Puppet Boy by author Christian Baines
Spoiler Free Review
I met the author of Puppet Boy over the summer at one of the Pride festivals I attended. He was selling his books at a booth and read me (ahem) like a book. I was wearing my bisexual colored Captain America shield shirt and he pitched me the story of this bisexual thriller that sounded incredibly interesting.
So naturally I bought it and it sat in my TBR pile for 6 months. Well, once I picked it up I devoured it in under two days. It’s one of the fastest page turners I’ve read all year.
It’s the story of a 17 year old Australian high schooler, Eric, who attends a Christian school with an emphasis on drama and art. He wants to be a director with an edge when he finally gets to go to college in America.
He makes money to escape Australia by selling himself as an escort to the wealthy and allowing them to indulge some pretty risque fantasies. His secret life also includes a home intruder he has locked up in his basement and some pretty wild fantasies of his own that may tip from sexual to violent more often than not.
That is all set up within the first 10 pages and the rest of the book is a wild ride through this graphic coming of age tale that is definitely not YA safe. Eric experiments with sex, drugs, violence, and most of all power. The theme of the book centrals strongly around the forces of who’s in charge shifting back and forth and when one allows power to be given up verses when it is taken by force.
The pacing and writing in the book are spot on. I was never bored, the book never lagged, but I was never lost. This is what it looks like when an author has a full plan from beginning to end and it all comes together coherently, twists and all.
The characters are complex but believable and well as diverse. Baines creates a world of depravity which is only restrained as much as our own, in that everyone can mostly manage to function at work and school during the day before getting to their secrets at home. Puppet Boy is equal parts sexy and disturbing but wholly entertaining.
I strongly recommend this book to any erotic thriller fans out there. I personally don’t read the genre very often but if this is how they all are I’d love to start. But I think this may have set the bar high for me to enter that world.
Puppet Boy Summary and Spoilers
This is the spoiler full review of Puppet Boy.
I met the author of Puppet Boy over the summer at one of the Pride festivals I attended. He was selling his books at a booth and read me (ahem) like a book. I was wearing my bisexual colored Captain America shield shirt and he pitched me the story of this bisexual thriller that sounded incredibly interesting. So naturally I bought it and it sat in my TBR pile for 6 months. Well, once I picked it up I devoured it in under two days. It’s one of the fastest page turners I’ve read all year.
There are a lot of content warnings for this book so before I get into what it’s about just be warned there will be graphic depictions of sex (including BDSM), violence, and drug use, as well as strong language.
The book opens with Eric, a 17 year old Australian high schooler who wants to be an edgy director when he grows up, he also has a man tied up in his basement. The man, who is referred to as Joe, broke into Eric’s house and now he’s just kept him tied up… for a week. He decides to tape record some of his screaming and listens to it in his bedroom on a loop while becoming confusedly aroused.
Eric leaves the house to visit a client. We discover he is a male escort to the rich and lonely. He accompanies an older woman named Margaret to the opera and afterwards she takes him home and puts a collar on him and makes him drink from a dog dish. This is the first two short chapters and if you’re not hooked now you never will be.
We then discover that Eric has a girlfriend named Mary. She comes over after a party and hears Joe moaning in the basement. Her response is to lose her virginity to him. She wanted it to be a threesome but Eric refused. Joe didn’t seem too enthusiastic either but she drugged him with a lot of pot so he barely remembered the whole thing the next day.
A lot of this book has big decisions made while on a lot of drugs and alcohol. It also deals with a lot of power trips. Making someone do something they don’t want to do in order to make yourself feel powerful. It’s interesting to see Mary, a young female character, participate in this manipulation as much as the boys. Particularly since so much of it is sexual. She is not a young helpless waif, I’ll guarantee you that!
Later, at school, Eric decides to play the tape of Joe screaming for his school assignment in music class. It does not win the teacher over but it does make him a new friend, Julien. Such a good friend in fact that Eric shortly thereafter invites Julien to go on an escort date with him. As far as secret lives go Eric is not the best at keeping things secret.
Now, I wrote down pretty much every plot point for this book and could list them out but that could get very long so I’ll sum up that a lot of the book has characters meeting, exchanging drugs and alcohol, having sex (usually with one partner being very much in control), and then one of them pays for it in some way.
The list of characters includes Nerida the school drug dealer, Steffan the foreign exchange student, Felicity the good girl nobody but Julien likes, Eric’s mom who’s always away trying to be an actress, Andy the nice jon who pays Eric just to talk, and The Master the jon who pays Eric a ton of money to get seriously abused.
Eric and Joe start to develop a more familiar relationship in that Joe starts to get some serious Stockholm Syndrome, enough for Eric to let him free of his restraints. Eric comes home one night after being with The Master calling him Puppet Boy and causing him to bleed from his asshole as well as having serious bruising throughout his body and Joe takes care of him. Eric allows Joe to sleep on the floor of his bedroom.
Although Joe and Eric are developing an unusual but functional relationship Eric’s mom comes home so he sells Joe to Margaret as a kind of live in housekeeper/sex slave.
This is all happening while the high schoolers are working on a play at school and Eric, Mary, and Julien are becoming very tight as a trio. The book plays out masterfully with these different plot threads alternating chapter by chapter in a way that is delicately woven together but never becomes tangled. Relationships develop in a way that is believable so that when something shocking occurs it doesn’t seem totally unrealistic.
The high schoolers all attend a big surprise party for Eric’s birthday and while everyone is on a lot of drugs and alcohol their classmate Felicity turns up, violently abused and deformed. The police question everyone but come to no conclusions about who assaulted her. We just know it’s the girl Mary hates and Julien has a crush on.
There are a lot of twists and turns and relationship trade offs in this book. As Eric, Mary, and Julien become close Eric and Mary still haven’t actually had sex. They get drunk on the beach and Eric watches her and Julien have sex but doesn’t participate. Eric does later fuck both Nerida and Steffan without Mary’s knowledge.
A big reveal happens during the plot about the play all the teens were rehearsing, it’s a controversial one so the parents get involved and that’s when we find out that The Master is actually Mary’s abusive father. Eric’s been getting paid to take the brunt of his abuse to protect Mary but also pay for college. Gotta say, did not see that one coming!
More toward the end of the book the reveals just start rolling in. Eric’s mother accuses him of not taking some sort of medication that he needs. We find out that because of Eric choosing to go off his meds he actually believed Joe was real. Turns out Joe was Julien the whole time and they had started off the role play for an audition tape to college when it got a little too real for Julien who escaped from Margaret’s indentured servitude one night while she was out.
This very much explained Mary’s willingness to have sex with him right away as well as a few other points. So rarely do twists actually help straighten things out instead of just make everything more complicated!
Then we hit the climax. During the play at school Eric plays a video he set up to take his power back for good. He taped The Master, Mary’s father, getting pounded by a big Ukrainian fellow, without his knowledge. Of course he’s in the audience as Mary’s father and freaks out accordingly. Fearing the loss of his social standing he kidnaps Eric and shoots himself while Eric is tied up in front of him. Steffan comes to the rescue and unties him but also shows him some bonus video footage.
We find out what that footage was a few months forward on the timeline when Eric shows Julien a tape of Julien making Felicity cut her own lips off. Eric has all the cards now. Julien is forever in his control. He wins, the end.
It’s hard to give justice to this story in a summary. I had to skip over a bunch of the more nuanced parts for brevity’s sake but it’s all those parts that really make everything flow so well. There are so many relationships built in such a quick read. There is a natural give and take that is developed to show how we all give and take power in equal measures.
This book is very well written, especially when it probably doesn’t have to be. It does have graphic sex scenes and I think many readers forgive a lot in writing style in order to get to some hot action. But this is the best of both worlds. It has great action, hot sex, interesting characters, a unique plot, and adds up to a truly great read.
5/5 movie cameras, someone turn this into a movie! 🎥🎥🎥🎥🎥
For more LGBTQ literature check out Over and Over
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