A vulnerable young woman. A rich, powerful, supremely handsome (and relatively young) highly placed executive in the bank where she works. You know where this is going, right? I thought I did, and neither of us is exactly wrong, but I made the mistake of ignoring the book’s title and more or less forgetting about a cryptic passage at the beginning that hints of dramatic upheavals beyond anything usually encountered in romance, however erotic.
There’s more to Fix: Sex Lies and Banking than just another twist on the long tail of the 50 Shades phenomenon. It’s not only the setting, although that helps; the upper echelons of a major investment bank in the financial heart of London and its surroundings are shown in convincing and entertaining detail, though at rather more info-dumping length that is really necessary. And it isn’t particularly the sex; there’s plenty of that, but a large percentage of it is in the form of flashbacks in Patrick Harrington’s first-person train of thought, where he gets off on his own awesome appeal to women, and gets more enjoyment from despising the women than from the sex itself. Not much there to empathize with, at least not for women, who are more likely than men to be reading this sort of book.
The “lies” part of the story is what makes the difference. At one point Patrick tells himself that he lies so much because he’s so good at it, as, in his own opinion, he is at everything, including unethical risk-taking with the bank’s assets. For a while I wondered whether the author really thought that readers would admire this narcissistic character, who admits to feeling “smug about the disarming effect I have on women.” I suppose a hero has to have faults so that they can be overcome by true love and mind-blowing sex, but Patrick’s obsession with luxury and power and his own superiority are hard to take.
Alexandra Fisher, on the other hand, is quite likeable, and no fool, except for falling for Patrick, which can be forgiven since he does, after all, lie so well. The author makes some attempts to portray her as naïve and unsophisticated, as seems to be required in such stories, but they’re not all that convincing, although Patrick insists on seeing her that way so that he can maintain his sense of superiority. When he does a Facebook search (yes, he’s a creepy stalker) and finds pictures of Alexandra vacationing with friends or an ex-boyfriend in numerous exotic and expensive locations around the world, he still thinks of her as “unworldly.” The only indication of any real lack of sexual experience is that she doesn’t recognize a butt plug when she finds one while snooping into his bedside drawer.
The unused butt plug (and mutual fetishes for uber-expensive designer shoes) are the closest references to kinky sex in the book, except for the unfortunate plot device of Alexandra’s father having committed suicide because of an addiction to BDSM, giving her an excuse for the occasional traumatic flashback. Patrick doesn’t seem to have any interest in that sort of edge play, although he keeps trying to persuade himself that he only spends so much effort on Alexandra so that he can “break” her and subjugate her, and then presumably despise her the way he does the other women who fawn on him. The only women he has any respect for seem to be his mother back in Ireland, and a mature, elegant prostitute who reminds him of how his mother looked at that age. Hmm.
You’ve probably gathered by now that this book is not particularly to my personal taste. Usually I try to review books in terms of how they will appeal to the readership they’re meant for, but this one has me puzzled. Can many readers put up with such an unlikeable male protagonist, however rich and handsome and in need of a good woman to redeem him? It’s true, though, that in spite of hoping against hope for most of the book that Patrick would get taken down as he so richly deserves, eventually, when it began to seem possible that this would happen, I wanted almost as much for Alexandra to get what she wanted and be happy.
I did admire several aspects of the writing. The text is well-edited, on the whole, with just a few places where past and present tense trip over each other, a danger inherent in long passages of first-person present-tense prose heavily laden with flashbacks. The descriptions of places and atmospheres were sometimes quite striking, and Alexandra’s flashbacks to her student days and friends at Cambridge made me wish that Lily Temperley would write an entire book about those times.
Do you want to know whether Patrick did indeed get taken down? All I’ll say is, “it’s complicated.” And, as so often happens these days with this sort of book, it’s a cliff-hanger. Yes, there is expected to be a second book, and most likely a third. Am I interested enough to see how Lily Temperley handles the dramatic tangle she’s created? Well, maybe.
Negotiation can be sexy. That’s one of the main messages I took away from Candace Blevin’s novel Safeword: Arabesque. In some BDSM erotica, dominants and submissives engage in spontaneous scenes without any prior consultation, but Ms. Blevins’ characters invest considerable time and energy discussing their desires, fears, fantasies and limits. Given that the book revolves around a four-person polyamorous relationship, such discussions are clearly necessary. Luckily, they don’t slow down or preempt the action.
To admit one’s interests in kinky practices can be as deliciously scary as actually indulging in the transgressive acts themselves. Even the most matter-of-fact discussion of a planned scene can trigger anticipatory arousal. In Safeword: Arabesque, negotiations cover not only what the submissives are willing and able to accept, but also what the dominants crave. There’s erotic tension in the frequent distance between those two positions. The sub wants to satisfy his or her master. How far is he or she willing to go to accomplish that? The Dom itches to inflict real pain and evoke real tears, but he’s also concerned about the sub’s well-being.
Safeword: Arabesqe does an excellent job articulating these complexities. However, it’s not all talk. The book features numerous and varied sex scenes that range from mild to extreme. Either the author is herself involved in BDSM or else she has really done her research. I encountered several techniques of which I’d previously been unaware.
As noted above, the novel tracks the developing ties among four individuals. Cassie is a psychiatric nurse with no exposure to or prior interest in BDSM. Still, she experiences a queasy sense of arousal when she sees Frisco (whom she knows from her martial arts classes) leading the sexy ballet dancer Cameron on a leash. At the request of their mutual friend Samantha, Frisco gives Cassie a light introduction to the pleasures of submission. Cassie wants more intensity and pain, but Frisco refuses, claiming he only dominates men. Frustrated and hurt, she turns to another dominant, Isaac, for what she needs, only to discover that he has been Frisco’s friend from childhood. Despite his strong attraction to and affection for Cassie, Isaac refuses to top her until Frisco has had the chance to reclaim her.
Meanwhile, Cam’s education as a slave is nearly complete. Frisco plans to find a suitable Master for the accomplished young man, as he has for the other slaves he has trained. Cam confesses his love for his sadistic Master, begging Frisco for the privilege of staying and serving him. Instead, Frisco throws him out, claiming that Cam has violated his training contract. The traumatized Cam moves in with Cassie, who has participated in some of his scenes with Frisco.
As the book progresses, these four characters resolve their internal and external conflicts and explore their true desires. By the end, they’ve become an unconventional family, each member dedicated to caring for, and satisfying the others. Given the differences in their personalities, needs and sexual roles, it’s quite a complicated dance, but the author makes their mutual accommodations believable.
I liked many aspects of this novel. I found the realistic approach to kink a huge relief after the fanciful and inaccurate portrayals one finds in a lot of erotic fiction. I love stories that feature polyamory, which matches my own interests (if not my practice). Some of the sex scenes definitely pushed my buttons, especially those between Frisco and Isaac.
Nevertheless, after more than four hundred and fifty pages, the book left me somewhat unsatisfied. Ms. Blevin’s characters are distinct individuals, not stereotypes, but still the characterization felt superficial. I didn’t feel I really knew any of the four principals. This may partially be a consequence of the frequent shifts in point of view. I’m not talking about “head-hopping”. Each scene is firmly anchored in the view of one character. However, Safeword: Arabeque does not have a focal character. Although we spend more time in Cassie’s and Cam’s head than Frisco’s or Isaac’s, the narrative shifts freely back and forth among the four protagonists. Perhaps the novel was intended to be Cassie’s story; however, it doesn’t really feel that way. Certainly, I did not strongly identify with her.
Furthermore, the novel lacks a well-defined plot progression. As the foursome gradually bonds, it faces various challenges, but there’s no overarching conflict to be resolved, no continuous rise of narrative tension. By half way through the book, the reader understands that Cassie, Cam, Frisco and Isaac will become an emotional and sexual unit. The remaining two hundred pages are episodic, charting the incremental progress toward that ultimate state. Dramatic events like Cassie’s rape do not seem to receive any more emotional emphasis than mundane activities like group dinners. I suspect the short chapters – typically only a few pages long – exacerbate this impression. Rarely if ever does the author create a sustained ramp of emotional intensity.
These criticisms might be literary quibbles. Safeword: Arabesque is competently written and edited, which is more than one can say about many erotic titles in the market today. Readers who choose their erotica based primarily on the sex rather than the language and style will have no complaints about this novel.
I’ll be honest here and admit I didn’t enjoy this one. My judgement here is nothing against the writing style although, I think Trevelyan’s style tends toward the expository in content.
Maria grinned mischievously, joining her on the small, hard bed beside the wardrobe, facing her one mirror. The Spanish girl’s voice was thick with Latin passion. Maria wasn’t whispering either. “I don’t care, Sarah! Now please, you must show me the things you speak about before, the things your Aunt’s company makes! Come on, carissima!”
Maria had obviously been fascinated by Sarah-Jane’s tales of working with Linger, and Sarah-Jane had promised to show her the catalogue pictures on her laptop. She’d even managed to download some pictures from her Sophie Grant photo-shoot off the Linger web-site, using the one communal internet connection allowed to the students in this place. That should blow her Spanish friend’s mind!
I think it’s also fair to say that Trevelyan’s dialogue could be fairly described as unrealistic.
“We live in a city that is famously bursting with sex,” Vigga laughed. “Half the guys on this continent want access to Rio’s porn sites, and most of the girls too, you know? I’m sure your Europeans are the same – they certainly flock here to see it for themselves, anyway. My people run a fair bit of that industry, Missus Prowse. I’ll email you a link, if you like?”
The woman at the other end of the line paused. Vigga could imagine the Englishwoman scowling in distaste. She didn’t sound like someone who spent a lot of time at the downstream end of the industry, although she was certainly making a healthy income at the upstream end. And she had reacted very positively to every mention of the girl Sarah-Jane so far. Vigga could sense a nice profit here.
“Yes, do that,” Cynthia Winchester-Prowse replied at last. “Now, when do you propose to arrange your first shoot? And will the girl be safe until then? I won’t have her harmed! The scene you sent me earlier was a little extreme, I thought. So I’ll be sending someone to look after her, throughout the whole process.”
I think it was the rape scenes in the story that made me uncomfortable. Partly I was uncomfortable because I didn’t like the potentially racist overtones of domineering black characters raping defenceless white women. Partly I was uncomfortable with the fact that the central female character found herself aroused despite suffering violation.
He chuckled into Sarah-Jane’s ear as he pressed his fingertip into her sensitive cleft.
“I’m Del, Sarah-Jane. Sure am pleased to meet you!” He started wriggling his finger, edging the tip into the slick cleft of her pussy, making her gasp in dismay. She just couldn’t believe how hot she felt. “Big Leroy’s going to fuck that sweet little thing, Sarah-Jane, just as soon as the girls have made her cum! You like that idea, sweetheart? You like to be fucked after you been cummed? Or you want to wait, so you can cum when I’m inside you?”
Sarah-Jane sobbed, staring as Steffi was turned to face a hulking Afro-Caribbean who stood up from behind the table, grinning as he produced a grotesque rubbery member from his jeans. Sarah-Jane swallowed – she’d never seen a cock so large. Leroy hefted it, chuckling at Steffi’s shocked expression. “You better get her good and ready, girls!” he laughed. “She’ll need to be!”
It’s curious how rape is the only crime that gets this sort of treatment in fiction. You don’t see crime thrillers where bank tellers are sighing with satisfaction saying, “Thank fuck those masked gunmen came and relieved our vaults of all that money/gold etc.” You don’t see murder victims chuckling with their ‘John Wayne Gacey-style serial killers’ and saying, “OK, he’s a homophobic psychopath, but that clown costume rocks!” And yet, for the crime of rape, we can encounter passages like this:
Sarah-Jane closed her eyes, shuddering as the vibrating torment went on and on.... Soon, waves of tingling pleasure were spreading right through her tummy, making her legs and bottom quiver. She clenched her teeth, groaning as the sensations spread through her bottom, her thighs quivering... She sobbed, the waves of pleasure overwhelming her, building and swelling.... Her whole sex was alive, shuddering and tingling, it was just so delicious. Sarah-Jane groaned, knowing that she was just about to burst.
She opened her eyes to see that Steffi was now on her back on the table, her legs squirming, her tummy lifting her pussy up against the hands that slithered over her.
“Sweet, ain’t she!” Del breathed into her ear. “Is she going to get fucked now!”
The book does come with a reminder on the frontispiece that states ‘real men don’t rape’ but I’m not sure that is sufficient to counterbalance the effects of a story that perpetuates the myth that sexual violation can ever be linked to pleasure or satisfaction.
Please feel free to take the above with a pinch of salt. This is just one reviewer’s opinion. The reviews on Amazon approve wholeheartedly of Alexis Trevelyan’s work, so it’s likely I’m getting snippy and prudish in my old age.
Squee of absolute delight! The Siren and the Sword was such a pleasure to read. I set aside a few hours to read it each day, but devoured it in one sitting.
Kyle arrives at Harvard for an interview but there seem to be more buildings than the campus map shows. He enters the third building, and finds he’s stumbled into a magically cloaked building for Veritas University, which coexists on the Harvard campus unbeknownst to non-magical students, faculty, and staff. The people he first meets are just as astonished at his arrival as he is by their odd behavior. As soon as he signs the guest register though, it’s clear he was meant to attend the school. He makes friends, he meets unpleasant people—you know, like real life. Then a friend is hurt and he tries to figure out why and how while being hampered by his ignorance of the world in which he now lives.
Clearly, this story was written by someone who loves the world of Hogwarts and other magical schools and universities existing in a broad array of fiction. But don’t think this is fan fiction or a ripoff. Like the Harry Potter books, this is about a person raised in the non-magical world having to negotiate the strangeness of a complete universe he never realized existed along with real life challenges such as school, relationships, and finding his own place in the universe, but this university is unique and the characters are no dim reflections of the Hogwarts gang.
One big difference is that these are stories for adults, so there’s honest sexuality. These are college kids, so of course they’re getting it on, and having messy break ups, and not handling jealousy well, and all the other attendant real life sorts of things one experiences as a young adult. What I enjoyed so much about the sex scenes is that they flowed organically in the story. It never felt as if the author said ‘gosh, it’s been two chapters since the last sex scene, so I’ll plug one here.’ And boy, are they are ever hot, made more so in my opinion by the quirk that Kyle’s girlfriend wanted to retain her virginity to increase her magical abilities. They got quite inventive, and the sensuality of the scenes was enhanced by it.
This was such a fun story to read. I didn’t figure out the culprit until they were unmasked, although looking back, it made sense. The writing is crisp and moves along. Not your usual erotica fair, and all that much more enjoyable for it. I strongly recommend this book.