“Sometimes a transition requires struggle. Remember the butterfly?”
How could he forget? As a child, he’d found a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. He’d tried to help it by prying open the husk to set the insect free. It had lain in the sun, beating its wings as they dried, but had never flown and soon died. His grandmother explained the butterfly needed to go through the difficulty of freeing itself in order to have the strength to fly.
Butterfly Unpinned is about a submissive (seriously submissive!) young woman named Butterfly, who is “freed” from her submission by a talented Native American sculptor named Bryan. They meet when he’s working on pieces commissioned by her “Master.” Once they leave together, Butterfly has to acclimate herself to the outside world again, begin to reclaim her former identity of Sylvia, and decide who she is and wants to be now. Butterfly / Sylvia and Bryan are very interesting characters; I loved their relationship and watching it develop. I wish the story was longer, because the ending felt very rushed and I thought we would follow them further in their relationship.
Reaction. This is a very unusual and very powerful story. It is also one that I find hard one to categorize: the heavy focus on the self-healing process makes it more general fiction and I think some mainstream audiences would enjoy it, however there are definite erotica components. While it’s described as a BDSM romance, that’s more because of the situation Butterfly is in at the beginning of the story than anything else. After she leaves Gary’s, Bryan decides they should abstain from sex completely, since he doesn’t want her to think she owes him sex or that he’s her new Master. Once they do start making love, there aren’t really any BDSM components.
Others have said this and I 100% agree: the first half was unbelievably disturbing. Utterly and completely disturbing. It was difficult and uncomfortable to read; I felt so absolutely helpless. “Master,” i.e. Gary, is a sadistic, cruel, and manipulative bastard and oh how happy I was when Bryan finally punched him. However, as much as I hated—completely abhorred!—reading that first section, it was also necessary and integral to the story. There is no way one could appreciate Butterfly’s transformation and what Bryan freed her from had we not been given such a vivid look at what her life had been like with Gary. The second half of the book is the most enjoyable, because that’s when we get to see Sylvia and Bryan’s romantic relationship really begin to develop.
Our Heroine. The authors had a delicate line to walk when it came to Butterfly “becoming” Sylvia, but in my mind they achieve a perfect balance of having her transformation be slow enough to feel authentic, but fast enough to enable us to see development and not grow frustrated or impatient. The pace of it felt right. At the end of Butterfly Unpinned Sylvia is not 100%—which realistically, she shouldn’t be yet—however there is no doubt that she is on her way there.
I liked that while she relies heavily on Bryan and he is a key player in her recovery, there is no doubt that she is the major force in her own healing. There are times when she and Bryan are even briefly at odds and yet she perseveres and succeeds:
It was a good feeling, to beat her wings and find out they were strong enough to lift her and hold her aloft.
Our Hero. From the beginning, Bryan is a fantastic hero and I loved his feelings towards and treatment of Butterfly. While he’s a strong, independent, sensual, and possessive hero, he at no times feels offensively alpha; the contrast between him and Gary further reinforces this impression. He is so sweet and tender with her, while also not treating her as if she is an untouchable and fragile piece of glass on display in a museum. He sees her as an individual—as her own person, her own woman—and wants to help her see herself that way too.
Bryan’s feelings for and actions towards Sylvia are truly lovely, but I appreciated that we are show he’s not perfect and has human failings like anyone else. As Sylvia becomes stronger and more independent, Bryan goes through his own internal conflict: he wanted to help Sylvia for altruistic reasons, but he also has feelings for her and likes the fact that he was able to play hero and save her. He wants to be the one who continues to protect her, the one she turns to when she needs help—and he wants her to still have that need:
She breathed slowly, searching for words. “You’ve set me free, and I can’t be caged again.”
He reached out and touched her hair lightly. The tension in his face relaxed a little, but his eyes were still intense. “I know that. I just want to protect you, to keep you from being hurt.”
Criticism. My main criticism is the rushed ending, which I mentioned at the beginning. It left me feeling like the brakes were put on all of a sudden and I hadn’t been expecting them yet. Also, part of Bryan’s development in the first half is his self-reflection on his own desires that arise from observing Master’s “setup.” He questions what he does or does not—and should or should not—find arousing. I found this interesting both for his character and the story, but the subject was dropped in the second half and there was no further development.
Bottom Line. It was utterly wonderful and one of those reads I classify as a “hidden gem.” It’s a surprisingly powerful and emotional story. If it weren’t for some of the more explicit scenes that are clearly erotica, I would recommend this book to all my non-romance reading friends as well.
One of My Favorite Quotes:
“You’re a lot stronger than you know.”
She offered a weak smile and slipped behind the curtain and into the tiny puffs of steam filling the small space. The old shower was loud, so he felt safe in saying the rest of his thoughts before joining her.
“Once you realize how strong you are, will you still need me?”
He stepped into the warm water. She had her back against the tiles, her face in profile, her jaw somehow softer now.
“Maybe not,” she whispered.
His heart plummeted to his knees.
She faced him. Opened her arms to him.
“But I’ll want you,” she added. “I think I’ll always want you.”
“Jesus, you scared me.” And she had. The fear that she’d grow strong and leave him to explore her new self, her new world—without him—scared him shitless.
Some days I think I need you more than you need me. He couldn’t bring himself to admit that out loud. He wondered if she could sense it, tell by the way he crushed her body against his and breathed in the smell of her hair. […]
Once he returned with the sheets and a blanket, she rolled off the bed and helped him with the bedding. Then he lay down and opened his arms to her. She climbed into his embrace.
Bryan stayed awake until he heard her breathing steadily.
“When you find your wings, don’t fly away,” he whispered.
Butterfly Unpinned by Laura Bacchi and Bonnie Dee
May 26th 2009 by Samhain