For some, power is the ultimate aphrodisiac: power to control a partner, to wring pleasure or pain from the other's body at a whim, to submerge her in shame, humiliation, even terror, yet still see her obey. For others, ecstasy can be found only in surrender, in the freedom that comes from opening the self to the lover and holding nothing back. When someone of the first type comes together with someone of the second, their complementary passions can produce a bond of awesome, dangerous strength.
Maya and Ilan have a love like this, pure and fevered, a connection that sets them apart from the world. Ilan's power is borne of knowledge. He sees Maya truly when everyone else quietly ignores her: her rilliance, her vulnerability, the physical and emotional depths of which she is capable. They meet when they are in their late teens, but Ilan has insight and sexual skills beyond his years. He teaches Maya about her capacities, tapping into her need to be mastered even as he molds her into the woman he wants her to be. Thirsty for love, Maya submits eagerly, seduced and transformed by Ilan's focused desire.
Ilan need for Maya is equally intense. He basks in the totality of her devotion. But for him, she is not enough. He needs to prove his mastery by captivating and bedding other women. When Maya discovers him in flagrante, his pain at the possibility of losing her is nearly as great as hers at the betrayal. And so they strike a bargain. Maya agrees that he can have other women - but only if she is present and included. Gratefully, Ilan responds by marrying her.
For a while, it appears that they have found a perfect, if unconventional, solution. Maya finds their kinky games with the women Ilan chooses doubly arousing. Not only is she pleasing him, she finds her own pleasure in the silky, wet flesh of their partners (deliberately selected to resemble her, with the same red hair and slight frame).
Each time Maya acquiesces to Ilan's demands, however, they become crueler and more extreme. Little by little, playful bondage and blindfolds give way to "play" with razor blades and revolvers. Maya begins to understand the darkness edging the blaze of their passion. She senses that if she does not eave Ilan, he will eventually kill her. Still, she is paralyzed, unable to imagine life without him.
The twists of plot that follow are part of the delight and anguish of reading '3'. Maya escapes from Ilan, and yet she can never escape him. I will not reveal the details here, but merely warn that the story is shocking, surprising, and deeply revealing.
Ms. Hilden writes with authority and sensitivity about the darker aspects of sex. She shows clearly how Maya and Ilan's connection, rooted in complementary perversities, becomes an obsession that literally threatens their lives.
Here is Maya speaking, after Ilan is gone:
That first night at home, I let sleep take me very early in the evening. As I become drowsy, watching the light outside the windows fail and fade, it is as if I begin subtly to feel myself disappear.
As I shimmer out, I begin almost to see you, Ilan; the dark bruise-like circles under your eyes start to resolve. I cannot help it; my heart races with a mere glance...Burning, I rise in sleep, like a body jerked upward by invisible strings -- as if in a moment I will levitate. Pleasure runs through me like a tremor, like a seizure, like faith.
This is no ordinary love; it is diabolical and all-consuming. Nor is the sex in '3' of the ordinary variety. An edginess pervades every sex scene, even the most vanilla. The characters are constantly pushing boundaries, and pleasure is always tainted: by fear, by shame, by insecurity.
I do not mean to imply that '3' is not arousing. Ilan and Maya's encounters, on their own or in their contracted threesomes, have a breathless immediacy that pulls the reader into the scene. However, the sex in '3' is always a cipher, a physical manifestation of motivations and conflicts far more tangled than the intermingling bodies. Even as my pulse raced, I was acutely aware of the ambiguities and dangers lurking below the surface.
Ms. Hilden has created a compelling and disturbing novel, one that will haunt you long after you have finished reading, as the vanished Ilan haunts Maya. Weeks after I completed the book, it still colored my thoughts. I suddenly recognized the irony in the title. No matter how many women Ilan brought home for ménages a trois, finally there remained only Ilan and Maya, only two. Or perhaps, in a seductive, frightening and yet starkly true sense, one.
I first read '3' six or seven years ago. The review above dates from that first reading. The book has been reprinted (if you can use that term for an ebook) by Constable and Robinson as part of their Modern Erotic Classics series, which includes other favorites of mine such as Neptune & Surf by Marilyn Jaye Lewis, Meeting the Master by Elissa Wald, and Remittance Girl's Beautiful Losers. I re-read the book with mixed trepidation and curiosity (and without consulting my old review first). I remembered the dark eroticism of the book, but not the plot details, and I wondered whether my reactions, after more than half a decade of reading and writing erotica, would have changed.
This time around, I found myself more aware of the undercurrent of violence that suffuses the book and less tolerant of Maya's inability to extricate herself from Ilan's influence. Although ultimately she proves strong enough to save herself, I found myself losing patience with her devotion to her cruel lover. The first time through, also, I was as fascinated and aroused by Ilan as she is, identifying him, perhaps, with my own master. However, on this reading, Ilan's seductiveness was offset by his manipulative selfishness. I saw how severely damaged he is and found it more difficult to believe in the incandescent love the two appear to share at the beginning of the book. Perhaps I have become more cynical or more jaded, less starry-eyed about the redemptive power of BDSM.
With more writing experience under my belt, I was also acutely conscious of Ms. Hilden's considerable craft. For instance, I noticed that '3' is divided into three parts, which fit together like a cleverly designed puzzle. I probably missed the foreshadowing the first time around, swept away by vicarious lust, but upon this reading I realized how deliberately each detail in the story is arranged to heighten the emotional effect. I admired the language too, Maya's distinctive voice is simultaneously crazed and literate, desperate and analytical, and (despite my annoyance with her) eminently believable. After all, there are many women who die at the hands of their abusive partners, bound to them by some twisted sense of devotion.
This new Constable and Robinson imprint sounds exciting. However, I must warn readers that the ebook I received (which I believe is as-published, not an ARC) had serious format problems. Many pages contained instances of weirdly garbled text. My theory is that the manuscript was created by scanning the original print volume and then applying Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to produce the digital version. This procedure typically produces many errors (this is where Google's CAPTCHA strings come from) which must be corrected via manual editing. Obviously these corrections did not happen, at least in some cases, with this book.
In addition, the font size changes dramatically at the start of Part 3, becoming so large that there are only four or five words per line. There did not seem to be a way to change this in the PDF version I read.
As an author myself, I feel some sympathy with Ms. Hilden. '3' is a compelling book, probably deserving the appellation of “modern erotic classic”. It is unfortunate that the publishers did not make the effort to present the novel in as clean and readable form as the original.
Summer Zahova is a New Zealand violinist who, at the start of the novel, is in a flat and boring relationship with a handsome man who just won’t be naked enough, dirty enough, or... well... interesting enough for her. He’s embarrassed when she’s naked. He thinks her taste in classical music is incorrect. He’s basically a snob in every way. He exits the story pretty much right upon being introduced, and he’s just one of the people in Summer’s life who doesn’t seem to care about her one way or the other.
On the one hand, Summer’s journey was interesting. At first, sexually (and emotionally) unfulfilled, Summer’s realization that she enjoys the kinkier things in life is well drawn. A series of events conspire to push her past her comfort zone. One, her violin is broken while she is busking (and she’s pretty much broke, so that’s a problem). Two, having left her flat and boring guy, she has no real friends to hang with and hooks up with her friend-from-a-while-back Charlotte, who is definitely more experimental in her sexual appetites. Three, an offer from a stranger to replace her violin in exchange for unstated demands comes to her online.
These three key points set off the novel. Charlotte gets Summer to be daring; Summer needs a new violin; Dominick (the man behind the offer for the violin) replaces said violin if she’s willing to put on a naked performance for him. Dominick is of course incredibly wealthy (inherited; he’s a literature professor) and handsome and – as his name suggests – a dominant. His requests grow bolder, Summer’s desire to please and obey grows stronger, and the two enter an odd relationship.
The first two thirds of the book is taken by this story progression, and I enjoyed the book very much through these points. Summer’s pleasure is very much central to Dominick’s approach, and although he is a dominant and very controlling, their relationship never quite reaches the point where Summer’s submissiveness wipes out her personality or character.
And then the last third of the novel hit, and I started to get frustrated.
Here’s where my own views come into play – I’m so tired of the narratives of submissive women who become completely sublimated by the men around them, especially when the internal dialog of the woman involved doesn’t synch with the events around her. Without spoiling too much, I’ll say that – as in every romantic or erotic relationship story – Summer and Dominick have a falling out. Summer ends up being left somewhat solo in the kinkier side of sexual culture, and Charlotte – who had been something of a friend to Summer – instead turns out to be intensely selfish and just cuts and leaves her to go on alone. Summer’s involvement with the BDSM crowd then completely sours – everyone is out to just use her, and a minor first-act character becomes central in this, attempting to force Summer into a slave role rather than a submissive one.
Summer’s own thoughts are clear enough at the onset of this plot arc: she is a submissive, not a slave. It bothers her. It angers her. And yet she basically folds like a wet rag, and instead of standing up for herself in any way, shape, or form, she capitulates and mentally “goes away” while things are happening to her that she’s not entirely enjoying.
And there I would have given up had this not been a book I was reviewing.
I will say that ultimately, Summer does actually take control of her own destiny, and that was refreshing. It came a bit too late for me to not have a sour taste in my mouth, but it does come. And it could just be my ongoing frustration with the submissive woman character being so incapable of speaking up about what she does not want.
I also got very, very tired of everyone in Summer’s life being so uncaring about her. In the last third of the book, the BDSM culture around her felt creepy, had a constant vibe of usury, and seemed born from the pages of rape culture instead of a network of people who enjoyed dominance and submission. Charlotte flipped too quickly into someone dislikeable, Summer lost the confidence and strength of character that let her leave her boring and flat fellow at the start of the book, and Dominick’s issues for falling out with Summer seemed somewhat laughable, given the scenarios he’d contrived for her.
I liked the first two-thirds of this book enough to suggest it. This book also launches a series, and is very well received. And I did indeed like the final few moments of the book once the Summer I enjoyed from the first of the book reclaimed the parts of her that seemed to mysteriously vanish in the latter third. Perhaps the authors just took me a bit too far afield for Summer, in a kind of “hitting rock bottom” they felt she needed. For me, it went on too long and too low before she bounced back.
Erotically, the book is well written. Summer’s sexuality and her arousal is so keyed into senses that aren’t usually at the forefront – her love of music, most centrally. Dominick spends a lot of time with a slow seduction, with voyeurism and exhibitionism, and a mix of texture and some costumes and role-play tossed in as the book progresses. The sex itself is indeed sexy. And though I got a little frustrated with the rampant disregard for safe sex in the latter third of the story and Summer not even giving it much mind, the scenes are varied and titillating right up until Summer decides she’s not enjoying herself and “zones out.” Obviously, this is not a woman having a good time, and those involved in these moments don’t seem to care – and that truly bothered me.
My concerns, though, are born of that singular thread. If you can handle – or enjoy – the kind of fall of a submissive woman at the hands of a dominant who doesn’t care about her at all (not Dominick, I should clarify), then Eighty Days Yellow will likely delight.
I was the wrong person to review this title. I’m a fairly shallow person and my reading tastes are simple to the point of being puerile. Some friends have said I’m as shallow as a spit stain. I perceive this as justified criticism.
And so, when I’m asked to review Evil Companions by Michael Perkins, one of the modern erotic classics published by Constable & Robinson, I have to be honest and say it was possibly too intellectual for my pedestrian tastes. This is a sample of the erotic content.
I began to get hard from all this corpse-fucking myself. I could tell that the Charmer felt the same way, because he was jerking his loins in sympathy with Paulette. I had to get into the action myself. Paulette’s mouth was not in use, so standing between the mark’s legs I fitted myself in through her clenched teeth. The mark was giving her such a good fuck, it was hard going, but it was worth it. The Charmer tried to follow my example with Lady Jane, but he got discouraged with her tears, and stood there frustrated, wondering how to get in on things. The idea he came up with might have been acceptable at another time, but I wasn’t up to being buggered right then. I kicked backward when I felt his tool ram against my buttocks, and he cursed.
“Fuck this, man. I got an idea.”
Mark Twain observed: “A classic is something that everyone wants to have read, but no one wants to read.” I mention this because the thought was going through my head constantly as I realised this title was from a range entitled ‘modern erotic classics.’
And I find it annoying because, looking at some of the other authors in this series, I know I would have likely enjoyed works by Remittance Girl or Marilyn Jaye Lewis because their work has always struck me as being representative of the type of erotica that I enjoy reading.
But this title simply didn’t work for me. The focus on excess and extremes was reminiscent of The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs from the 14th season of South Park. It was simply a catalogue of unpleasantness, listed as erotica only because those who arrange and organise these categories can’t differentiate between the sexual and the obscene.
They were all so involved in balling, drinking, or beating someone that I was scarcely noticed. My eyes, accustomed to the dimness, began to pick out individuals in the corners. In one of them, far away from everyone else, Anne was sitting alone, a needle hanging from her arm. Her eyes were dead, undersea; I approached with my throat tight, instinctively circling her at first, like an animal coming on its dead. She was much thinner, and her hair had been rough-cut even shorter, so she looked like a boy. There was a new scar on a cheek, a very small one, put there with a razor, probably: a jagged swastika. The Deathhead brand. She was wearing her old Levi’s, one sneaker, and a man’s dirty corduroy shirt.
I slapped her, and her mouth fell open, revealing bloody teeth. After a while, she choked, and came around, mumbling:
“Yes. It’s you. You own. Flies. Roaches. Horrible instincts— insects. Bugs. You own me now. Can I go to the toilet now? My belly hurts.”
Perkins has been described as America’s answer to de Sade. I suppose this might be true if we allow that de Sade’s writing eschews the erotic and instead reverts to the scatological; or if we allow that de Sade’s work favours a prurient celebration of misogyny over mutuality; or if we accept that de Sade treated the reportage of sexual experience as an examination of the eliminatory function of the biological rather than an investigation into the satisfaction of spiritual parity.
As I said, I was the wrong person to review this title because I failed to find it erotic on any level. That said, if you like your erotica to fixate on every unpleasant aspect of sex – from extremes of mismatched personalities through to recreational drug abuse and necrophilia – then this is the title for you. However, if you find such subject matter more distasteful than erotic, you might want to give this classic a miss.
Reading the three novellas comprising the Erotofluidic Age was so damn fun. I giggled. I guffawed. I was entranced. Imagine, if you will, that classic Victorian romp The Pearl infused with a dash of comedy of manners, a hefty dollop of steampunk, and a refreshingly droll sense of humor, all delivered with a lascivious wink, and you have the Erotofluidic Age.
In the first novella, The Ontological Engine, we’re introduced to Professor Daedalus Tesla, who seeks to harness the power of erotic stimulation to power a machine that can transform matter into living beings. He’s a bit of a mad scientist, but still manages to lure an assistant, Victor Dalrymple to his estate to help him carry on his work after being dismissed by the university. Things don’t go exactly as planned as they seek to collect more “vital fluids” to power their machines. A vicar’s daughter, Miss Pertwee, becomes involved in their escapades, much to the chagrin of the slightly dour Mr. Tesla.
Mr. Tesla resigns himself to Miss Pertwee’s company, but when Miss Pierce shows up at his doorstep in Miss Pierce’s Position, he decides he’s had enough meddling with his work. Miss Pierce proves herself a valuable addition to the laboratory though and is soon involved in household shenanigans.
The last novella is The Terminando. Victor Dalrymple and one of Mr. Tesla’s sentient experiments break through to another universe. It looks a bit like home, but citizens of England can be conscripted into service powering ontological engines. While escaping that fate, Victor meets a society of violas—transgendered beings. They protect him as he tries to create a device to help them transform to their desired gender. In exchange, they will help him repair his machine and return to his own universe. For fans of pony girls, descriptions of the machines will bring moments of bliss.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent cover design on this ebook. It’s pitch perfect for this collection of novellas. A rollicking time will be had by all, I assure you.
I enjoyed reading The Seductress, and if that surprised me, it says a good deal about my own jaded expectations as a reviewer. Mea culpa. I do try to review books in terms of their intended audience, whether they appeal to me or not, but this time it was no stretch. Vivianne LaFay writes with a freshness and attention to historical and artistic (as well as anatomical) detail. What could have been just another formulaic travel framework to support sex scene after sex scene becomes a journey with as much fun to it as heat, and the colorful “Gay Nineties” era in all its contrasting licentiousness and repression makes a perfect setting.
Emma, Lady Longmore, has been happily married for a year or so to a much older man who has taught her a great deal about sex, and has encouraged her to explore his epicurean library of literature on that subject. She is, of course, exceedingly beautiful, but she’s also intelligent, well educated, clear-headed, and able to be self-sufficient, which turns out to be a very good thing when the family doctor determines that she is unable to bear a child. Her husband, although he’s been very fond of her, decides an heir for his estate is more important than a beautiful, intelligent wife, and pressures the doctor to declare that their marriage was never consummated and can be annulled.
Emma is saddened, but adjusts, and, after agreeing to depart without making a fuss as long as her ex-husband will support her financially for a while, she begins to realize the benefits of her situation. She does indeed become a seductress, rationalizing her first adventure as doing a favor for a young cousin whose clergyman fiancee clearly needs some education in matters of the matrimonial bed. When her travels present her with more occasions to provide such instruction she comes to truly believe that teaching young men (and eventually a few young women) what they need to know to be skilled lovers is her true calling, and a noble one.
None of this sounds especially original, but Emma goes about her crusade with compassion as well as passion, and humor as well as explicit eroticism. In Paris she educates a young Englishman just out of boarding school who has never seen a naked woman before.
“I would never have dreamed that female anatomy was so... complicated,” he declared. “When fellows talked of a woman's thingummy I imagined a front passage like the back passage, and that was all.”
This attitude is echoed some time later by a student in an elite Swiss girls’ school where Emma spends a short time teaching etiquette of various sorts.
“I had no notion that a woman's parts were so complex,” Faith declared, in wonder. “I thought we just had a hole down there.”
“So did I,” confessed Lotte. “Now, when I am alone I shall take my hand mirror and look at myself down below.”
They could scarcely have a better instructor than Emma Longmore.
There are, of course, many scenes of more sophisticated and dramatic eroticism, including visits to notorious haunts of the demi-monde such as The Jockey Club in Florence, and what Lily, a high-class courtesan Emma meets in Paris, refers to as “‘Parisian low-life in all its dubious glory.'” The descriptions of the arts and free-ranging culture in the 90’s may be my favorite aspects of the book, with references to Toulouse Lautrec and Oscar Wilde, Gustave Moreau and Nelly Melba, Art Nouveau décor and Charles Worth fashions, and many other icons of the times that convinced me that the author did her research well. I was especially delighted when Lily mentioned a bar called ‘A La Souris’ which is frequented by those ladies which our sainted Queen Victoria believed could not exist, leading Emma to say, after a moment of puzzlement, “Oh! You mean women of the Sapphic persuasion!”
LaFay makes Emma a heroine to inspire affection as well as lust, so when the requisite dark, mysterious stranger appears to be stalking her from city to city and attempting to win her over, while she reacts with a combination of unwilling attraction and repulsion, I hoped against hope that her self-possession and independence would not be diminished by the inevitable romance.
I needn’t have worried. We proceed to get plenty of mature, experienced sex, quirky, varied, occasionally innovative, and agreeably over-the-top. We also get a satisfying romance on Emma’s own terms, although the revelation of her lover’s deep dark secret falls rather flat, but the book already had me in a good mood, so I forgave that.
I was in such a good mood, in fact, that I forgave some stumbles in editing toward the end, as when one minor character is repeatedly called by two different names with no apparent reason other than the author’s failure to change all the occurrences when she changed her mind, or the blank left which she must have meant to go back and fill in when she decided which term for “penis” to use this time. I even managed not to wince too much at the very frequent uses of “she smiled” as a speech tag. Yes, I know, it’s very common usage these days, but just try envisioning actually forming words while you’re smiling. Not a pretty picture on the whole.
LaFay has written two sequels to The Seductress: The Mistress and The Actress. On the basis of this very entertaining book, I’d say those should be worth checking out as well.