi, and it opened up a completely new world for me within the realm of m/m. Strauss’ richly crafted prose, excellent characterization and stunning descriptions offer the reader a sensual feast and make this story a riveting page turner. In addition, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the book cover art by P.L. Nunn that is absolutely beautiful and contributes to the overall sensual experience of Blue Ruin 1. While there is much drama in Some Kind of Stranger, with dark and violent undertones owing to the nature of the predator who remains at large, the focus of Blue Ruin 1 is very much on the burgeoning relationship between Derek and Blue.

Blue is impishly clever and while as the submissive in their relationship he wears the chains it doesn’t prevent him from pulling Derek’s figurative chains every now and then. He rightfully owns the pet name that he inherits that of “bratty uke” and takes the definition of “topping from the bottom” to an entirely new level.

“Through hooded gaze, Blue watched the man braced above him. Biceps taut, chest flexed tight, Derek’s torso glistened with a fine sheen of sweat. As he slammed his pelvis against Blue’s ass, his hair fell into his face and flowed with his movements. His green eyes went dark, his porcelain features mantled with the heat of sex. Blue marveled that he could reduce this suave, sophisticated man to such a primal, barbaric state. He realized, in that moment, he held as much power over his master as the master held over him.”

Derek is a much more dark character by comparison and is very controlled and somewhat regimented, both with respect to his emotions and his surroundings. While Derek is the quintessential seme, he has absolutely no illusions in respect of the feistiness of his submissive.

“’I’m going to run you a bath now,’ he said sternly, stepping back at arm’s length. “You’re filthy.’

’Oh?’ Blue asked. ‘And whose fault is that?’ He cocked one brow, and with it, the awe lifted, just a little, and Derek saw the usual sense of cunning and mirth.

Yes, he wanted that too, that indomitable spirit simmering beneath Blue’s submissive veneer. Because as much as he enjoyed bending Blue to his will, he never wanted to lose the satisfaction of knowing he’d caged a feisty tiger cub.”

The strengths of this story are in Strauss’ exceptionally written characters and by extension her exploration of Derek and Blue’s relationship, which is complex and multi-layered. While the author assigns certain physical and personality traits to Derek as the seme and Blue as the uke that are commonplace in yaoi, they are not manga paper cut-outs.

Strauss explores the many facets of their relationship starting with its BDSM aspect which is darkly erotic and psychologically seductive. And although BDSM dominates their sexual relationship, it does not necessarily define their relationship in its entirety. While Blue is younger than Derek by some ten years and much more inexperienced, his submission to Derek is not complete.

There is some metal and independence in this character that comes through loud and clear. And as much as it is Derek’s proclivity to control and master his uke, this masks a certain vulnerability which we glimpse in him. Blue’s sense of self and Derek’s understanding that he cannot completely bind Blue foreshadow some of the possible twists and turns that their relationship will likely take as it grows and matures in books to come.

Blue Ruin 1: Some Kind of Stranger by Katrina Strauss is a wonderful reading experience that I recommend to all. In particular, for those curious about yaoi but otherwise uninitiated, Blue Ruin 1 is an excellent place to start.

Blue Ruin 1: Some Kind of Stranger by Katrina Strauss is available at Loose Id.

NOTE: This review was originally published online by Rainbow Reviews.

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