The best paranormal or sexual fantasy stories transport the reader to an imaginary world which is parallel to this one: recognizable in some ways, completely exotic in others. Each of the seven stories in this diverse, single-author collection seems to be based on an intriguing premise and each includes sex scenes that really seem to take place in another dimension. However, not all the stories come equipped with the same amount of fuel, so to speak.
The thin line between "What an amazing setting/character/sex scene!" and "This is just too hokey" is drawn differently by different readers, depending on how long we can each suspend our disbelief. My own view of the world and my past experience of fantasy literature (I was raised on A.A. Milne, Lewis Carroll, Grimms' and Anderson's fairy tales) undoubtedly influence my responses.
The opening story in this book, "The Enchanted Forest," seems as beautifully heartbreaking (at least on first reading) as Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Match Girl," and for similar reasons. A fairly typical modern woman, seeking relief from stress, goes on a camping trip alone, and finds exactly what she has dreamed of: a natural environment that responds to her every wish and literally makes love to her.
Catherine, the heroine, is lovingly bound to a tree by sentient roots and branches. There follows a consensual assault by flowers (I kid you not) which resembles a scene from “The Nutcracker Suite:”
She peered down between her legs and noticed that each and every bloom, while brushing cross her trembling nether lips, cleverly turned its face toward them and thrust out its heavily coated stamens for a thoroughly intimate kiss that doused her with their nectar!
This is only the first round.
Catherine hears a high-pitched sound and sees a mist moving in the sky. When the “mist” approaches, she sees that it is a huge swarm of brilliantly-colored butterflies who have arrived to finish what the flowers started:
Catherine stared with wide, disbelieving eyes as they each, in turns, feasted on the banquet that had been so painstakingly spread out before them. Their activity tortured her in the most delightful way.
Remarkably, Catherine is able to survive on her own in the forest without any of the supplies she brought with her. Memories of her past life fade over time, and she feels no desire to contact anyone or return to a job or an apartment.
When she discovers something unexpected, the enchantment of the forest can be understood. Is this story about an afterlife? Read it and decide.
"Disenchantment" is a clever war-between-the-sexes story in which a woman tells her date, apparently a nice-enough guy, why men and women are not well suited to each other."'A woman's most fundamental need, at her core,’ explains Maryanne, ‘is to be desirable.'” She pauses for effect before explaining that everything men do after they have had sex with a woman for the first time “’is designed to diminish her belief that she is desirable.’” Maryanne sums up: “’I think it is an unconscious effort to ultimately destroy her desirability to other men.'"
The man takes her explanation as a challenge and decides to prove her wrong. Will he be attentive to her for the rest of his life? Is his attentiveness a sign that he is truly in love or that he is trying to prove her wrong? Although the sex between them is completely mutual and romantic in its way, the two characters are clearly fighting a duel.
The conclusion of this story is as brutal as the woman's theory. It is both unforeseen (by one of them) and as predictable as the behavior of a predator in the wild.
There is a vampire story in this collection, and it follows the popular heterosexual pattern of Dominant vampire male with submissive mortal female. In this version, the woman has a reason to offer herself to the local vampire, whom she has been stalking for awhile. She even has an elaborate plan for getting what she wants, a kind of topping-from-below strategy. The story has a surprisingly happy ending, but the enchantment doesn't work for me.
"Expecting" is about the alien impregnation of Emilie, a woman who is happily married at the beginning of the story. Her life is taken over by something almost indescribable which creates a credibility gap between her and everyone she knows, particularly her bewildered husband. As in real-life testimony about alien abductions, the sanity of the witness is in question.
Here is where the author’s use of a distancing third-person voice (which expresses Emilie’s consciousness) really works. There is objective evidence that something is happening in Emilie’s body, but the reader can never be sure what to believe.
Emilie has “dreams” or experiences which combine intense fear of the alien, reptilian invader(s) and an expectation of intense pleasure:
She could never be fully prepared for the creeping, slithering, clinging feel of them, weighty and slick as they moved sluggishly over her. The intrusiveness of their touch, so all at once eerie and repulsive, caused all of her senses to come startlingly alert.
Emilie comes to expect the intimate visits of beings she can barely see and whose motives she can only guess. The superhuman pleasure they give her is palpable, and her sense of having been chosen for an important mission is perversely flattering. However, like all such relationships—whether the mortal woman is visited by a fairy, a shapeshifter, a demon, by aliens or the Angel Gabriel—this one increasingly alienates Emilie from other human beings.
“Flowers for Angela” is a clever response to the award-winning short story (first published in 1959), novel and numerous dramatizations of Flowers for Algernon, the tragic tale of a laboratory mouse (Algernon) and his fellow-subject, Charlie, whose intelligence is manipulated by the mental-health establishment.
In Nancy Madore’s story, Angela is a psychologist who becomes suspicious of her male colleague’s methods when she is treating one of his former patients, a widow who can’t seem to move past her relationship with her late husband. The widow, who had first sought counselling because she and her husband were at odds, seemed to change abruptly from an independent thinker, who was not attracted to BDSM, to a devoted submissive who played the role of her husband’s dog whenever they were alone together.
Angela, as a career-driven professional, is also predictably separated from her husband, who would prefer a more appreciative wife. The one thing Angela and her husband can agree on is that their current relationship (not together but not yet divorced) is uncomfortable for both. Meanwhile, Angela decides to investigate her colleague under the guise of becoming his patient. The outcome is disturbing, especially when Angela’s colleague defends his methods in a male-to-male conversation with her husband.
While this story could be interpreted as anti-BDSM, it raises valid questions about marriage, two-career relationships, women’s rights, heterosexuality and the role of psychiatry (and counselling in general) in all of the above.
One of the author’s most convincing supernatural male characters is Jimmy in the story by that name. Like a teenage troublemaker who jimmies locks to steal other people’s stuff, Jimmy is a kind of archetypal bad boy who is magnetically attractive to (as well as attracted to) the central character, Sara, who lives with her boyfriend Ray, an understanding guy with whom she is totally compatible except in bed. Ray often climaxes before her and then falls asleep, not knowing that she is frustrated and too polite to tell him so.
Like other demon lovers, Jimmy can only possess those who want him on some level—and Sara’s frustration gives him the opening he needs. Jimmy, as it turns out, tormented good-guy Ray in life. And after Jimmy’s premature death, caused by one risk too many, he is not about to stop.
The sex-addiction that Jimmy can induce is vividly described, as is Sara’s increasing desperation. How do you fight off an incubus?
The answer to that question is elegantly simple, and Sara’s good-guy vs. bad-guy dilemma actually has a solution which does not force her to give up dirty, edgy, thrilling and satisfying sex to hang onto the “normal” pleasures of love, a job and a life that includes non-sexual activities.
Unfortunately, the author’s exclusive focus on male-female sex sometimes leads her into the shallow clichés of romance fiction. In “The Incentive Program,” the concluding story, a computer expert named Georgia spends all her time on a program which predicts the future and which ultimately leads to actual time-travel. The end result of the combination of technology and government bureaucracy is that Georgia is able to identify with an alter-ego, several centuries in the “future,” who becomes the cherished female partner of three men in a society in which women have become scarce. Considering the space-opera framework, the sexual adventures of “Cassie,” the alter-ego, seem surprisingly bland. The sex scenes would be more suited to a contemporary romance novel about a woman and her male harem, in which she carefully divides her time among three good-natured, barely-distinguishable lovers.Enchanted Dreams is part of a series by Nancy Madore which includes Enchanted: Erotic Bedtime Stories for Women, Enchanted Again and The Twelve Dancing Princesses. The series seems to have a deserved cult following. This author clearly has a way with paranormal subject-matter. She could be described as an enchantress who was born to cast spells, but whose power (like electricity) surges and wanes.