Could have been a lot worse... but...
I found myself intrigued by the idea of sadistic/control-freak/billionaire chasing after a virginal schoolgirl, simply because unlike most novels with romantic conflicts this one seemed so obviously doomed and rocky from the start.
BDSM is negatively portrayed, because everyone involved in it has Freudian issues (esp. the Grey).
Everyone who reads will either think:
A) it's indulgent
or B) it's excessive
i chose the later because sex is just not a viable substitute for punctuation. Seriously, the first few sex scenes were like eating icecream out of the carton: you feel a little guilty, but its also kinda liberating. By the end of the book, the icecream is melted and your being waterboarded with it. Suffice to say, good sex in a book has to either be a significant moment for the plot, or reveal/reinforce significant aspects about a character or relationship... Majority of the sex in this book doesn't do either, so I ended up skimming through most of it like a textbook.
Most of the sex comes off as an expression of James's fantasy, in that most erotic fanfiction writers that create 2 characters often can't help themselves but make them have sex as often as possible. However, most people have the restraint to imply or otherwise omit such encounters that don't benefit the plot or the exposition in some way.
Is the writing fantastic? no, but that can be ignored if the narrator is presumed unreliable, and the reader is limited to that which has the narrator's attention (only a marginal solution).
OTHER THAN THAT (and people's criticism of 'good writing' or w.e) i liked the book and the series, and thankfully the author matured a bunch by the 2nd and 3rd (choosing to imply more sex instead of adding more pad).
By the third book, most of the original conflict is resolved so there's a shift into more conventional drama and thrill (i.e. car crashes and high speed chases and explosions and extortion and kidnapping and shootouts etc etc)
The book had generally positive messages (or otherwise had conflicts resulting from a failure in) involving communication, honesty, and trust.
As well as unconditional love, and the metric tons of condoms (and other safe sex references) that get used throughout all 3 books.
CONCLUSION: better love story than twilight ~7/10