REVIEW: Captive in the Dark by CJ Roberts

Caleb is a man with a singular interest in revenge. Kidnapped as a young boy and sold into slavery by a power-hungry mobster, he has thought of nothing but vengeance. For twelve years he has immersed himself in the world of pleasure slaves searching for the one man he holds ultimately responsible. Finally, the architect of his suffering has emerged with a new identity, but not a new nature. If Caleb is to get close enough to strike, he must become the very thing he abhors and kidnap a beautiful girl to train her to be all that he once was.

Eighteen-year-old Olivia Ruiz has just woken up in a strange place. Blindfolded and bound, there is only a calm male voice to welcome her. His name is Caleb, though he demands to be called Master. Olivia is young, beautiful, naïve and willful to a fault. She has a dark sensuality that cannot be hidden or denied, though she tries to accomplish both. Although she is frightened by the strong, sadistic, and arrogant man who holds her prisoner, what keeps Olivia awake in the dark is her unwelcome attraction to him.

Warnings: Noncon and Rape, Sex Trafficking, Racial Stereotypes, Anti-Sex Worker Rhetoric, CSA

Category: M/F, M/M

Captive in the Dark is the first book in the Dark Duology series of dark romance novels. It is a very disturbing book, so please mind the warning tags. While the book is billed as being dubcon, it is most firmly noncon in nature.

The prose is very good, dramatic, and gripping, and it is not hard to see why it managed to gain popularity. The story follows Caleb, a gangster who’s gained fame in the sex trafficking world as a slave trainer, and Livvie, the girl he kidnaps in order to train her for sale to a rich Russian mafia boss in order to gain access to said mafia boss so he can enact a revenge plot. Honestly the story is pretty sparse, with only the barest thread of a plot holding it together. It doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny; why is “sell him a girl” the only way to get at this guy? Why does it have to be a freshly captured girl and not a willing sex worker like he’s worked with before? Why can’t they hire a girl and get her to pretend to be a newly caught virgin? But although it doesn’t really make a lot of sense, it’s the kind of melodrama that can be very entertaining to read. The main bulk of the story is, after all, Livvie’s gradual breaking down at the hands of Caleb, and their growing relationship despite their disturbing circumstances. Book 1 ends on a cliffhanger, but it’s pretty clear that book 2 will be continuing the melodrama and the angst, as well as the deepening of their connection.

Livvie’s POV is very well done, a POV that really conveys the terror, the uncertainty, the heartbreak, and the slow breaking down of will and agency. It’s a conditioning story after all, even if Caleb is likely going to have a change of heart before the narrative reaches its conclusion, and Livvie’s experiences at Caleb’s hands is very nicely explored. Her feelings, her thoughts, and her backstory and childhood traumas are all very nicely put together. That said, Caleb’s POV feels a little… less well thought out. We’re to believe that he’s a master at sex training and slave conditioning, and yet it never feels like he knows at all what he’s doing. He’s consistently annoyed or surprised when she fights back, his internal monologues conveying that he doesn’t know the first thing about psychology, which seems to me to be a primary part of this sort of manipulation and brainwashing. All he does is beat her if she steps out of line, but though this breaks down her will he never manages, or even attempts really, to re-structure how she thinks into thinking of herself as a slave, which was presumably the entire goal. Caleb’s POV annoyed me because I didn’t buy that he was at all in control of the situation or competent in what he was doing.

Unfortunately the worldbuilding makes use of several racial stereotypes which felt deeply uncomfortable. The sex trafficking rings Caleb works for and was rescued from are all Middle Eastern, the villainous mob boss he’s after is Russian, and once he’s captured Livvie he stashes her in Mexico where everyone is corrupt because they’re so poor, so nobody will rescue her. Add to that some backstory with Livvie, who’s Mother’s immigrant boyfriend sexually assaulted her when she was a kid, and overall I feel like the story is just riddled with bad racial politics. I had hoped that it would flesh out the underground world of crime and trafficking a little more and move away from “all foreigners are evil” tropes, but time and again the book paints POC in a bad light. Caleb’s even grown up with misogynist ideas about women due to being raised in Pakistan. This aspect often made me slam the book down in frustration.

The sex scenes are written well, and I actually found a lot of them very hot. It’s the kind of angsty, emotionally turbulent and fear-laden sex I love to read about. However, although the author is very good at writing hot smut, the amount to which the narrative handwaves rape was upsetting to me. While the book is tagged dubcon, this is in no way a dubcon narrative- it is entirely noncon. Which would be fine, I do enjoy reading noncon, but this book tries to convince you that it is not noncon which ends up ruining the whole thing for me. What Caleb does with Livvie is rape, but absolutely none of the characters think it is, with Livvie even going so far as to tell Caleb that what he did wasn’t as bad as what a later character does to her, so it was fine. The tags also absolutely do not warn you that both Livvie and Caleb are CSA survivors, and that there are graphic flashbacks to these events in their childhoods, which I would certainly have appreciated a heads up about. More than that, Caleb’s traumatizing childhood experiences are used as a way to excuse his current actions which is a big “nope” from me.

This book was a roller coaster ride for me. For a large majority of the book I found it gripping and engaging, despite complaints with the plot, and was totally planning on getting book 2 when I finished. But then I reached the portion of the book where Livvie decides Caleb didn’t actually rape her and I ended up loosing any interest at all in continuing, I was so frustrated with it. I can definitely see why people would enjoy this, there’s a lot the author did very well, but the rape and the racial tropes really managed to tank it for me.

Have you read Captive in the Dark? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!

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