In the first scene of Blind Seduction, a husband and wife are in their car, going on a trip for their tenth anniversary. Is this a sweet, sensual romance? A gentle meditation on the comforts of a marriage that has survived its first few bumps? Not exactly.
Phillip and Leslie have explored BDSM before, but now Phillip is willing to risk their relationship by finding out how far they are both willing to go. Leslie consents to being blindfolded on the way to a BDSM resort, a typical haven for a novel in this genre. She is very observant and notices sounds along the way, but she can't be sure where she is going. She has to trust Phillip as her Master, and he has to trust himself.
When they arrive at their destination and settle into their private room, Leslie realizes that she is meant to be blindfolded all weekend. Her imposed lack of sight intensifies her other senses and forces her to rely on Phillip and other helpers. It also serves as a metaphor for her inability to foresee what will happen next, and her trust in the process. Phillip tells her that he is going to use her well during the next few days, and she shivers with pleasure.
All the characters are described in the third person, but most of the narrative is told from Leslie's viewpoint, so to speak. During Leslie's first mealtime in a communal dining hall, Phillip helps her eat. He also keeps her off-guard by unlocking her chastity belt and spreading ointment on her clit and lower lips to keep her in an unrelieved state of sexual excitement.
Leslie hears something disturbing: It was the sound of someone else's breathing, someone panting in a pace close to her own. A man. Leslie discreetly signals to Phillip, who notices the stranger and lets him know that Leslie is not available without her Master’s permission. Leslie, Phillip and the reader all know that the man will reappear later, and that he is Trouble. Can a woman who is sexually aroused by Dominant men be genuinely afraid of one? Clearly the answer is yes, and Leslie’s instincts are shown to be valid.
Phillip and Leslie meet the first of their new friends when Mistress Blade introduces herself and her male submissive, Peter, and compliments Phillip's control and Leslie's responsiveness. It is easy to guess that the female-dominant couple will become friends of Leslie and Phillip, but their importance in the plot remains to be seen.
As Leslie meets other guests at the resort, they tell her their stories of "coming out" into the world of Dominance and submission, or of their most significant scenes. And while Leslie is learning about the quirks of Dominants, Phillip learns about those of submissives. The stories are instructional, and they have the effect of a chorus formed from diverse voices.
Phillip places Leslie in a "slave holding pen" as a way of stretching her limits as well as his own. There Leslie meets a sister-submissive, Sylvie, who tells her that the sign hanging from Leslie's neck says she is only to be picked up by her Master. Still feeling nervous and alone, Leslie accepts friendly cuddling as Sylvie tells her a story about an elaborate banquet scene in which Sylvie was a human centerpiece, with another submissive assigned to join her in entertaining the assembled guests:
Over me, the slave-boy was a pitiful sight. Dressed in crotch-less panties, an ill-fitted bra, and a sheer marabou that draped to his hips, he was attired in a pink so vivid I knew his humiliation had already exceeded my fear.
Gladly, I opened my mouth and took his sheathed cock between my lips. We were compatriots after all, he in his girlie get-up and me as his repository joined together in a scene not of our own making. Yet as thrilling as our union was for me, his dick sat limp in my mouth.
'Recite,' came the second command.
'Oh, how we love and hug a great Priapus;
He that has such a one shall ne'er escape us.
And after once, if we can make it rise?
Must on again and bravely fight love's price.'
They were the words of John Wilmot, the famous second Earl of Rochester [1647-1680], pilfered from his obscene play, Sodom or the Quintessence of Debauchery.
Sylvie's tribal tale of her experience is in the literary tradition of BDSM as a lifestyle of the rich and cultured, and it reminds Leslie and the reader that “obscenity” has a long history. The stories-within-the-story that are told by various secondary characters also show the author's tendency to put careless, slightly-inaccurate words in the mouths of her storytellers. Sylvie's claim that the slave-boy "pilfered" the Earl of Rochester's words seems melodramatic. (Do actors "pilfer" the words of playwrights?)
This novel seems to have been written quickly to meet a deadline. If it was, the cumulative effect of the scenes and stories in the overall plot is especially impressive. While every scene (including recounted scenes) can stand alone, all of them together give a general picture of a largely-heterosexual BDSM community. Phillip and Leslie, two innocent newcomers despite their previous experience, mature in parallel ways as they find their places in the tribe.
Storytelling as an act of love and as the transmission of knowledge leads to a climactic scene after the villain puts his plan into action. The irresponsible behavior of one person shows up the basic human decency of all the rest, and the value of community spirit becomes clear to all.
By the end of the novel, Leslie has made Phillip prouder of her than ever before, and she has helped her would-be protectors to recognize their own collective strength and overcome their sense of guilt. Phillip and Leslie, who left the routines of everyday life and the safety of home to seek their fortune, have been tested and found worthy, and they now have a circle of reliable mentors and friends.
In the last, private scene, Leslie takes off her blindfold and sees with new eyes:
Remembering the blindfold and all it had robbed from her, Leslie watched Phillip's every move. She stared into his face as he penetrated and took her, as he fucked her and used her, as he came. . . Then, with the gentle rhythm of his breath upon her neck, his warmth surrounding her, Leslie would close her own eyes. Finally, she would rest, safe and sure of her place in his arms.
Some have said that romance and BDSM don't combine well, but they are very compatible in this novel. Even after the wild weekend is over, married love is shown to be a greater adventure than the most extreme scenes of sex with strangers.
If you’re not already familiar with Debra Hyde’s name then you should go away now and return to the cave where you’ve been living since the start of this century. Clearly you’ve not being paying attention to erotic literature over the last decade and this is obviously no place for you.
However, if you are familiar with Debra’s name, you’ll probably be aware that she has written and published more short stories than most people have read. Aside from being a prolific author of short fiction, she’s also enviably good at what she does and highly respected throughout the industry.
To illustrate this point: I once made the mistake of privately ascribing one of Debra’s stories to a friend (another established author of erotic fiction). This happens more often to me than to competent authors/reviewers. I have the memory span of a goldfish with Alzheimer’s and I’m one of those people who should have my family member’s names tattooed on my forearm so I can remember what to write on birthday cards. It’s become so embarrassing that, during moments of sexual climax, I’ve started shouting out my own name, just so I’m sure I’m mentioning one of the people involved.
I’m perpetually making mistakes of this ilk, so when I made the mistake of ascribing Debra’s story to the output of my friend, she understood that I am “challenged in the memory department” and corrected me immediately.
“No!” she said, “I didn’t write “Tic Sex,” although I wish I had. Debra’s a phenomenal author of short fiction.”
Now, with the release of Inequities, it’s fair to amend that comment and say that Debra is also a phenomenal author of full-length fiction.
So, sit back and relax, and allow me to introduce you to Cynthia Barnett: widowed, wanton and wonderfully wild. Cynthia narrates her own story and it begins as she tries to ends her period of mourning for a husband, Paul, whom she loved dearly.
Despite the motif of bereavement, there is no melancholy or self-pity in this narration. Cynthia pragmatically accepts love and loss as an inescapable fact of life and death. Now she’s ready to move past grieving for the loss of her belated beloved, she can begin looking for something to fill the emptiness in her life.
Beginning at a party with her late husband’s colleagues, and swiftly moving to a deliciously seedy fetish bar, Cynthia’s story sets off at a swift pace.
However, it’s worth mentioning here that Cynthia’s participation at the fetish bar is not the usual fare of erotic fiction. Cynthia is still finding her feet (which is probably why she ends up in the company of a foot fetishist) and things don’t go as either of the characters anticipated. This is one of the (many) features that made this book come across as deliciously realistic.
Kinky sex is great when it works but – in the real world – the initial demands and expectations of kinksters come together as rarely as pre-orgasmic couples. Debra’s acknowledgement that things don’t always go smoothly makes this story throb with the pulsing vibration of realism.
Overcoming her confusion, with the help of an old family friend and the assistance of her faithful strap-on, Cynthia recovers her composure and re-emerges from the experience with the confidence of a natural dominatrix.
Only to be faced by further challenges.
Meet David. Meet Miles. Watch as Cynthia tries to make a decision between these two potentially submissive partners. And then the plot thickens as Cynthia becomes intrigued by the charms of boorish and dominant Spencer.
I won’t give anything more away about the story. It’s a fun read, well told and powerfully satisfying. I will say that one of the most engaging things about this novel is the strength of the characters. Cynthia’s voice is distinctive and likeable as she narrates the action. And, in Inequities, there is lots of action that needs to be narrated. The sex scenes are explicit, well-crafted and stimulating. Debra Hyde writes erotica that is arousing without being gratuitously explicit.
Yet, as I’ve said before, strong, credible characters, and memorable character interaction, are where Debra Hyde’s storytelling excels. In her short fiction Debra creates characters who are living, breathing and three-dimensional. In Inequities, because she has the length of story to build more layers, Debra’s characters are even more fully rounded. By the time I was ten pages into Inequities, I was hooked and unwilling to leave Cynthia and her world.
If you like erotic fiction to be intelligent and believable, then Inequities has to be on your summer reading list. It’s hot and horny and fresh from the wonderful Debra Hyde: what more could you ask for?
Erotica is in the eye of the beholder, right? I try to write my reviews with an eye toward how well a book will appeal to people who like its particular flavor of erotica. Of White Snakes and Misshaped Owls: Volume One of the Charlotte Olmes Mystery Series by Debra Hyde rings a whole carillon of my personal chimes, so if you share my tastes you’ll like this book, and if you don’t, you won’t. To be more specific:
So consider yourself forewarned if you don’t happen to share my tastes in these matters. Also be forewarned that, while the crime and investigation are well-drawn, this is a novella-length story, and with all the deliciously erotic scenes the mystery part may seem a bit rushed, and even a bit unfair to the reader since it depends on the detective’s knowledge of the lowlife jargon of the times. On the other hand, the reader gets what may seem like all too much help from scenes that switch to the viewpoint of the murderer and others associated with him. I didn’t mind, being more preoccupied with the various other kinds of switching being described.
The author says she hopes to continue the series with more crime cases and more about the team of Charlotte Olms and Joanna Wilson. They fit their times and relationship very well, since, after all, Victorian-era gentlemen didn’t get to have all the fun, no matter what we’ve been made to think.
Within the canon of erotic literature, it’s fair to say that three titles have dominated the genre. First and foremost is de Sade’s novella Justine (Les Malheurs de la Vertu, 1791). Explicit, graphic and wholly misogynistic, Justine follows the story of an eponymous hero doing the right thing and suffering for such virtues. There is a lesser known sequel to this title: Juliette. This story follows the fortunes of Justine’s sister (Juliette) who succeeds in life by being anything but virtuous. The one time Juliette does something virtuous, she suffers for it.
The second title to dominate the canon of erotica is Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs (Venus im Pelz, 1890). Whereas de Sade had sexualised the brutalisation of women by men, Sacher-Masoch expanded on this idea and showed that women could sexually brutalise men (should they be commanded to do so by a man). Sacher-Masoch’s hero, Severin, begs the story’s antagonist, Wanda, to treat him as a slave. Wanda is reluctant at first, but ultimately takes to the role with vindictive enthusiasm.
And then there’s the third title to dominate the genre: The Story of O (Histoire d’O, 1954) by Pauline Réage. The Story of O is the story of one woman’s absolute submission to a dominant male master. It’s a tale that begins with emotional submission and ultimately ends in total physical submission.
Of the three books mentioned here, The Story of O has a lot more working in its favour in the opinion of this writer. All three books were originally written in a language other than English, and so they each reach the majority of English-speaking readers through translation. De Sade and Sacher-Masoch have both given eponyms to the language (sadism and masochism, respectively) but it is The Story of O that remains the more accessible of these titles.
The Story of O is the most contemporary of the titles – depicting a world which (save for the absence of computers and mobile phones) is not that dissimilar from ours. The Story of O also stands out amongst these three titles because it was written by a woman.
And I mention all of this to give a sense of place to Debra Hyde’s The Story of L. The title itself is an obvious homage to Réage’s masterpiece. The layout of the story, following the path to servitude taken by the story’s central character Liv/L, is equally reminiscent of the original. But, rather than producing a carbon copy of the original, set in the twenty-first century, Hyde has been clever and artful in her interpretation.
A chuckle floated to her, sounding at once pleased and amused.
“Hold out your hands,” came the command. Liv complied, expecting to be cuffed. But the next command baffled her. “Show me your ears. Now your neckline.”
She’s inspecting me, Liv discovered. Cassandra voiced the final step in the process.
“Lift your skirt and expose yourself.”
The gesture felt unduly feminine to Liv but she complied.
Inwardly, resistance and distaste roiled, but submission was not meant to be trouble free. Struggle came with the territory.
Her skirt raised, Liv shrank as the room’s warmth made her all too aware of the vulnerability that came with nakedness.
“So, she’s truly naked,” Cassandra observed. “Not so much as a ring on her finger.” A pause followed the appreciative assessment. “You may lower your skirt.”
Lowering her skirt, Liv sighed. Another hurdle passed. How many more would she have to jump to reach Cassandra? She knew better than to think Cassandra would allow her to simply walk across the room and throw herself and her lust at her. The dynamics she had agreed to did not work that way.
This novel is Debra Hyde’s stylish way of interpreting a classic story of lust and passion and bringing it up to date as a love story between experienced participants from the world of BDSM. Hyde’s narrative is accessible and uncomplicated and she presents this story with a convincing air of authority.Any reader sharing Liv’s journey will be drawn into the realism of the story world and mesmerised by the way Hyde brings this homage to life. This is a definite recommendation for all lovers of lesbian romance and those who enjoy contemporary interpretations of classic erotic literature.