REVIEW: Eight Kinky Nights by Xan West

Newly divorced stone butch Jordan moves into her friend Leah’s spare room, ready, at 49, to take on a new job and finally explore kink and polyamory. But moving to NYC during the holidays sends grief crashing through her, and Jordan realizes that when she isn’t solely focused on caring for others, her own feelings are unavoidable. Including her feelings for Leah.51 year old queer femme Leah, an experienced submissive kink educator who owns a sex shop, has recently come to terms with being gray ace and is trying to rework her life and relationships to honor that.

Leah has a brainstorm to help them both: she offers Jordan eight kink lessons, one for each night of Chanukah, to help Jordan find her feet as a novice dominant, and to create a structured space where Leah can work on more deeply honoring her own consent, now that she knows she’s gray ace. She’d planned to keep it casual, but instead the experience opens cracks in the armor Leah’s been using to keep people at a distance and keep herself safe. Now she needs to grapple with the trauma that’s been impacting her life for years. Can these two autistic queers find ways to cope with the changes they are making in their lives and support each other, as they build something new they hadn’t thought was possible?

Warnings: mentions of past trauma, mentions of past abuse, mentions of suicide

Category: F/F

Eight Kinky Nights is a love story of lifelong friend discovering new aspects to their relationship as they explore kink and BDSM together. It takes place at Chanukah, and features a diverse cast of Jewish, queer, plus sized, autistic characters, giving representation and voice to many different marginalized experiences and viewpoints. It’s a must-read if you’re interested in an exploration of respectful communication, boundary setting, and relationship building, and is perfect for the holidays.

WRITING
This whole book is a celebration of healthy communication, coping methods and self agency, as well as of representation for marginalized groups that may not get a lot of representation in mainstream fiction. It’s such a love letter to queer culture, to therapy, to relationships and supportive community, that it’s hard not to have a good time reading it. It’s a very relaxing reading experience, slice-of-life in a way that gives a picture into a near perfect world where everyone understands each other and cares for each other. Reading it can feel like a warm and cozy curl-up by a fireplace. That said, there isn’t a whole lot that happens plot-wise and it is more of a journey than a destination. It runs us through its characters lives and how their relationships change and grow over time, but there isn’t a whole lot of actual narrative happening. The dialogue can also feel like everyone in the cast is a therapist, as a lot of the conversations follow a therapy script rather than feeling entirely organic.

EMOTIONAL ENGAGEMENT
This is a story all about characters and emotions. It flips back and forth between the two lead’s POVs, and focuses on how they view themselves, each other, and the new elements of their longstanding relationship. Since they’ve been best friends for decades, making the change into scene based play partners, and then to something more, takes some getting used to for both of them, and they both bring different ideas and expectations to the relationship. It was lovely watching this unfold. There is also an awful lot of therapy focus in this story, in coping strategies, and support networks, and how to come down from melt downs and dealing with trauma. It’s a very beautiful exploration of self care and how to have healthy relationships while advocating for yourself. This didn’t always feel the most realistic- while the hope is that one can fill their lives with people who care about and support them as much as this cast does, the reality is that a lot of the time different people’s needs will clash more than this even with the best of intentions. But while it felt a little like wishful thinking, wish fulfillment narratives are worthwhile in their own right, and this one made me feel warm and cozy and comfortable. The characters are also all well into their adult lives, so the background of experiences is wonderful, as it lends the characters a more complete feeling.

WORLDBUILDING
The environment in which the characters exist can feel fairly small, and insular, due to the fact that we don’t often see much about the character’s lives outside of their interactions with each other. They have jobs, but we don’t spend much time with that part of their existence, and when outside influences like family crop up, it is strictly to deal with familial trauma. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the scope of this story is quite limited to the character’s emotional and mental health journeys, and how these journeys intersect, so it doesn’t need to be more broadly encompassing. That said I do wish that it had incorporated Chanukah a little more; while the scenario of kink lessons as a Chanukah gift is a cute one, I would have loved to have the holiday be a larger part of the narrative than that rather that feeling like a backdrop. This a common complaint I have with Christmas stories as well though so, ah well.

STEAMINESS
I am, admittedly, more into much much harder fare in my kink fiction. This is a great example of well negotiated, healthy and mutually respectful real-world BDSM. I don’t find that kind of thing all that exciting to read about, even though it is a very good representation of IRL kink lifestyle. It does a great job of expressing the viewpoints of both submissive and Dominant kink roles and what subs and Doms get out of D/s play, whether sexual or not. What I found also incredibly interesting was the major focus on textures and physical touch sensations, like velvet bed-sheets on skin or the ways that different impact play toys feel. I’ve never been a very tactile kinkster, and so it was neat to see an aspect of kink that I don’t have a lot of personal connection to be explored with such joy and enthusiasm. Although I didn’t relate to a lot of it, I did find it fascinating to see someone else’s kink experience so lovingly depicted, and the parts I could relate to, like the way it feels to slip into subspace, I found wonderfully charming.

This is a very heart warming holiday novel that will be sure to tickle your fancy if you like to read about healthy communication and people helping each other to recover from trauma and build new relationships together. It’s rare to find a book about kink this lovingly depicting how healthy kink can really be rather than portraying a dangerous fantasy, and while I love the dangerous fantasy flavour a lot, it’s also nice that something like this is out there as well to remind us how good reality can and should be.

Have you read Eight Kinky Nights? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!

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