Clare London’s short story collection, Masquerade, is m/m erotic fantasy. Oh I know, what erotica isn’t fantasy? In this case, I mean science fiction/fantasy genre, so maybe speculative fiction is a better description, but other than geek girls like me, who uses that term? I was torn over classifying this collection as romantic erotica, but only two of the stories fit that description. So I’ll stick with m/m erotic fantasy.
Have you ever wondered what’s up with the m/m? The term ‘M slash M,’ or slash, comes from the world of fanfic. I’ve heard that the first slash stories were Star Trek universe with intimate pairings between Kirk and Spock, for example. I suspect that young Victorian ladies dreamed of Van Helsing and Dracula necking though. Heck, while Bathsheba was putting on a bathing beauty show for King David, she might have been indulging in Cain and Able slash. (Trust me – women don’t soak in a tub for an hour because they’re trying to get clean.) Like the term Yaoi, slash refers to stories generally written by women for women that feature male lovers. As in any genre, there’s a wide range of work out there. Some of it is hardcore erotica; some of it is sweet romance. Some of it’s even written by gay men. No longer confined to fanfic, the term slash now can apply to original characters and stories. It is the fastest growing corner of the erotica/romance world. Yes, straight women like reading sexually explicit stories featuring gay men. The secret is out.
Now that you know, back to discussing Clare’s collection for four short stories:
“Bonded” is the most romantic story in this collection. The narrator, Chariz, is full of his own importance and bored. So very bored. He will tell you this many times as he recounts his tale. A strange servant named Oriel is brought into Chariz one morning as Chiraz is recuperating from a night of debauchery, which is his usual custom. He quickly dismisses the servant as unimportant, but on close inspection, the man Oriel fascinates him. They end up in bed. Chariz, who is used to having many bed companions every day, and never the same ones for long, disdains all others and learns to love Oriel, who seems to soothe Chariz’s long buried angst. Oreil, however, has unusual powers and people who are jealous of him want him dead. They almost succeed, but Chariz, having now grown a heart, sacrifices his beauty and fortune to save the slave he loves. While the language in this one started off stilted, it eventually smoothed. I found myself wanting to see more of the world, but that’s more of a testament to Clare’s world-building ability than a complaint.
In “Trickery,” two young squires are trying to find the Prince they were supposed to follow on a quest. Everyone got separated during an attack by bear-cats, and at some point dragons too, but it was never clear if those were separate attacks or if the dragons and bear-cats were inter-species allies against questing Princes. The Prince hired a magician with a rather questionable reputation to help with the quest, but along with the Prince and the guards, the Magician has disappeared. The squires know that the Prince is looking for a tower, and they stumble upon a tower in the middle of the forest, so they climb it in hopes of finding their Prince. Near the top, they find many guards who have obviously been indulging in wild sex asleep as if deeply enchanted. In the room at the top of the tower, a person who appears to be their Prince is having his way with a servant boy. The older squire realizes it’s the magician in the guise of their Prince and slays the magician. This didn’t make a lot of sense to me. If the magician could cast an enchantment that made everyone want to bend over for him, why did he need to look like the Prince? And why did the magician have to die? But that wasn’t by far my biggest problem with this story. I’m not a fan of nonconsensual sex. Call it an enchantment or roofies, rendering a person incapable of saying no to sex does not mean they said yes. If it hadn’t been for that, I would have enjoyed this story a lot more. The language was much more relaxed than in the first story and the banter between the squires hinted at a growing relationship between them. I wished it would have focused more on that relationship and skipped the scene in the tower.
“Possession” is the Godfather meets Dracula. Lucas is about to lose the family business when a mysterious stranger named Mr. Arnaud makes him an offer he can’t refuse. As if he has a choice. Mr. Arnaud will allow Lucas to sell a priceless collection of rubies in exchange for Lucas’s body. Lucas has the hots for his assistant Valentine though. Ah, but Valentine wants to marry Lucas’s sister. What to do? Give in to one desire or another. That’s all Lucas can do. While Possession doesn’t add anything new to the vampire genre, it’s as lush as velvet.
The last story in this collection is “Threadbare.” The owner of a textile mill is drawn to a young man who works in his factory after the gruesome death of the young man’s friend on the factory floor. All the workers in the young man’s group are of the same clan/family/background, and during their spare time they work on a tapestry that captures the mill owner’s attention. I wanted the sex to be more explicit than it was, but if you like your erotica on the softer side, you might not mind. This story bordered on science fiction, but don’t let that scare you away.Usually, I have a strong conviction on my rating. This one, I’m waffling. On one hand, there were problems with the editing (italicized words for emphasis in dialog is a huge pet peeve of mine) and the writing in the first story was a bit stilted. Masquerade is definitely slash fiction with a softer focus on the sex. However, I enjoyed most of the stories. Since I’d rather go with my positive instinct, I’m giving Masquerade a thumbs up.