In Out of the Shadows Into the Darkness Senta Holland tells a story of extreme BDSM desires that manages to be both dreamlike and piercingly, even brutally, explicit. Her writing has a fragile beauty combined with startling imagery, so much so that I made notes of passage after passage that I wanted to mention, and finally realized that there were so many there was no point in jotting down more.
Senta is the name the point of view character has chosen to use in her internet search for someone who can fulfill her dreams of complete sexual and spiritual submission. It’s also the name the author has chosen to use. At the end of the book the publisher has inserted the usual disclaimer of “This novel is entirely a work of fiction” etc., etc., but the scenes, however extreme, are so nearly believable at times that it might have been a good idea to put this passage at the beginning. In spite of Senta’s occasional assertion that she avoids any permanent physical damage, some of the punishments she endures for the sake of absolute submission could, indeed, be dangerous.
The story has a well-defined shape, although the many flashbacks are confusing at times. Senta saves up for a long time to be able to afford a round-the-world adventure which includes meet-ups with potential Doms she’s contacted online. Her search ends in Bangkok, and so does her journey. A wealthy young man whose American family has become firmly established in Thailand turns out to be the Master (or “Nai” in Thai) that Senta has longed for, and as they gradually grow closer, their BDSM scenes grow ever more intense. There are ups and downs, and even as Senta pours out all her pent-up need to show her devotion, utter obedience, and endurance of pain, she recognizes that her Nai’s need to dominate is rooted in his own sense of insecurity. There are occasional lapses into extraneous philosophizing about BDSM and railings against the cruelty imposed by the rest of the world on those who crave it, complaints which tend to seem dated now that a certain trilogy of bondage books have made BDSM all the rage, or so it seems, but they do turn out to have a place in the plot. I won’t go any further into the progression of events, since they should be revealed in the author’s own words, but the story is deeply involving and well worth reading.
I will, though, share some of the author’s own words in passages that struck me as being especially effective. Describing her lover’s weight pressing down on her, Senta feels it as “a counterweight to the slow turning of the earth.” Walking with him near the river in Bangkok she feels that the voice of reason is drowned out by “the night carpet of silvery mosquitoes,” while “under my bones, my blood was singing.” During thunderstorms she watches “huge strong paths of lightning, standing still in the sky. So high in the sky that I couldn’t tell where they started, the clouds hung in many tiers like the runaway balconies of a giant vaporous opera house.” When her Nai binds her with brightly colored ropes, she thinks of them as “snaking over my body and the bed sheets, wrapping around me like the solidified paths of fireworks, petrified gas, fixed in time and space, blown into three-dimensionality by so much energy that it warps the sluggish cosmos.”
But of course someone who reads this sort of book will be most interested in how well the sex and dominance/submission scenes are written. They won’t be disappointed. I won’t share much of that, but here are a few brief tastes. Of having sex while standing in deep seawater, Senta says, “I felt the wave of my own orgasm building up. Every movement of his penis made me contract, and the point behind my cervix where the tension collects before it opens out and swallows sea water until it drowns, happily, was gaping its hungry mouth.” Of a more land bound session, she says; “I
come. And come again. And again. Earthquakes push up from the deepest fault lines, breaking the surface. I don’t know where it originated, but it is there. I am there. And I need, need, need more.”
There is, of course, much more. And the insight Senta gives into the depths of her need to submit are just as striking. I’ll leave the extended pleasure/pain/punishment/sinking-into-subspace passages for the reader of the book to savor, but it seems to me that one recollection near the end works well as a summation. “The strokes of your whip made my body dance in the water. It jumped and contracted and opened out, not in response to the wishes of my mind but subjected to your power. My body obeyed you not me. It bypassed my small self. I was the dancer but I didn’t know the dance.”
Readers with an interest in BDSM, especially from the submissive side of the equation, are likely to enjoy Out of the Shadows and Into the Darkness. It shouldn’t be taken as the last word on the subject; I know dominants and submissives with very different tastes and outlooks from those Senta describes, and some of the punishments and tortures her character willingly endures go beyond any boundaries of safety and even physical possibility; but the book is, as stated above, a work of fiction, and a very good one at that.