Accidental Slave opens in a dungeon. A dom named Gary ferociously whips a bound and gagged submissive while ruminating on his anger towards his boss Elizabeth. He transfers that rage to his flogging, continuing to lash at the slave even after she executes the gesture they've agreed upon as a signal for him to stop. He even calls the poor woman Elizabeth.
I'll be honest. I nearly stopped reading right there. The scene set all my red lights flashing. If I had not committed myself to reviewing the book, I probably would have tossed it out, assuming (incorrectly) that this was an example of the kind of crude non-consensual smut that gets some people off.
As it turns out, that would have been a huge mistake. In fact, Claire Thompson's novel revolves around the sort of ethical, tender and romantic D/s relationship that pushes all my buttons. The individual introduced in this first scene is the villain in Ms. Thompson's saga. Passed up for a promotion to vice-president when his company decides to hire the eminently qualified Elizabeth Martin, Gary Dobbins plans a devious revenge on the woman he sees as his nemesis. Accompanying her to a company-sponsored charity function, he spikes her drink with a date rape drug and leads her to a BDSM club, where he offers her for sale at a slave auction. Handsome, wealthy dominant Cole Pearson purchases twenty-four hours of play with the gorgeous brunette, only to have her pass out on him when he gets her home.
From this point, the book focuses mostly on the relationship between Elizabeth and Cole. They are irresistibly attracted to one another, but Cole wants more than just sex or even love. He seeks a true D/s partnership with a woman who is as serious and committed to exploring the boundaries of power exchange as he is. His first marriage fell apart because he couldn't be honest about his real needs. He is determined that this is not going to happen again.
Ambitious, intelligent, and work-obsessed, Elizabeth initially seems like an unlikely submissive. However, Cole sparks her curiosity with his talk, and his demonstrations of the seductive nature of erotic power. Gradually Cole leads her deeper into submission, to the point where she agrees to spend two weeks (her long delayed vacation time) in 24/7 slave training. This is a make-or-break experiment for both protagonists. Although Cole has the typical confidence of a dom, he really doesn't know if Elizabeth is capable of the sort of surrender he requires.
The book includes a subplot in which the evil Gary attempts to blackmail and disgrace Elizabeth, while she and Cole struggle to unmask his deceptions. For the most part, however, Ms. Thompson is concerned with the growing attraction and trust between Elizabeth and Cole. Elizabeth's work is a serious obstacle to their deepening bond. She uses it as a shield to keep Cole from getting too close, as an excuse for lateness and even disobedience. Cole's patience is tested again and again, but unlike Gary he understands that anger has no place when punishing a slave.
Accidental Slave is smoothly written and professionally edited. And of course it involves my personal favorite erotic scenario: initiation of a new submissive by a caring yet authoritative dominant. By the time I reached the chapters detailing Elizabeth's training (which are relatively hard-core BDSM, not merely a few bonds and spanks), the book was pushing my buttons and influencing my dreams.
Somehow, however, I found the end of the book less satisfying. As the two-week training period nears its end, Elizabeth's resistance has melted away. She has been transformed into the willing and skillful slave of whom Cole has dreamed. The two look forward to an idyllic future together. In short, the book concludes with a happily-ever-after (except for Gary, who is subjected to a particularly appropriate revenge).
In trying to analyze why this conclusion felt like a let-down, I came up with two theories. First, it was too easy. Elizabeth is not going to abandon her work, and there are bound to be conflicts with her relationship, committed as she is. Second, although the book includes many climaxes with a lower case 'c', there is no real Climax, no single transcendent interaction that pushes the D/s connection to a higher level. A collaring, a branding, some ritual in which Cole seriously took possession of Elizabeth, would have helped. After the emotional intensity of the earlier parts of the book, the ending was surprisingly bland.
I debated for a long time how to rate this book. (I really wish that Erotica Revealed didn't have these ratings, to be honest.) Starting the book with the villain's scene was, I think, a mistake on Ms. Thompson's part. Readers with tastes similar to mine will be turned off and not continue. Ending the book with a ho-hum HEA also detracts from what, overall, is an arousing and competently written BDSM tale. However, I ultimately recognized that very few erotic books manage to engage my personal fantasies the way Accidental Slave managed to do for much of its length. For this accomplishment, the book deserves a thumbs-up.
Cecilia Tan has changed the direction of erotica with her stewardship of Circlet Press, her leadership with events like the Fetish Flea, and her own writing. She has raised the bar of erotic literacy through her editing, and as a publisher opened the door to erotica that is highly sensual and sexual but still more than a platform to talk about sex. In addition she has brought about a genuine interest in the execution and advancement of literary style. No other current publisher can make those claims, and few authors have been able to write as well as undertake such achievements.
It’s challenging then to review her work as an author in The Tower and the Tears. To begin with, this novel is a work of erotic play bedded in an array of manufactured magical lore and practice. It is utterly impossible to read The Tower and the Tears without saying, “Wait a minute! This is Harry Potter goes to college…in America…and gets laid a lot more often that he did when he was English, right?”
Such questions are fair given that brooms are raced with rakish élan, spells are cast and the hero tends to ignore the theoretical side of his studies drawing his higher magical understanding from experience itself. He, like Harry, is a chosen one of the gods.
Tan’s hero, Kyle, attends a sort of alternate/clone/wizardry school called Veritas that is the doppelganger of the more pedestrian Harvard. In fact, Harvard gets quite a lot of play in this novel in its two forms as a bastion of crypto-self-importance. One gets the impression that the elect who are admitted to either school can choose which to attend. The Tower and the Tears is the second volume in The Magic University series by Ms. Tan.
For those who don’t know -- if there is anyone who doesn’t -- “veritas” (the Latin word for “truth,”) is the unpretentious motto of Harvard University. So it all fits together…sort of…or as least as much as Harry Potter fits into semi-detached suburban Britain when not playing with his broom at Hogwarts. Tan’s hero is not the Henry V figure that Harry is, which is something of a relief. Kyle does have to deal with a fairly standard apocalypse, which I shall leave to your attentions as a reader.
Tan’s hero occupies a romance novel set at Veritas/Harvard where freshmen are given totems of their magical futures and the careerism starts early. Presumably the muggles at Harvard just get a large wallet, which they are to imagine stuffing.
Ms. Tan’s story is bouncy, sexy and fun. Her commentary is dry, deeply submerged and totally ignorable if you don’t care to get it. In this novel, her characters are a trifle wispy, if not to say papery, not unlike Ms. Kagan who wants a place on the High Court based on never having had a public thought about the law. Who are these people? Who cares?
There are moments in the book where the reader is tempted to snort with disdain:
"They're all virgins, though," Kyle said, not wanting to sound too whiny about it. But part of him didn't want a repeat of the year with Jess; he didn't want to pressure anyone whose virginity might need to be preserved for magical reasons.
Oh please. He’s a guy, right? But it is all a tease. Penetration is not thwarted by the confabulation of prestidigitation as they might say around the Quad at Veritas. Once the fucking gets underway, it is very creatively described giving one an extremely detailed, tasty account of how an orgasm actually gets accomplished. Plus there is all sorts of fucking between and among genders which spices things up. Ms. Tan has thought a great deal and very intensely about the anatomy of sex.
There are moments when we cringe if one more undergraduate expostulates, “By Circe’s tit!” as a measure of their wonder and frustration. Why can’t they have another epithet, or even an oath or two? I guess there are only so many magical goddesses with great boobs. “By Ishtar’s slit!” has some appeal, but nothing works with Astarte I have to admit. A faculty member does say, “Baudelaire’s blood,” which in my view is reaching.
This is very definitely a novel with something for everyone. There is even a faculty member named Professor Hart from the Esoteric Studies Department. He doesn’t say much, and that’s perhaps as it should be.
In 1870, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch released his novel, Venus In Furs, in which the narrator admits his desire to submit to a woman. It’s a story within a story. The interior story is “Memoirs of a Supersensual Man” by Severin Von Kusiemski, which doesn’t end well. Severin finally decides that until women are educated and given equal rights, it’s best if women remain subservient to men. Now, theoretically, women have obtained equality. I wonder what his conclusion would be in the modern age, because equality isn’t what submissive men are looking for. Far from it, as the stories in Please Ma’am show.
In “I Live To Serve” by Teresa Noelle Roberts, Milady asks Leo to play butler for an evening. He envisions fun serving her and her other dominatrix friends, only to find out he’s to play the part for a formal business dinner. She keeps it interesting for him though, ad he is well rewarded for his services.
Charlotte Stein’s “It’s Not Me, It’s You” has an usual twist. The man has no idea who sends him cards at work with instructions. As he follows his secret mistress’s instructions, the demands escalate. At the end, he’s just about to meet her. Delicious workplace naughtiness.
Andrew can’t stand that his sister’s friend Irina is immune to his charms, so he sets out to seduce her in Isabelle Gray’s “A Charmed Life.” She finally agrees to meet him, but he quickly finds out that everything will be on her terms, not his.
For those of you who enjoy high fantasy BDSM, “A Maze, and Grace” by Elizabeth Coldwell will strike the right note. A sub is left blindfolded and bound in the center of a hedge maze as a party prize. The first woman to find him gets to use him as she pleases. The Mistress of the estate, Lady Grace, isn’t above cheating a bit.
Remittance Girl’s “Inside the Pride” has a different take on domination. Professor Gordon is at the center of a group of male post-graduate students, but she encourages cooperative intellectual growth rather than competition. It is a thoroughly feminine story, even though the narrator is male.
When you read a lot of erotica, some names start looking familiar. Craig Sorensen is one of those writers I’ve seen more often lately and hope to see more of in the future. In his “Modern Major General,” Mason is unhappy that he has to report to a perky, much younger woman when they’re thrown together on a new project. He tries to assert himself, but finds out that she’s not having any of it.
In “Mr. February” by Madeline Elayne, Mark has finally admitted to his wife that he wants her to dominate him. It’s their twentieth wedding anniversary, the kids are gone away to university, he’s a buff, tough firefighter, but he’s scared to death to go home to her because he’s sure she’ll throw him out of the house. When he finally decides to face her, he finds out there’s a penalty for keeping his Mistress waiting.
There are a number of workplace dominatrix tales in this anthology. Considering the amount of time we spend at work, and the power dynamics inherent in corporate structure, it’s a powerful combination for fantasy. In A.D.R. Forte’s “Frozen,” a man wants the attention of the woman down the hall, but doesn’t know how to approach her. As they work late on a Friday night, she invites him into her office. She’s a beginner at domination, but he’s willing to guide her through the steps.
Sommer Marsden taps into two kinks in “Thrift Store Whore” – public sex, and forced feminization. For those of you not in the know, forced feminization is when a man is ordered to dress in women’s panties and a frilly dress. Coupled with public sex, this is a taut tale of humiliation. He loves every second of it. If this is your kink, you will too.
Speaking of familiar names, it’s good to see Dominc Santi’s name again after a long break from erotic writing. “Porch Swing” also features public sex. A couple on their front porch put on a show for appreciative neighbors and a horny pizza delivery girl.
There are a million kinks out there, but I’m always discovering new ones. In “Paypig” by Michael Hemmingson, a man finds a woman online who is willing to take his money. He’s not rich, but he can afford a little. She meets him in a public place, walks up to him, and demands money. All he seems to get out of it is a thrilling moment of humiliation, until she ups the stakes.
“The Crack of the Bat” by Heidi Champa is a good, old fashioned spanking story. Brian is an athlete with lucrative endorsement deals, but his public behavior is about to ruin that. His agent sends him to a client to charm his way out of trouble, but Ms Thomas feels punishment is in order.
“Dressing for Dinner” by Giselle Renarde dones’t feature forced feminization, since he loves cross-dressing. This couple has a Wednesday night ritual of dinner delivered in. He dresses for the occasion. After diner, she uses her strap-on to fuck him. This story is going to push all the right buttons for some readers.
“Living Rough” by Ariel Graham shows the downside of admitting the need to be dominated to a wife. Mitch’s wife divorces him. After losing his job too, he heads out on the open road. In Salt Lake City, he meets a woman who recognizes his need and takes him in on a trial basis.
Kinks abound in this anthology. It shows how multifaceted the desire to submit to a woman can be. In DL King’s “Pick a Color,” a man with a foot fetish gets a job in one of New York’s ubiquitous nail salons. The owner is suspicious of him, but his attention to detail earns rare praise, and an offer to provide a private pedicure, from the salon’s most demanding customer.
It’s a bold boy who suggests that his Mistress is flawed, but after seeing the messy room surrounding his goddess during a webcast, Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “Houseboy” simply has to clean the place. After carefully planning how to approach his goddess, he gets a chance to tidy her place. It’s not just her approval he has to win, though.
Lee Ash’s “The Unhappy Table” was one of my favorite stories in this anthology. A submissive serves as his Mistress’s table while she and another dominatrix fool around on the couch. He’s turned on, but since he’s a table, he can’t move or take care of his hard-on. A truly funny story for the voyeur in you.
In Graydancer’s “I’ll Do It. For Her.,” a well-known Master submits to his wife. Deeply moving and personal, this is simply a wonderfully written tale of a couple in love.Normally, I only pick three or four stories in an anthology to highlight. However, as you can see from the wide variety of stories here, male submission encompasses many specific desires and I didn’t want to omit the one that would speak to a potential reader. Something here is bound to excite or interest fans of male submission. Kudos to Rachel for putting together an anthology with such a broad mix. While these stories are all told from the man’s point of view, women who want to dominate a lover can gain insight to the many possibilities available to a fledgling goddess.
Themed anthologies, I find, have you guessing at the contents before you’ve properly cracked the spine on the book you’re reading. As soon as you read the title you’re predicting the content of some of the stories.
For instance, an anthology about sex and vampires had me thinking there would be stories about fluids being sucked. An anthology about spanking made me think there would be bruised buttocks somewhere in the tome. An anthology of sixty second erotica had me thinking that my wife was writing about our sex life. (Please note, I’m not trying to brag about the sixty second thing. The sixty seconds includes foreplay and lighting the cigarette afterwards).
Consequently, when I received my copy of Sex in the City: London, my mind began to predict the contents before I’d opened the front page.
Sex in the City: London is one of four recently released titles from Xcite Books. The others in the series are Sex in the City: Dublin, Sex in the City: Paris, and Sex in the City: New York.
I can already imagine that Sex in the City: New York involves at least one story with sex in a yellow taxicab, or sex beneath the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. I suspect Sex in the City: Dublin includes something seductive involving a pint of Guinness. And I’d guess Sex in the City: Paris has a story with a woman who doesn’t shave her pits and a man who’s never brushed his teeth.
But it’s Sex in the City: London I’m looking at and, before I glanced beyond the cover, I wondered if it might include sex with the queen (never going to happen), sex with the prime minister (even less likely with the current mob of fugly incumbents) and sex with someone called Big Ben.
Fortunately, my expectations were usurped when I began to read the stories. Instead of taking characters roughly up the Old Kent Road, or riding a character’s tube until they’re snugly settled in the West End, the collection is credible, entertaining and literate. The stories here are certainly erotic: but they each contain the essence of a city dweller’s grudging adoration for the place they call home.
And, perhaps that’s what makes each of these stories come to life. Anyone who has ever lived in a city knows that the instinctive affection for home is tempered by a weary distaste for all its shortcomings: a duality of cognitive dissonance that is irresoluble and inescapable.
Or, as Kristina Lloyd points out at the beginning of “The Caesar Society,”
I like Soho. It’s horrible. It used to be worse and I liked it better then.
This duality extends to people, as Justine Elyot observes in “Thames Link,”
He’s a creep, he’s a sleaze, he’s a perve. He’s my kind of guy.
Or, as Maxim Jakubowski explains in “Woke up with the Hampstead Blues Again,”
Then there’s the real London.
And then again, there is the unreal London, a world of shadows, imagination and loneliness.
This is a collection to be savoured like a sightseeing tour. The stories show imagination and excitement without once forgetting about their shared background.
In “Monster” Francis Ann Kerr takes her readers to the nefarious Torture Gardens. “The Tourist,” by Clarice Clique is a veritable whirlwind visit through the city, touching on the Tate Modern, the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus and a handful of other venerable attractions. In “What are you Wearing?” Matt Thorne appears to answer every visitor to the city’s question about what happens to all the luggage that goes missing form Terminal 5.
As a writer, and as someone who also teaches creative writing, I think the most appealing element of this collection is that each author has provided notes on their inspiration. Elizabeth Coldwell talks about the influence of Soho, and how that dictated her narrative for “Rain and Neon.” NJ Streitberger discusses the true incident that inspired the fictional account of “The Girl on the Egyptian Escalator.” Kevin Mullins and Marcelle Perks explain the mechanics of their winning collaboration on “Strawberry Pink.” It’s a fascinating glimpse behind the thought processes that have created these compelling stories.
Perhaps the clever thing about these anthologies is that they’ve been edited by Maxim Jakubowski. Anthologies need to be edited by someone who has a feel for the subject matter and it goes without saying that Maxim is well travelled: regularly jetting between New York, London and a host of other exotic places. He is undoubtedly savvy to the nuances of each anthology’s destination – making him ideally placed to edit stories focused on specific locations.
And Maxim also knows about sex. As the presiding editor of the Mammoth Best New Erotica series, it’s acknowledged that he knows a good erotic story when he sees one. In short: Sex in the City: London is a testament to Maxim’s abilities as an editor and it deserves to be a triumphant success. The authors who have contributed know how to tell a story and how to convey the essence of a city. And who could ask for more than that in a book?
These 27 stories are brief, crisp and snappy. Like a box of breakfast cereal, each contains a surprise: an internet "friend,” met for the first time in real life, turns out to be different (but not worse) than expected, a kick-ass babe turns out to be transgendered, a formerly-predictable spouse or lover puts the crackle back in the relationship, a person who has done wrong is horribly punished in a way that is only made clear in the last line of the story. Several of these pieces are "flash fiction:" half-page stories that are complete in themselves.
The design on the cover of the book is part of the surprise. Inside a large black circle below the book title, the reader is told: INSIDE 20+ stories you can read anywhere OUTSIDE a subtle cover. On a white background, black dots and squiggles and gold stars appear to be randomly scattered. This image invites the reader to wander through the book, picking up anything that looks interesting, while wandering past oblivious strangers in public space.
The theme of "surprise" is consistent throughout, which means that it would be hard to identify any other theme. There are characters of all genders, ages and races in this collection. The settings vary. Most of the couplings are heterosexual, but not all. There is some relatively mild BDSM, and all the stories are "realistic" in the way that truth is often stranger than fiction.
In general, the shortness of these stories works to their advantage. There is little writerly self-indulgence or digression here. In some cases, the writer "tops" the reader by delaying the resolution while steadily building tension. Every plot looks tightly-constructed.
Unfortunately, not all the stories are equally well-written. In "Temptation Like a Muthafucka," Alicia C. McGhee's attempt to capture the sound of grass-roots dialect leads her into awkward tense shifts, misleading modifiers and a jumbled sequence of events. Here is an example:
His eyes scaled up and down my appeasing frame as I watched him watching me through my shades. T-bird opened the passenger door, sliding into the seat with a stack of CDs, letting the bass carry on through the cul-de-sac road.
The plot of this story is both plausible and intense, but the writing style is a constant distraction.
The list of author bios shows that novice writers are thrown together with competent professionals in this book, and that is one of the surprises. Several of the contributors write in other genres as well as erotica, and the influence of fantasy, sci-fi and horror tropes is evident in
their work. One hilarious story, “Adam Gets Perspective” by Kyoko Church, is about a male professional writer’s need for sexual relief in order to meet a deadline: “The first draft of his manuscript was due to his publisher in two months.” His resourceful housekeeper, a no-nonsense professional herself, finds a way to use distracting noise to help him reach his goals.
In several of these stories, the surprise is physical, and it can be summarized in a punch-line. “Detachable Penis” by Stephen Smith is self-explanatory, and it seems like a heterosexual variant of “Blue Light” by Stephen Saylor (a.k.a. Aaron Travis), an eerie classic of 1970s gay-male porn. “Addiction” by Felix Baron has a female heroine with a sexual “problem” that is parallel to that of Linda Lovelace, heroine of another classic of 1970s porn, Deep Throat (novel and movie). “Enhancement” by Theodore Carter is a male fantasy focused on male anatomy.
The stories based on a single plot twist or a physical quirk are entertaining and generally lightweight. Unusual body parts, especially those that are detachable and have wills of their own, are also characteristic of fantasy and horror literature, and they suggest both a fear of dismemberment and a fear of losing self-control. Stories about women who literally can’t live without something that only men can provide seem to be part of a locker-room tradition in which “porn” appeared in magazines that were written by men for men and literally sold under the counter.
Other stories in this book are more complex, and contain surprises with far-reaching consequences. “Goddard’s Curse” by Paul L. Bates appears at first to be about a man with insomnia, but his condition is gradually revealed to be more sinister:
Each tick of the clock resounded like a thunderclap. Goddard sat stone still, his eyes peering across the gloomy living room at the desolate cityscape framed above the bookcase. As always, he made an effort not to look at the offending timepiece.
It’s 2:45, he told himself against his will.
And then he receives an expected telephone call from an anonymous female voice: “I hate you. I hope you rot in hell. Fuck you, you selfish little prick—fuck you to hell.” Goddard has so many women’s names in his little black book of past and future “conquests” that he has no idea who she might be. Goddard is a very recognizable man who is shown collecting enough bad karma to keep him awake for the rest of his shortened life.
“The Senator’s Perfect Wife” by S.T. Clemmons is another bone-chilling story that is hardly erotic at all, since the sex in it is not consensual and not satisfying for the central character. This story would fit with other tales set in a dystopian future in which convicted criminals are punished and controlled in ways that are currently not possible.
“Leslie Goosemoon Rides Again” by Giselle Renarde is one of a whole series by this Canadian author about characters with unconventional gender identities AND non-mainstream ethnic/cultural identities who don’t appear to be walking stereotypes or sex jokes. The title character in this story is thoroughly human and sexy without working at it. Other writers who strive to write erotica “outside the box” (but from a Politically Correct viewpoint) could learn from Renarde.
“Old Flames” by Keesha Marie is hot in every sense. Although fire is becoming a tired metaphor for sexual passion, the various types of fire in this story shed light on the various reasons why the woman in this atmospheric story is drawn to the man who comes through a rainstorm to hold her in the warmth from her fireplace, and why she is uncomfortable with their relationship.
This collection is definitely worth reading, and you can read it openly on the beach, the bus, or the plane. Keeping a poker face when you reach the surprise in each story might be harder to do.