Race is a dangerous topic for a writer. So, of course, is sex. Combine the two and you have an explosive mixture ready to ignite the outrage of readers from all regions of the racial, ideological and cultural spectrum. As an author – or a reviewer – considering race is bound to open you to accusations of prejudice and stereotyping. Even the height of political correctness can be read as ignorance or arrogance. How do you tell the truth without kindling someone's ire?
History provides one truth. In the U.S., and elsewhere, blacks have suffered as literal slaves, possessions rather than people – abused, controlled, bought and sold, subjected to almost unimaginable cruelty and degradation. Sexual oppression – rape, secret “perversion”, unwanted pregnancy - was a very real part of this history, with power differentials an inescapable element of the erotic equation.
Scottie Lowe recognizes another truth: the cultural relics of slavery still fuel dark fantasies on both sides of the racial divide. Interracial sex, for many, is still associated with imbalances of power – edged with cruelty or disdain, spiked by sentiments of guilt or defilement. There's no point asking whether such fantasies are evil – they exist, and they can be intense and compelling, deriving at least some of their potency from their historical echoes and from the consequent lure of the forbidden.
I applaud the courage it takes to bring these controversial fantasies to life on the page.
Ms. Lowe begins her collection of interracial erotic tales with a snippet in which a provocatively-dressed blonde goes slumming in the ghetto, looking to “scratch an itch.” The woman encounters a gang of uneducated, thuggish, shaved-head homies playing basketball in a vacant lot. The author continues:
Thus begins the vast majority of interracial erotica. The white character is the central focus, hiding their desire for “dark meat” from their white-bread, colorless world and the Black characters are barely literate ghetto dwellers with an insatiable lust for white flesh. Black women are sure to roll their necks and Black men are all hung like horses and just standing around waiting to fuck white women who get lost in the hood.
If that's what turns you on, this is not the book for you.
In the sixteen stories that follow, Ms. Lowe sets out to defy these stereotypes. Her black characters are well-to-do and cultured, professionals or artists, articulate and self-assured. They find physical attraction, sexual satisfaction, and emotional completion with members of their own race, rather than viewing whites as particularly desirable. They see themselves as the heirs of ancient Africa, not the descendants of slaves.
On the other hand, while rejecting some stereotypes, Ms. Lowe blithely perpetuates others. She portrays whites, both men and women, as fundamentally neurotic, dishonest, not in touch with their real selves, pale, clumsy, weak, sexually inadequate, and inevitably drawn to the power and beauty of their black mistresses and masters. White men have tiny penises, unlike their black counterparts (who tend to be more than adequately endowed, despite the protests above). In story after story, whites of both genders abase themselves, dying to be used as cum sluts and flesh toilets, eagerly serving the base physical needs of the blacks whom they admire. Indeed, it is in this service that they find both sexual and spiritual fulfillment. Their fundamental nature is to submit to the superior black race.
As an acknowledged submissive, I will admit that some of these stories aroused me, though more because of the power games than the racial dynamics. Normally I wouldn't discuss my personal sexual experiences and preferences in a review, but given the delicacy of the racial issue, I feel compelled to add that I've had sexual relationships with several black men (though never a black woman) and that I frequently find dark-complected individuals attractive. At the same time, race play (as distinguished from D/s) is not something that particularly pushes my buttons.
After a while, I found these tales of ludicrous, pathetic whites debasing themselves to serve noble and powerful blacks began to get a bit boring. In addition, the author's blanket pronouncements about the nature of whites started to annoy me.
[Cynthia] was, and is, so very typical of white women all across the country, in every town, in every city who feign indignation, shock, horror and conservative outrage at anyone who gets caught cheating, while she is committing the very sin herself. And because race is still such a taboo subject, and because Black sexuality is so deeply entrenched in white America's secret lusts, it was not hard for her to rationalize that her husband would NEVER in a million years understand her desire to be an insatiable, cock-sucking slut for a very well-hung Black man.
I'm sure that these generalizations are true of some people, but not all. Isn't this as bad as claiming that typically black men are horny animals who can't get enough white booty?
A few stories took a different tack, much to my relief. “In the Heat of the Night” begins:
It was steamy night in Atlanta and there was a power outage. There was no light except from that of the waxing moon that hung low in the sky, all the entire city could do was sit and sweat and sit and sweat some more. Luckily I live on the top floor of my condo so I could go outside naked as the day I was born and enjoy a little breeze without anyone peeking at me.
Ebony, the heroine of this sensual tale, gets a call from her white downstairs neighbor Kristen, begging to come up to the roof to get some air. As you might expect, the two women generate even a good deal more heat as they consummate their mutual attraction. While there weren't many complexities in this story, it stands out in this collection because of the equal relationship between the black and white lovers.
“Taking It to the Hole” provides a comparably egalitarian M/M scenario. A closeted gay Italian-American from Brooklyn hooks up with a gorgeous, sensitive black artist named Flex, and learns that he can receive as well as give pleasure.
“Dominant Black Tales,” as suggested by the title, concerns a D/s relationship between a black Mistress and Master and Bryan, a married, suburban white man who can't control his secret hunger for black domination. What makes this story interesting is the fact that the dominant couple lure Bryan's wife into the D/s games as well. The previously estranged couple finds a new connection in admitting and acting on their racially-oriented submissive lusts. The author appears to have a bit more respect for these white characters than she does in many of the other stories.
Finally, I liked “Queening for a Day.” Although this story once again features a white male submitting to a dominant black woman, the characterization felt more subtle and realistic than in most of the other offerings in Minority Affairs. Furthermore, this story features a more gradual buildup in sexual tension, although it eventually blossoms into a D/s scene as extreme (and for me, arousing) as any of Ms. Lowe's tales.
Given that it has no ISBN, I suspect that Minority Affairs was self-published. Ms. Lowe would have done well to hire an editor before sending her erotic visions out into the world. Although the book includes some examples of considerable insight and is often erotic, the writing in many places is rough and amateurish, with run on sentences (note the quote from “In the Heat of the Night”), grammatical errors, and point-of-view problems (the dreaded “head-hopping”). The author also has a tendency to insert herself into the story, introducing her tales with lengthy analytical commentary, and to dump information about characters in a declarative mode rather than allowing them to reveal themselves through their actions.
Many readers might not care. Personally, I find these sorts of problems seriously interfere with my enjoyment of a book.
Before I close this review, I should mention that Minority Affairs also includes several series of interracial erotic photographs which provide a pleasing counterpoint to the text. In these illustrations, white and black individuals are equal partners in passion.
Minority Affairs feels very personal to me. I could of course be wrong, but the thematic repetition makes me suspect that Ms. Lowe was sharing sexual scenarios she herself finds arousing. One has to respect her level of honesty, even while noting that she is no more immune to stereotyped interracial fantasies than anyone else.
We could pretend that such fantasies don't exist - but sex is not nice, or safe, or politically correct, and never will be.
The Marketplace series by Laura Antoniou has become a classic of BDSM fiction. Fans lovingly discuss the edition(s) they have and how worn they are. It’s a world unto itself with fabulous mansions, slaves, auctions, trainers, every type of service one could imagine (and a few new ones). It’s an amazingly complete fantasy where even the bureaucracy required to run it is fetishized. Turn a corner in this world and you won’t find a façade propped up by a few timbers. You’ll probably find a whole new area to explore. No wonder it’s so beloved.
I read a lot of erotica, much of it BDSM, and after a while most submissives and their dom(me)s blur into sameness, but while it’s been years since I read the Marketplace books, I recognized characters immediately. That’s one of the great strengths of the series. There are engaging characters of varying sexualities with different visions of what they want or need so that almost anyone can find someone to identify with, or at least to pique a reader’s interest in their story. The inclusiveness that’s been a hallmark of the series from the beginning, way back when nobody else dared mix hetero and LGBT sex scenes in a book, carries on with the cover of No Safewords. Call it daring, call it transgressive, call it post-whatever, you have to admit that’s one bold, beautiful picture. I have no idea what might frighten Laura Antoniou, but it certainly isn’t offending anyone’s delicate little PC feelings.
In her wonderful forward, Laura discusses her inability to trust others with her creation with charming frankness. With this anthology, she doesn’t give up control, but she allows aficionados to offer fanfic (I mean that term in the best way possible) that shows their love of the series and to expand the universe a bit. She retains control though, as shown in the comments preceding each story. That was a nice personal touch.
The anthology begins appropriately enough with “A Thousand Things Before Breakfast” by Marie Casey Stevens. More an essay than a story, it’s a good manifesto explaining why the characters pursue the lives they do.
“The First” by D. Alexandria explores a taboo most people in the United States wouldn’t have the guts to confront. A black woman ends up as the slave of a white man. Talk about a minefield of emotion, guilt, and history. Yet it is handled so well here without ever being preachy, angry, or apologetic. This isn’t a lesson; it’s a story that never flinches from saying difficult things, while also being quite erotic. If D. Alexandria continues to write stories this bold, s/he will be an author always worth reading.
I was so pleased to see one of my favorite characters in D. L. King’s “If You Try Sometime.” I was concerned about Robert ever finding his way, but with his new owner, as the title promises, you get what you need.
“Her Owner's Voice,” by Leigh Ann Hildebrand, intrigued me. A young woman inherits her father’s house, including a great many slaves, on her father’s death. She knows about being an owner, but until she finds her voice, the slaves run rampant over her. That’s not the part I found interesting. I loved the type of slave she wanted and the service she required. Fascinating idea.
It’s probably not much of a secret by now that I enjoy genderqueer characters. Sassafras Lowrey delivers an emotionally pleasing story of self-discovery and acceptance in “Hiding in Plain Sex.” My heart absolutely wrenched at the painful confusion over expectations and what it cost to put on that dress, but that’s what I want from stories.
Anna Watson’s “Delirious Moonlight, 1916: Mr. Sloan's Boy” takes readers back to the beginning days of the mansion. This slice of history will give fans some backstory. It was also interesting to see how this writer envisioned things might have been, back before the route to training was institutionalized. I can’t put my finger on exactly what made this story linger with me, but it did.
If you were worried that there wasn’t going to be a scene of intense punishment in any of the stories, “Pearls in the Deep Blue Sea,” by Jamie Thorsen, serves up what you might be looking for. In her intro to it, Laura talks about how it shows risks and consequences, and what happens when the necessarily secretive world of the Marketplace is endangered by careless words.
“Coals for the New Castle” is the second contribution to this anthology by Marie Casey Stevens. Maybe the prolonged ‘as you know’ parts of the conversation are references to stories further in the series that I have not read, or inside jokes. If that’s the case, fans might love references to events that had nothing to do with the story at hand. I found it a bit of a slog and lost interest.
“Getting Real” by S. M. Li is for any fans of psychological sadism.
Elizabeth Schechter’s “O, Promise Me!” closes the anthology with a period piece that demands a bit of suspension of disbelief, but it’s so fun you won’t mind being generous. If you love Victoriana and a dash of adventure, this slight twist on the tales of being held captive by a desert bandit (that’s only part of the tale. Ms. Schechter packs a lot of story into a small space - so to speak) will captivate you.
Without a doubt, Rye was the most fascinating erotica I’ve read since I started reading for Erotica Revealed. That may sound condescending, and I don’t intend it that way in the slightest – from the first page, I was captivated by the characters in Rye.
Though not my first brush with genderqueer, gender fluid, or trans stories – here I should shout out to D.C. Juris and Rachel Kramer Bussel – Rosenthal’s novella is the first full-length tale I’ve read. As such, there’s a lot more time to give to genderqueer and trans discussions, and Rosenthal does so with relish.
The voice of the tale, Matt, is a father, biologically male, poly, and identifies as genderqueer – and much of the discussions Matt has with other characters revolve around one or more of these facets of himself. His preferences for androgynous looking biological women – he likes bois, and is sometimes unsure of his own state when he finds himself with biological males who otherwise fit his preferences – is the source from which most of the narrative flows.
Matt’s relationship with the titular Rye – the boi in question – is more or less a love story, without the traditional trappings of gender and singular traditional relationships, and the road is all the more rich for the detours from the typical. Matt’s son Mischa, and a second boi – Rain – offer the other two pivot points for Matt. While Matt wants to be with Rye, Rye is in another city, and Matt doesn’t want to move away from Mischa, or move Mischa away from his mother. As Rye and Matt grow closer, there’s a hesitation on Rye’s part to relocate. Rain offers different complexities, and the revelations occur with a gentle sort of pacing.
Matt’s desires run a wide range beyond his predilection for androgynous bois, as a top, as a role-player, as a lover of “scenes,” and this is where the erotic content generally comes to the forefront. Here the writing can effectively descend into the near guttural, and where Matt’s discussions and thoughts about gender fluidity, gender roles, societal norms, and his desires are scholarly and literary in style, the sex is sweaty, sticky, and real. It’s effective, as I said, though it did smack me a bit out of the narrative now and then shifting from these two styles throughout Rye.
Sensually speaking, most of Rye delivers. I had to skip a few scenes with Rain – I’m not sure I have it in me to ever find role-play scenes where someone is in the role of an adolescent successfully erotic, rather than cringe-worthy – but the play of voyeur and exhibitionist, verbal play (often over the phone or computer) and Matt’s visits to SexxCamp were well written and dirty in the right ways. At the same time, I struggled with my own limitations while reading – I fumbled over the imperfect world of pronouns, struggling to recall which character was being referred to a few times – and found that Rye was so far removed from my own personal tastes that it was sometimes hard to connect with the boi as wholly as Matt did.
Rye is hard to pin down, and I can’t help but feel that’s purposeful. The discussions Matt has with others about genderqueer, identity, fluidity and polyamory are thought-provoking and interesting in a way that captivated. Rye is a wonderful foil for many of Matt’s points of view, and their discussions crack on the page. Mischa, and Matt’s relationship with his son, is another delight among the telling of the tale, and it was refreshing to find a character in an erotic novel who had a child – and all the mundane and life-affecting issues that come with a child – that wasn’t a walk-on/walk-off character. Rain, similarly, was an intriguing character, who begins as a mild mystery that is unveiled in pieces, but soon became my favourite piece of the overall puzzle that was Rye.
I’m glad I read this, which is likely the best thing I can say. I think there’s so much in this novella that made me stop and ponder and rethink some of my own points of view that I came out of it with a few new ways of looking at the world – which can never be a bad thing. If some of the scenes didn’t quite connect to me from an erotica point of view, that’s okay. For someone else, this might be just the right thing. In many ways, that’s something Matt exemplified: he knew what was right and what worked for him, and wasn’t too keen on labels or words to thereafter sweepingly identify what that was for everyone else. We should all be so willing to live outside the lines.
For those of you who live in the modern world’s tl;dr culture (too long; didn’t read – the common response on internet forums when there’s too much text for a modern reader), here are the three reasons you need to buy Jean Roberta’s The Flight of the Black Swan.
I’ll address each of these points in full length below but, if you’re one of the aforementioned attention-span-challenged readers, click on the amazon link that you’ll find floating on this page and buy the damned book. You won’t be disappointed.
And, for those who don’t embrace the tl;dr mindset of modernity, here is the full review.
Flight of the Black Swan is a novella: a delightful form for literature that is once again seeing a deserved resurgence in popular interest. Possibly the reason why the form of the novella is seeing a resurgence of interest is because of the aforementioned tl:dr mindset of contemporary readers. The novella contains a story with the impact of a full length novel but, at a mere 130 pages: it’s an easily digestible commodity.
I won’t bother to spoil the plot by reiterating narrative events here. The story is too enchanting and exciting. I will say that a central motif for the story is the eponymous Black Swan – a three-masted wooden frigate aboard which the protagonist’s adventures meet their rising action.
James followed my gaze, and offered me his arm. “Emily dear,” he began, “have you ever observed the grace of a swan’s progress? And have you considered the impression made by any creature set apart from its fellows? That is how we think of our ship. She’s like a black swan, proud of the natural plumage that distinguishes her from her snow-white sisters. Like us she prefers the cloak of darkness.”
This analogy for individuality and freedom of spirit (in the days of American Civil War slavery) and freedom of sexual expression (in the repressive era of Victorian England) is a trope that’s extended throughout the story. Emily begins the story in a same sex relationship with a school chum. She enters a marriage of convenience with one of the Green Men aboard the Black Swan. She later enjoys a relationship with a freed slave – another creature set apart from its fellows. Character after character, like the ship at the heart of this story, expresses their inalienable right to freely celebrate their personal identity regardless of the climate’s conservative culture of disapproval. In that, this story manages to convey a spirit of identity triumphing over societal impositions – a message we should be heeding today.
The heat that arose from her womanly breasts carried a combined scent of salt and blood-iron. It seemed to come from the heart of the earth itself. I kissed each of her generous dark nubs, and rejoiced that she didn’t push me away. I wanted to explore the mysteries of her body without reminding her of past violations. She seemed to read my thoughts.
“I want to have you, Captain’s Lady. You’re not like a boy now.” My skin tingled where hers pressed against it, and my hips moved of their own accord. How I had missed the touch of a woman who revelled in the communion of female curves!
This is an accomplished piece of writing. Jean Roberta has captured the tone of Victorian erotica with a mastery of the art that few contemporary writers could have equalled.
The word “bawdy” seems to somehow trivialise the literary accomplishment that has been managed here and yet – in some ways – it’s probably the most appropriate word choice. There are sections of this story that focus more on character development and plot. In a traditional erotic novel these sections would have been lost to the dictates of the genre and eroticised. But Roberta has remained true to the spirit of the story and its milieu of Victoriana and allowed her tale to be bawdy rather than erotic.
Nevertheless, when the story does become erotic it works very effectively.
If, like me, you’re desperate to take a short and deserved break from the fast-paced hustle and bustle of our modern world, you need to relax for a couple of hours and savour the full-length story of Jean Roberta’s novella: The Flight of the Black Swan
Alfred and I couldn’t wait for nightfall to consummate our growing friendship. We lowered ourselves to our pallet, where I held her against my breasts. “Ah, girl,” she moaned. “You’re a fine one.” I felt hot tears wetting my neck, and knew they came from her.
“I need to feel your skin, lover,” I told her. “Twon’t work any other way.” As shyly as a maiden on her wedding-night, she rose up enough to pull of her shirt and unwrap her bindings. Her breasts were scarcely bigger than well-developed muscles in a man’s bosom, but they marked her as a member of my own sex.
I used to take pride in being able to judge a story from the viewpoint of its intended audience, even if I myself didn’t share those particular tastes, but The Kiss of Death has been a real challenge.
I do admit that there are elements to the story that I can appreciate; the underlying premise of an immortal vampire who draws his strength from the sexual energy of others is scarcely new, but it can be serviceable for erotica. The old “fangs in the neck” routine seems to be reserved here for recruitment, while sex (often augmented by exotic aphrodisiacs) is the real source of nourishment; I never thought that the blood connection was particularly sexy, anyway. The descriptions of settings are often well done, from rituals in Dymastic Egypt to the ruined Cathedral in Whitby (with a reference by one character to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, of course) to the various set-pieces arranged for the orgies held in an abandoned country house. Winterbourne, once used for training British intelligence agents during WWII, has become an exclusive bordello protected by the fact that its clients are all rich and powerful and politically connected—as well as the presence of an immortal vampire (the Master) imprisoned inside a magical crystal in a sepulcher in a bricked-up room in its cellar, with enough power remaining to manipulate and prompt the bordello’s owner, and even, fueled by the ambient erotic energy, to take over the owner’s body for limited periods of fun and games.
So far, so good. And even better is the depiction in the middle of the book of how the Master, wandering the world after his soulmate, Sedet, has been imprisoned and hidden away by rival Egyptian priests, passes some of his time as Rasputin corrupting the Czarina (no wonder they couldn’t seem to kill him!) and then in Sicily as tutor to Aleister Crowley’s crew of nouveau-occultists, and finally as advisor and personal sorcerer/fortune teller to Hitler, a thankless job since Hitler would never belief his warning or take his advice. I could appreciate a whole book written around this premise, especially the part where Allied sorcerers trap the Master, imprison him in his own magic crystal, and wall him up in the cellar of Winterbourne. WWII with dueling sorcerers! What’s not to like?
My problem is that by the time I got to any of these interesting bits, I’d been slogging through so many repetitive, florid, bloated, adjective-overladen sex scenes that if I’d been able to use the traditional editorial red pen on the manuscript it would have looked as bloody as any vampiric orgy. Yes, the main point of erotica is to arouse the reader, and plenty of sex is just what’s expected, but I had a hard time imagining the audience for this particular jumble of sex scenes. I have nothing against orgies. In reading about them I prefer a focused point-of-view character to provide a sense of participation, rather than a flailing mass of body parts in cameo appearances, but I can see that the idea of being an observer could be titillating, even though the paying participants are, for the most part, made deliberately unappealing. Would even aging stockbrokers fantasize about aging stockbrokers team-fucking a well-paid whore? This may be part of the general thrust to make uninhibited sex feel “evil” enough to give the reader that pleasurable frisson of being naughty. The repeated claims of “No limits! Nothing is forbidden!” don’t seem to result in any new, creative perversions, just the old dishes reheated and served again and again.
The most original erotic encounter, in fact, occurs in the research room of a public library, between the only two characters who are developed at all as three-dimensional human beings, and who seem to be potential foils for the Master. It was a relief to find people one could conceivably root for after the stream of color-me-evil cardboard villains.
So what’s my problem, aside from some awkwardness of continuity? I’m a language junky. Too many “love-shafts,” “carnal lances,” “bags of love juice” (on males) and “torrents of love juice” (from females) even when love clearly has nothing to do with it. Too much repetition, and, when an attempt is made for original metaphors, too many that made me either laugh or cringe. Breasts like “juicy amber fruits” with nipples like “twin stalks” isn’t all that bad, until you see the terms “rising stalks” and “burgeoning stalks” applied to masculine appendages. The difficulties with portraying prolonged, ever-increasing lust are noticeable when at one moment a man’s “wild electric eel” is “thrashing” against his belly, and a few moments later, with even more provocation, it merely “twitches compulsively.”
Kiss of Death is part of a series called Modern Erotic Classics, and I suspect it was written quite a bit longer ago than the 2008 and 2012 dates for its recent publications. I may be judging it by unfair standards. The author may well have been deliberately trying for the style of, say, Bram Stoker, although Stoker, fortunately, did not attempt full-blown erotica. I was curious enough to do a bit of research, and discovered that Kiss of Death has a sequel published in 1993, The Phallus of Osiris. I admit to being glad of that, because I’d been about to close with a warning against getting too fond of the relatively good guys (or girl and guy.) In fact, in spite of all my ranting about the less stellar aspects of the book, I might well read the sequel if I come across it, to see whether good sex and love prevail at last. At least it’s not called The Burgeoning Flower Stalk of Osiris.