Full disclosure: Torquere has published my short stories, novellas, and novels.
After I read this work, I was a bit surprised to see that it ran one hundred eighty four pages, which puts it at a full length novel. When I read it, it struck me as a novella and I was going to review it as such, but that's a bit of a moot point.
Above the Dungeon is a m/m BDSM story told from three points of view. Roman is the Master in a lifestyle couple and a professional Dom with a dungeon in the basement of a gay bar. Jeff is Roman's slave. Dare (Adair) is a straight guy who gets a job as a bartender at the gay bar.
When Dare runs away from his intended bride and country club life, he runs to Maddox, the gay cousin he's never had much of a relationship with. Maddox gets Dare a job tending bar at a BDSM themed gay bar. The opening scene flows quickly without much setting to anchor the reader into a time or place, then whisks the reader and Dare off on a clothing adventure designed to humiliate, and within pages has him working his first night at the club and meeting Roman. It was probably that pace that made me feel as if it were a novella that wanted to get to the action right away rather than a novel.
Roman is interested in Dare for some unexplained reason and offers him a tour of the dungeon in the basement. It's not just a tour. One of Roman's clients is down there, and Roman straps Dare into a chair and makes him watch the scene. The next day they meet for coffee to talk about it, but we don't get to listen to the conversation.
The narrator shifts at that point to Roman's slave, Jeff. Roman and Jeff have been together for years. They occasionally "cheat" on each other and get through it. For people who have negotiated a Master/slave contract, not negotiating an open relationship when they obviously want one seems a bit silly, but since when are people entirely logical? Jeff likes to fall in love, and he's tried to bring his lovers into the relationship with Roman, but it never works.
Roman has had a few side lovers too, but he's not as active as Jeff in his pursuits. That is, until he sets his sights on Dare. He pushes Dare into more extreme scenes every time they meet and even has his nipple pierced. Jeff gets a bit jealous at the idea of Roman being interested in someone else and doesn't want another slave in the house, but he and Roman agree that Jeff has no say in the matter. The story ends with a big public scene where Jeff finally accepts that Dare will probably come live with them and Dare accepting that he's... I don't know... either gay-for-you situation or that he's been in denial about his sexuality.If you're okay with borderline non-consensual scenes and the idea of a Dom being able to read the soul of a guy he's just met, then this might be your kind of BDSM tale. Rating this is a bit problematic for me because of those issues, but other readers may be very into it. I would have liked more description of the setting, more character development through the story, a stronger sense that Dare really wanted and enjoyed what happened to him, and clearer indications when the narrator changed. So I'll give it a sideways rating and leave it up to you to decide if you'd like to give Above the Dungeon a read.
These days romance rules the publishing world. Romance is the fastest growing segment of the industry. Every day, it seems, a new romance e-publisher opens calls for submissions, hoping to cash in on the romance bonanza. I just read (I'm writing this review in May) that Amazon.com has announced their very own romance imprint.
The romance genre has diversified and matured, admitting explicit sex, kink, GLBT characters, ménage and more. It has become far less stereotyped and constrained than it was even a decade ago. However, one firm requirement remains, written more or less in stone. All romance must have a happy ending. The protagonists must overcome the obstacles that separate them and have at least some prospect of a delightful future in each other's arms.
Of course, in the real world, relationships aren't necessarily like that. Furthermore, erotic intensity isn't necessarily linked to that sort of happy connection. Freaky Fountain's outstanding volume Bad Romance explores love affairs that would make the average romance author throw up her hands and run away screaming.
The contributors to this collection aren't afraid to explore the darkest aspects of desire. They break taboos left and right. The book includes incest (both consensual and non-consensual), rape, physical abuse, humiliation, drugs, cutting and castration, as well as more conventional BDSM scenarios. It's not for the faint of heart. I do not believe that the authors were aiming at shock for its own sake, though. As suggested by the sub-title, these stories actually do focus on the relationships between the characters. The relationships may be painful, twisted, frustrating, even deadly, yet they still fulfill some need. The characters know they should walk away, but they don't. Lust, and sometimes love, overwhelms reason and they find a kind of release in spite of all the darkness.
Practically every story in the collection is exceptional in both conception and execution. Jeanette Grey opens the book with the amazing “Bleeding Red,” the story of a painter and his former model, how they devour and destroy each other but cannot let go:
There's the sound of glass on the pavement, the ground littered with tiny shards. I can still see them on the back of my eyelids as they close, and then instead of ice, there's heat. Groaning into a kiss I know will only hurt me, I stare into blackness and taste hot skin. I feel tongue and teeth, and I bite down on his bottom lip, exulting at the tang of copper salt.
More subtle, but equally devastating, is Chris Guthries “Three Days in Summer.” It begins with a woman begging for a man's attention and ends with her discarding him. Over the course of the story, the power shifts, as the woman satisfies her yearning to be abused and the man becomes dependent on her submission.
“Maleficent” by Lydia Nyx is probably the most depraved tale in the collection and yet one of the most arousing, in spite of its violence and copious bodily fluids of every sort. The story is a compelling reversal of the vampire-meets-soulmate trope so popular in normal romance. Homicide detective Darius is seduced by an infinitely cruel and kinky dancer in a club. In Jordan's presence, under his tutelage, Darius discovers how savage and perverted he can be. The bloody finale is horrible yet compellingly erotic.
Jordan dropped to his knees in front of him. A dull blue light shone down from somewhere up above – blue, like they were under water, drowning. The light gleamed on Jordan's hair and filled his freakish eyes...The light glinted on the silver rings Jordan wore – a skull, a cross, a jagged winged dragon. He watched Jordan's tongue slide around the head of his cock, the tip hard and pointed under the ridge, the flat caressing the rest, then all of it sliding past his lips, into the molten recess of his mouth. All sensations were amplified almost to the point of pain.
Not every story in Bad Romance reeks of this sort of drama and evil. Some, like Anya Wassenberg's “The Affair” and S.L. Johnson's “Love Letters” focus on the banal but very real pain of attraction in the face of incompatibility – the way we sometimes seek out exactly the wrong person. “Sam and Jessie” by Ben Murray is a funny tale of two lovers who fight constantly despite their mutual affection and lust, each striving for the upper hand. It remains humorous even when the real nature of their relationship is revealed. Maxine Marsh's “Coma” portrays a “relationship” between a bereaved doctor and a woman who is immobilized but retains some level of consciousness – a truly extreme case of being unable to communicate with one's lover. Ryder Collins' “Her Heart is a Screen Door, Too” is a strange, almost poetic description of a woman who is always victimized yet remains open to love:
These are the things that Homegirl remembers from that night; these are not the only things that happened and some of them may not have even happened because Homegirl's been so drunk she's hallucinated from the drink like Toulouse-motherfucking-Latrec at least twice before that night. So it's possible that some of it's all made up.
It's possible, but I know it's not made up.
One feature of this anthology that I particularly enjoyed were the “afterwards.” Each story is followed by the author's bio, plus some comments on the genesis of the stories. I found some of these almost as fascinating as the tales themselves.Bad Romance will not be to everyone's tastes. It will offend some readers, not only because of the extreme scenarios it portrays but also because it most definitely does not qualify as “sex-positive” erotica. I'm not really comfortable myself writing the sort of violent, dystopic tales featured in this collection. Actually, I feel a bit guilty that I enjoyed the book so much. But I couldn't help it. Bad Romance is both outrageously hot and a literary treat.
Vampire fiction has been a growth industry since Anne Rice changed the terms with her first novel, Interview with the Vampire, in 1978. Lesbian vampire fiction has a history that even predates Dracula. In the nineteenth century, fantasy female bloodsuckers were associated with the “femme fatale” that was featured in so much art and literature of the period.
Now that vampire fiction could take up a long shelf in the horror section of your local bookstore (or on-line bookseller), are lesbian vampires as scary as they used to be? Yes and no.
The title of this book is either disappointing or meant to be provocative. Feminists of the 1970s objected to the use of “girls” to define women of all ages, and sometimes reacted by avoiding the word completely (as in “Congratulations on the birth of your baby womon”). “Girl” as a designation for every female is parallel to the racist use of “boy” for every African-American male, and “garcon” (boy/servant) for every waiter in a French restaurant.
Girls Who Bite as a description of scary women who feed on the life-blood of others sounds trivializing. This is probably the point, meant to be ironic. The central characters in a collection of lesbian vampire erotica are supposed to make the reader squirm. They are supposed to seem threatening, even creepy, but also sexy as hell. The BDSM dynamics are too obvious to need an explanation.
The cover of this book is just right: deliberately theatrical, suggestive of twincest and dopplegangers, it shows two pale, almost identical blondes wearing red lipstick, eye shadow and fingernail polish. They face each other, closing in for a kiss or something fiercer.
One of the themes in these stories is the interchangebility of "good girls" and "bad girls," or the difficulty of knowing which is which. In "Bloody Wicked" by Vivi Anna, a witch goes into the woods to cast a spell, propelled by her sexual energy. Soon afterward, a male deputy sheriff appears at the witch's door with Alexa, the new sheriff in town. The sheriff's grilling of the witch about a dead man is a thin cover for mutual seduction.
The world of law enforcement is also the setting for "Dark Guard" by Karis Walsh. Lisa is a cop assigned to investigate a series of killings, supposedly committed by "Marginals," despised supernatural beings who live in ghettoes. She is paired with a member of the "Dark Guard," Aurica the vampire. Lisa is appalled, especially because Aurica is so attractive. Lisa wonders why her male Chief would do this to her, but she soon discovers that Marginals in general are not the enemy.
Lesbian vampires appear in several of these stories as avenging angels who punish abusive men. In "La Caida" by Anna Meadows, the narrator is growing up in a Latino family of Naguales, women who can survive on blood, supported by their ordinary male relatives. The narrator refuses to feast on the blood of rapists or wife-beaters until she discovers a naked woman who is actually a fallen angel who needs to be rescued. Although the alarming number of "disappeared" women in Mexican border towns (especially Juarez) is never mentioned in this story, the existence of real-life cultures in which men may feed on the "blood" of women with impunity suggests that Naguales could actually make their communities safer. In the story, the family of blood-drinkers is accepted by their neighbors.
In "Dark Angel" by Paisley Smith, a closeted lesbian in 1930s Germany who married a Nazi to "cure" herself of her "unnatural" desires is attracted to a strange woman in a nightclub. Just after her husband shoots her in a nearby alley, a seductive voice asks her if she wants to die or to live. Her answer changes her future.
In "Red Horizons" by Victoria Oldham, Eleni the charismatic vampire is a passenger on a cruise ship run by Captain Jayne, a mortal. When Jayne goes ashore to satisfy her sexual itch, the vampire protects Jayne from those who might really harm her.
“The Crystal Altar” by Adele Dubois is an almost-satirical story about a strange “makeover.” The narrator’s geeky, unpopular cousin has gone to Europe and returned transformed – and she brought a coven of glamorous European girlfriends with her. When cousin Angela asks to have her birthday party in a crystal cave at night, the narrator wonders what is really going on.
In "Pet Door" by Angela Caperton, the vampire appears at the door of a diva as a stray dog, and the vampire remains in character as a submissive pet even when she has resumed her human form. The woman musician who orders the vampire to use the pet door (not the one intended for humans) is clearly in control, much like a dope dealer who controls an addict because she has what the addict needs.
"Bound Love" by Christine d'Abo is a parallel story about Maili, a vampire who craves the discipline that only her mortal Mistress can provide. Here Maili suffers from a desperate need for her next fix:
Being out of control was something she couldn't afford, not with the bloodlust riding her so close, so hard. She was too old, too tired, and if she let herself slip into the oblivion of the lust, Maili knew it was a pit she wouldn't be able to emerge from. The fine line between feeding her hunger and becoming a ravenous monster was one she dared not cross.
Several of these stories focus on one-to-one lesbian relationships which never grow stale. In "Al Dente" by Delphine Dryden and "Madeline" by A.E. Grace, long-term vampire lovers enjoy hunting mortal men together. The immortal female predators enjoy men as playmates and as food, but there is nothing like the companionship of a sister-immortal.
"Impundulu" by Regina Jamison is about an unusual woman from South Africa who recognizes the narrator, a woman who has apparently been Impundulu's soul-mate through the ages. The narrator is appalled by an image of herself participating in a threesome with a woman who has willingly offered herself as a blood sacrifice. Impundulu, representative of the African past, shows the narrator who she really is and reminds her that they will be together as long as one of them "remembers."
Two of these stories are set in museums, shrines to the past. In "Beloved" by Shayla Kersten, the vampire is an Egyptian warrior goddess, Sekhmet, who eternally seeks union with her opposite and lover, the goddess Hathor. According to the writeup for an exhibit:
Hathor personified love, motherhood and joy and was usually depicted with the horns of a cow framing a sun disk. Some legends show the two as a single goddess or aspects of the same one; others have them as separate entities. However, all indicate their destinies were intertwined.
"Night at the Wax Museum" by the editor, Delilah Devlin, draws on existing vampire literature. Mina Harker, a character in Dracula, appears as a figure in a coffin that seems to be made of wax. She is part of a Halloween display in a museum, guarded by Krista, a military woman who is recovering from the trauma of war in Afghanistan. Krista discovers why several male guards have disappeared, and she learns that Mina still has a reason not to like men armed with wooden stakes.
In "The Gift of Lilith" by Myla Jackson and "She Knows I am Watching" by Rebecca Buck, the "vampires" don't seem to survive on human blood at all, but on energy, and their interest in mortal women is mutual. Their lure is palpable. Read this collection only if you want to be seduced.
Kinky Girls, published by Xcite books, is a collection of short stories from a variety of celebrated erotic fiction authors. The following extract is from Justine Elyot’s “Just Watch Me.”
“Well, well.” His voice was a little unsteady, trying too hard for detached amusement. “What have we here? James and Shar sitting in a tree K.I.S.S.I.N.G. Please don’t mind me – carry on.”
So we did. Carried on clinching on the sofa until my top was off and my skirt down.
“What do you think, Craig?” James broke off from sucking my nipple to throw the question over to the armchair. I looked over at him; he had released his cock and held it in a fierce fist. His face was pink all over, and looked bloated, his eyes reduced to piggy slits of lust.
I’ve reiterated this part because, whilst I was reading it, I realised it was brilliant. It’s stylish. It’s credible. And it’s arousing. Justine Elyot is an established tour de force in erotica. Elyot has written for Black Lace, Cleis, Xcite and many other respected publishers of adult fiction. And the reason why Elyot has been published by the stalwarts of the industry is because she’s damned good at delivering the goods. You want an erotic story? Pick up something written by Justine Elyot and you’re sure to be reading an erotic story.
Or take this example from Sommer Marsden’s “You’re My Toy.”
Aaron decided to play dirty. He took a bright blue ribbon from the floor and tied me to the back of his mother's antique chair. Heavy dark wood carved with smiling moons and shooting stars. The thing weighed a ton and I was powerless to get at him. He pulled free of me as my body vibrated with urgency. I was right there on the crisp paper edge of coming and he was leaving me!
Sommer Marsden is well-known and deservedly respected in the world of erotic fiction. She writes hot, exciting fiction that sizzles with erotic anticipation. Her characters are vivid and horny and eminently likeable. And her stories are compelling and satisfying the way that arousing erotic fiction needs to be satisfying.
And then there’s this piece from Penelope Friday in “All About the Sex.”
It's all about the sex. It's all about his hands on me, ripping my clothing off me with bodily force, snarling in my ear that he wants me, that he wants me to beg, that he'll take me any and every way he fancies and I'll just beg him for more. It's all about that, because it's true. I want him to hurt me. I want to feel his fingernails digging into my flesh; his teeth gripping my shoulder like an animal. I want to feel his cock burning its way inside me so I'm aware of every single millimetre of him. I want him to pull my head back by the hair and bite my neck, vampire-like.
Penelope Friday is erudite, stylish and cohesive. But don’t let that put you off. She is also capable of telling a powerful erotic story that keeps the reader entertained and excited from the first word through to the last.
The constant theme running through King Girls is supposed to be that the heroines involved are all kinky. I suppose most of us had already figured that out. However, whilst that might be one of the major themes, it’s worth acknowledging that there is another constant theme. Each one of these stories is powerfully arousing.
Another constant theme is that all of the stories have been written by competent authors who know how to please their readers.
If you’re looking for exciting adult entertainment that delivers a powerful erotic punch, you don’t need to look any further than Miranda Forbes’s Kinky Girls. This really is a stunning collection of first rate fiction presented by authors who know what their readers want.And, if that means this reader wants Kinky Girls, I’m not going to argue.
I’m going to let the cat out of the bag right off and say that, with Sex and Love, I.J. Miller has written some of the best literary erotica I’ve yet to come across.
For me, character and narrative are king (and queen) of my enjoyment of a short story. In Miller’s collection, almost every story has a captivating character (or two) and a narrative that takes you on a journey you look forward to completing. Opening with “Lonely Man” – where the action begins with a man in bed with a woman who has a knife at the ready – Miller immediately captures your attention, and then weaves a series of stories that move throughout the gamut of poignancy, sadness, strength, tenderness, and self-realization. The tales are very different from one another, though they loosely link with the title of the collection; these are all tales of men or women somehow struggling with love, sex, or the strange gray area between the two.
As in any collection, there are standouts and stories that grab you more or less than others. Indeed, the opening tale, “Lonely Man” left me impressed with Miller’s writing style, but not so sold on the story itself – but luckily the next story up to the plate blew me away. “Cell” – narrated by a straight woman out with a friend is hit on by another woman who leaves her cell phone in the narrator’s purse – has a wonderful set up, a strong follow-through, and then twists “just so” at the end to leave you moved.
“The Professor and the Biker Chick” is another strong tale, where the main character – a self-professed boring writing professor – is drawn into an attraction of a woman in his class for the first time. This story had my favourite “twist” of all the stories, and left me with a real smirk on my face at the clever move.
“Single Woman,” a much longer story that almost tipped me into feeling I was reading a novella, was phenomenal. In it, a woman and her friend go out to celebrate their win-win: one is pregnant, the other (our heroine) has just turned thirty and has become engaged. A drunken egging-on leads the newly engaged woman to have a fling with a handsome man the two spy – and the course on which this leads her is superb. These characters lived and breathed for me, and I adored Miller’s dedication to making the fallout realistic and yet still providing me with a denouement I could truly enjoy.
Other stories aren’t as impactful, but still please. “Tennis Pro” is a cuter tale with such a stereotypical set-up that you’re not sure it’s possible to make the story fresh, but Miller breathes enough character into the tale that you don’t mind. “Cyberslut” takes a few turns and twists before giving you an abrupt halt. “Husband and Wife” and “The Night of the Wedding” are two stories that deal with the endurance of love – and the potential fading of sex – and how the two intersect in a couple.
I should also take a moment to mention that the erotic in this literary erotica is exactly that – Miller takes mostly average people and turns the eroticism up high (extra credit here for using these mostly typical people, though of course the perfect breast or the washboard abs do pop up from time to time). The steam is indeed steamy – but Miller weaves this within the wonderful narratives and characters I praised earlier.Last in the collection is “Longing.” I fell in love with this story, which so delicately spins a compassionate tale told by a straight man who had a gay friend in his youth, and the sense of unfinished fulfilment that has hung in the mind of the narrator ever since. Their connection is beautiful and loving without feeling forced or unreal, and it is a superb place to end the collection, which walks the fine line between the two things which all these souls are trying to navigate: love and sex. Miller completely charmed me, and I look forward to more of his work.