LGBTQ:  Chloe Darue is the lead developer at a software company that’s struggling to stay in business. She’s learned how to thrive in a profession that’s dominated by men. Her personal life is even more unconventional. Meeting fellow Tae Kwan Do black belt and entrepreneurial coder Locke Headley spins both of their lives into chaos until they figure out how to make peace with their past traumas. 

“Spar” applies the language and culture of competitive martial arts in the loose context of Dom/sub lifestyles to offer readers an emotionally intimate love story about betrayals of trust and strategies for healing the physical and spiritual injuries they cause. Direct references to Pauline Reage’s “Story of O” and A.N. Roquelaure’s “Sleeping Beauty” invite philosophical comparisons, but “Spar” wins with greater emotional depth in character development and examining the motivations of participants in Dom/sub environments. There are no BDSM scenes or accessories. The few steamy intimate moments are conventional, but Chloe does choose to call Locke “Sir” in private at the halfway point of the story.

Randi Perrin’s talent for portraying multifaceted characters who engage with each other in ways that feel realistic in their messiness hooks reader’s heartstrings. Themes about otherness and isolation are woven into different threads about society’s labels connected to sexual orientation and binary gender expectations. One pivotal situation, with cascading negative consequences related to unethical, disloyal, selfish actions by people close to Locke, which is treated in a very dismissive way, and an inconclusive cliffhanger ending are the only things keeping “Spar” from being a perfect read.  

Cardyn Brooks