To me, “steampunk” has always brought to mind Victorian idealism – and repression – blended with a lovely mix of H.G. Wells or Jules Verne. It’s often a tough combination to do well and adding erotica into the mix seems like it would be quite difficult.
Happily, D. L. King gathered a group of authors up to the challenge. In the introduction, King describes this lovely contradiction of the Victorian culture – so incredibly wound up, so guarded and hidden between such lovely – and tight – clothing; and yet they give birth to some great erotica. Whether that’s despite or due to the Victorian culture of women’s hysteria and gentlemanly actions, the reality is those Victorians definitely had their thoughts about sex. Shall we add in steampunk creations and see where this takes us? Yes, please.
The collection is aptly titled Carnal Machines. It would be easy to get lost in the devices of this ersatz era – they could so easily steal the show – but it is that the tales don’t do this that makes the collection shine. I’m a firm believer in the strength of narrative in erotica, and it’s obvious the authors in this anthology are cut from similar cloth. The devices are indeed carnal, but it’s the characters who take you there.
Case in point, the opening story, “Human Powered.” Teresa Noelle Roberts gives us a woman inventor who believes she has found a way to store the power created by sexually frustrated women, but the device needs tweaking. Unfortunately, a woman of the times can’t go about discussing such matters, and so she brings it to the one man she feels she can trust – her late husband’s former engineering partner. The slow boil between the two characters – and our heroine’s desire – tells a story perfectly set in this time period, and has a wry smile to deliver at the end alongside the sex.
“Sleight of Hand” by Renee Michaels, gives us a lady thief. Cassie is a character that’s wonderful to read, coming up against a style of lock that challenges her skill set, and leaves her at the clutches of a man she knows all too well – her husband. The uncovering of the reasons behind her fall to thievery and their broken marriage parallel his seduction of her with his clever inventions, and the end result is satisfying on both levels.
I daresay my favourite of the collection was Tracey Shellito’s “Lucifer Einstein and the Curious Case of the Carnal Contraption.” Here we have a fantastic heroine in Lucifer and her silent sidekick, Earnshaw, who read as a kind of Holmes and Watson of a cheekier bent, and who come across a mystery in a series of devices designed to mete out pleasure for those most in the need – but who could be the one behind these gifts, and what could be the motive? This story was laugh-out-loud enjoyable for its banter, and the series of steampunk devices – each more tuned to the individual’s needs than the last – was teasingly delightful.
The machines themselves, however, aren’t limited to steampunk dildoes – and here is where the cleverness of the authors D. L. King has collected is obvious. Kathleen Bradean’s “Lair of the Red Countess” leads a gentleman explorer to a device designed to bare his soul to the phenomenally wicked lady of the house. “Infernal Machine” by Elias A. St. James was somehow tender, funny, and sexy all at once, as a pair of young men try to figure out what a particularly complex chair-based machine might do. While Elijah worries that his Sasha might be leaving, he focuses his efforts on the confounding chair, to delightful – if unplanned – results. In “The Treatment” D. L. King gives us an ever so slightly darker story, where a woman has found a unique way to use the vigour of young men to her own ends, and the dialog here is witty and sharp. And in “The Succubus,” Elizabeth Schechter gives us a delicious voice – the device itself – which operates as an entire floor of a brothel and definitely yearns for company of the most erotic sort.
D. L. King has gathered stories from a world I’d love to visit. If only I could find my ornithopter...
I have nothing but admiration for how well the authors in this anthology carried off the theme. There’s no real sense of repetition – each story is a fresh taste – characters ranging from thieves to sky-ship captains and even Dr. Watson pays a visit; settings run the gamut as well, from trains to brothels to space; and the journey is a worthy one to take.
When we pick up a book with a title like Seductress: Erotic Tales of Immortal Desire, edited by D. L. King for Cleis Press, we have certain expectations. When the cover blurb confirms that yes, this is succubus erotica, our expectations get ramped up as high as the libido of the traditional sorcerer summoning a sex demon. “Sexy, immortal women with the power to steal what they need from human beings through seduction,” the editor promises in her introduction. At this point, the reader’s needs had better be met, as well.
Seductress does not disappoint. In some ways we get a better deal than the sorcerer, since we can share the pleasures of both the human and the succubus, and count on surviving. (My one quibble about the book as a whole is that there’s a bit too much surviving going on. Still, it’s a tricky business to draw a reader deeply into the persona of a character, as most of these stories do, and then polish him or her off abruptly at the end, so maybe it’s just as well.)
D. L. King wisely starts off with two relatively traditional pieces. The first, “Harvest” by Aurelia T. Evans, has just the right tone and atmosphere, and a most satisfying succubus (with an especially talented tail.) “’I will hurt you. But in the end...’ That predatory smile again, like the glint of a sharpened blade. ‘It will be more pleasure than you have known or will know again, made more potent by the fact it cannot kill you.’” Yes, that’s exactly where we wanted to go when we opened the book.
The second story, “A Surprising Summons” by Kaysee Renee Robichaud, has just as much of a traditional feel even though the seductress quickly adapts herself to the modern world of her summoner. Over three encounters separated by a good many years. The sex is just as intense as in the first piece, but more nuanced, and so are the characters. The ending is poignant, moving, and well-earned by what has come before. A nice variation on the ancient theme.
I’m a big fan of variations. However clear my expectations may be, there comes a point when enough of them have been met that what I want most is to see wildly different treatments of the theme, and the parts that stick longest in my memory are the ones that startled me.
What catches my attention could be a macabre, disturbing, yet lovely description of a setting, as when Kannan Feng says in “Before a Fall,” “Last year, I attended a moon-viewing party over the River Nekane. A hundred skin lanterns floated in the water, throwing back ruddy, sullen shadows.” The story that follows is beautifully written and intensely erotic, though I did find myself wishing for more details of this particular world of demons.
Or the hook for me could be an imaginative set piece, like the submissive man cowering on the step below his mistress in a lavishly decorated department store as he rides with “The Girl on the Egyptian Escalator” by NJ Streitberger. This one was also quite satisfying in that the man was so easy to dislike.
All the stories here are good, each in its own distinctive way, and all deliver abundantly when it comes to eroticism. Since women are always in charge, and their needs are paramount, reading too many stories in a row too quickly may give an impression of repetition when it comes to the elements of sex, but that’s pretty much inevitable. The men certainly get everything they can handle, and then some.
The stories that really blow my mind (and everything else) are the ones combining well-crafted writing with startling originality. Three in particular stand out in this respect.
In Evan Mora’s “Star-Crossed,” the legendary lovers achieve an immortal life together, but at a price. Romeo has an accidental encounter with a vampire, and Juliet, in order to stay with him, makes a deal with the devil. But the vampire Romeo has no life force to feed on, and Juliet the succubus has no real blood in her veins. “And that’s us in a nutshell: Romeo and Juliet, the star- crossed lovers, a pair of immortals who can’t give each other the very thing necessary for their continued existence. The Devil, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.” That, of course, is only the beginning; the pair work out their system through several centuries, and eventually Juliet shares an episode when they go clubbing to hunt down a meal satisfying to both of them. A clever concept, developed with style and passion.
Sasha Bukova delivers a memorable character in “Zach’s Last Ride,” a stunt-rider whose feats of speed and danger feed the lust for more than soaring through the air on his motorcycle can satisfy—until he meets the mysterious girl on a bike that’s “all big engine and wide tires with high, wide handlebars that resembled devil’s horns.” Both of these characters are larger (and darker) than life, but Bukova somehow makes them touch us deeply.
The final piece is Kate Dominic’s “Soaring.” Kate takes originality to unexpected heights, with a seductress who passes for a photojournalist embedded with American troops in Afghanistan. This succubus feeds on the sex-gorged dreams of soldiers far from their homes and loved ones, while bonding with them on very human terms, until a final twist raises the transfer of erotic essence to a whole new plane. Brilliantly conceived, beautifully realized.
So, yes, in case there’s any doubt, I liked Seductress very much, and quite a bit of it I loved. The fact that I’m a writer and editor myself is bound to affect my opinions, so take that into account. That said, I do think that anyone who is intrigued by the notion of succubus erotica will have their needs and highest expectations met here—and then some.
As D L King points out in her introduction to She Who Must be Obeyed, the dominant femme is a mainstay of life and literature.
The dominant femme has long been an archetype in life, as well as in literature. Butches, bois, women and girls look to her as the guiding force in life and love and, of course, hot, down and dirty, back-up-against-the-wall sex. And dominant women know, perhaps innately, that bois need a firm, guiding hand. The same holds true for butches of all stripes as well as girls and other women. It’s a universal truth that the dominant femme knows just where she fits and all others will flock to the aura of power surrounding her.
D L King, Introduction
One worries sometimes that an anthology with such a specific theme could be limited in the scope of its content. Surely, if the remit for authors is fixed to the one archetype, there isn’t much opportunity for originality?
But it’s a false assumption. King is an accomplished editor who selects stories for talent and originality. Yes, the archetype of the dominant femme appears in each story, but it’s an archetype realised differently by each writer, and existing in a different narrative form.
She walks out still in the black strapless gown and opera gloves.
She gives me that head to toe assessment again and then gives my shoulder a push downward.
“Get on your knees.”
So it’s going to be like that. Her earlier femme fatale act wasn’t just flirting. I pause, because even though I fantasize ruthlessly about being commanded and controlled by an aggressive femme, there’s a certain mercilessness in those green eyes. Suddenly I feel certain that this might end in a screaming orgasm or a plea for mercy, but it probably won’t end with a cuddle before brunch.
I get on my knees, the asphalt cold and damp through my jeans.
She pulls up her dress and shows me pale, shapely long legs and then the smooth seashell of her pussy. Of course she’s waxed bare. She’s the most flawlessly groomed woman I’ve ever seen.
She smiles down at me. “Get to work—and if you do a good job, there’s a reward in it for you.”
Valerie Alexander, "Noir"
Alexander’s dominant femme is appraising the narrator’s abilities. The story addresses a level of control and submission that are delightfully executed and speak to a desire for devotion to celebrity culture that is endemic within modern society. But this is not the only way dominant femmes are portrayed in this collection.
But then a curious thing happens. As she slowly thrusts more deeply into my ass, the pain lessens, and exquisite sensations rise up to mingle with the pain. She’s slowly but gradually increasing her pace, and sweat breaks out all over my body. My hips rise up to meet each thrust and I’m breathing open-mouthed moans into the bed in time to the rhythm of her fucking me. She’s making breathy sounds of her own, and I can feel her pleasure rising and I am lost, completely engulfed in sensation, sinking into it, time and place disappearing until there is only Her. Pleasing Her. Giving myself over to Her. She cries out suddenly, her body tensing above me as she reaches her peak, and I feel a pleasure, a gratitude, so intense that it transcends orgasm completely.
"Unchartered Territory," Evan Mora
Evan Mora gives us a powerful and explicit story of reciprocated devotion. Mora has a gift for language that makes every syllable count as she shares this intoxicating tale of passion and submission.
This is a collection that contains some of my favourite authors (D L King, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Sacchi Green, Theresa Noelle Roberts, Jean Roberta, to name a small few) and a handful of authors I haven’t previously had the chance to enjoy.As I mentioned earlier, D L King knows how to collate exactly the right material for an anthology. The works here are of the highest standard with the focus remaining balanced between narrative function and erotic content. Whether you’re enamoured by your own dominant femme, or simply curious about a world you don’t ordinarily occupy, She Who Must be Obeyed is essential reading material for those who enjoy well-written erotic fiction.
It’s 5PM, it’s 92 degrees in my office, and we don’t have air conditioning. I am a tad grumpy, as you might well imagine. In Slave Girl land, that would be the cue for my Master to come drag me away from my computer for a scene. First I would be annoyed, then turned on, and finally, grateful. If that’s what the Master of your daydreams does for you (guaranteed better than a brand name bubble bath!), you’ll find it here in “Noise” by Evan Mora, and in “Hell-Bent For Leather” by Victoria Behn.
Or maybe you like to imagine being shared. “Out of Sight” by Rachel Kramer Bussel and “Passing the Final” by Donna George Storey explore the delights of being blindfolded and at the mercy of strangers – but under the watchful eye of a protective man.
If your fantasy is the excellent movie Secretary with James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal, then “Serving Mr. Brown” by Veronica Wilde will probably push your buttons in all the right ways. “Day Job” by Deborah Castellano will also give you that workplace stern boss vibe, as will Lisette Ashton’s “Green’s.”
There are so many reliably good writers contributing to this anthology that you can hardly go wrong even selecting one at random. Thomas Roche, Alison Tyler, DL King, Giselle Renarde and others deliver tales that are in turns intense, riveting, and beyond the ordinary.
Spank! starts off with a sexy little story called “Just a Spanking.”
“Excuse you for what?”
“Where’s your lead? Don’t you want to write something like, ‘Spank! delivers a wallop’?”
“Have you been reading my review copies again?”
“You leave a book called Spank! with a sultry cover like that out on the nightstand, and I…”
“Well, I took the hint.” He cracks the spine and begins reading:
‘I guess I’ll just have to hit your harder,’ he says and follows through on his promise.
Thwack! Slap! Even he couldn’t possibly have the strength to keep this up. Agony stitches across my lacerated flesh each time his hand finds its mark.
“Oh, yes, that’s from the opener by Lisabet Sarai,” I say, remembering fondly.
“You had the page dog-eared.”
“For return visits.”
“You’re planning on returning to all of these?” He brandishes the book, with the multitude of bent-over pages.
“I like re-reading my favorites.”
“No, not usually. I tend to sprawl in the bed with the book in one hand and my Rabbit in the other.”
“Let’s try aloud.” He hands me the book. I open to the first bent corner selection, from a story called “Thin-Skinned” by Jean Roberta:
I wanted to spank her without mercy for making me worry so much about losing her….
“No, not like that.” I look at him. “Bend over the sofa and recite me the parts you marked. I’ll be doing some marking of my own.”
I should have known better. When D.L. King asked if I would read and review Spank! I ought to have requested a PDF, because here I am, attempting to write the review, but now forced to bend over for the man.
I make a big show of setting down my pencil and picking up the book. As I drag my feet over to the sofa, I wish like hell I’d put on long johns, fleece sweatpants, a flannel robe, a suit of armor—instead, I’m wearing the naughty nightie he gave me for Christmas, nearly translucent crimson silk, over matching panties. My husband waits while I get into position. I open the book to the second bent-over page.
“Name and title, if you please.”
“This one is from Anna Black, called “Elementary My Dear, Sir.””
“I like the sound of that.”
He slowly rubbed his hand over her rear, his smooth palm pressing hard against her flesh.
“Nice.” He does exactly what the book says. “Choose another.”
“This is from “Sugar” by Sommer Marsden.”
My bottom burns, my pussy lets loose a warm and shameful slick of excitement, and he pushes his fingers into me again. ‘Jesus, Sheila. Look at you. Look at this.’ He holds his fingers under my nose and in the fairy lights that dot the ornamental trees, I see it. The wet evidence of how easy I am. I feel like the stars in the midnight velvet sky are watching us.
“I can see why you’d return to that clip,” he says, sliding his own fingers between my thighs.
Punishment first, forgiveness afterwards. Isn’t that the best way?
“You didn’t give title and author.” He spanks me once, hard.
“This one is called “Slippering” by Lee Ash.”
Yes, darling,” she repeated. Jake turned to Duncan. “For modesty’s sake, I could slipper her like this, but I always think that the fabric of her knickers might cushion some of the blow.
“That is a problem,” Sam agrees, pulling my own knickers down. Fuck me for choosing that particular excerpt at that particular time. “Next.”
“This is… “Richard’s Reward” by D.L. King.” I’m stuttering over the words because Sam is punctuating each phrase with a stinging spank.
Poor Richard had a difficult time keeping his legs apart and each time he’d bring them together and clench his bottom, she’d stop and gently tease them apart with the head of the crop.
She paid special attention to the sweet spot where his thighs met his rear end. The cropping went on until he was rolling uncontrollably against her lap and she heard him sniffle.
Sam spanks me faster and harder now, so hard I can hardly read the next excerpt. But Sam being Sam, he doesn’t allow for excuses like crying. I wipe my eyes on my arm and continue. “This is from “What Jackie Gives Me” by Evan Mora:
‘Get yourself off, you dirty bitch.’
I moan then, already half lost in the crazy rush of pleasure-pain his words and his cock and his vicious, beautiful hands deliver, but grateful still for the permission he’s given. He could have denied me any kind of release; Jackie can be cruel.
“So can I.”
I know that, which is why I’m relieved and grateful when Sam runs one of his large hands under my body and begins to strum his fingers against my clit. I let the book fall to the sofa cushion and I close my eyes.
“You chose that last excerpt on purpose,” he says as I come.
“I didn’t,” I insist.
“You think this is a good time to argue with me?” I bite my lip and shake my head. “What will your review be?”
He grabs the book from my hand and gives me a solid ten strokes with the collection. “Good, bad, indifferent?”
“Oh, good,” I say, standing up and rubbing my sore behind. And it is good. A good, solid spank of a book (or a book to spank with solidly)—to dip in and out of in any manner you choose.
Does the world really need another anthology of spanking stories? When will the market for them become glutted? This was my first thought when I took my first glance at this one. Then I realized that spankings are no more similar than fucks. A spanking takes its meaning from the relationship in which it occurs (teacher/student, Dominant/submissive, etc.), it can involve more than two people (a witness/voyeur, spankee-in-waiting or assistant spanker can play a powerful role), and it can involve a wide variety of sensations.
This collection is different from the others I have reviewed. The cover image shows a woman from the back, her butt-crack exposed by a curved gap in her clothing which cleverly suggests the signature red “V” in the logo of the publisher, Ravenous Romance. This alone distinguishes the book from those produced elsewhere.
A surprising number of these stories involve threesomes; this seems surprising because spankings, by definition, seem to be a one-on-one activity. Even the stories with the most conventional plot premise (Dominant man spanks submissive woman) each have some unusual ingredient that raises the story above the level of cliché.
Like many other anthologies, this one combines stories written with different levels of skill and levels of realism. Helen Madden’s hilarious fairy tale, “The Unfair Maidens,” is a slapstick (literally) version of the revenge story (heterosexual male player gets what he deserves from the women he has played) as well as a parody of the kind of folk tale originally taken seriously. “The Birthday Boy’s Punishment” by Garland is a classic gay boy’s fantasy about getting spanked and fucked by a male teacher as soon as he turns eighteen. (Even in a daydream, it seems, all characters must be legally old enough to consent.)
“Dorm Room Disciplinarian” by A. Erin Golding is a parallel story about a male university student who finds the right female tutor. Instead of distracting him, her spanking focuses his mind so that he can learn better. In “Professor Kent’s Book Club” by Nina Tate Parker, a man who visits his academic mentor, Professor Kent, is amazed to learn that the professor has started a “book club” for submissive middle-aged woman who are not getting what they need from their husbands. The professor encourages Richard, his former student, to explore his own desires and to ask for what he wants.
The fantasy stories include two about the writing process itself. The one that entertained me best is “Inspired” by Martha Davis, a truly inspired study of the relationship of a woman who writes erotica and her devilishly handsome incubus-muse, Alexander, who must be spurred on to give her ideas. I’ve seen this concept embodied in erotic stories before; paradoxically, most erotic writers seem to need a charge of lust to be in writing mode, but writing is usually done best alone. Some versions of this plot are tragic: writer is so obsessed/possessed by fantasy lover (in some cases a ghost or evil spirit) that the writer is alienated from other humans.
In “The Roll-Top Desk” by T. Harrison, a pair of writers are determined to inspire and stimulate each other, even though their writing is not necessarily erotic. The male poet, who uses vintage writing tools (a refinished roll-top desk and an old manual typewriter), gets his girlfriend to read his latest poem aloud while he spanks her in rhythm. She suggests revisions, he literally tries them out on her, and both characters are thus recharged. Afterwards, they each return to their writing. This method could work.
Among the threesome stories are “His and Hers” by Ily Goyanes (a variation on the classic fantasy of a stern female librarian punishing a bad boy for breaking library rules), “Designated Hitter” by Big Ed Magusson (an initiation story about a husband and wife discovering the world of BDSM), “An Incentive for Penny” by Jade Alexander (about a submissive female employee and her Dominant female boss – but the submissive has been set up by her boyfriend) and “The Upper Hand” by D.L. King (in which a male Dom, who advertises for spankees in the newspaper, has a female assistant).
In a sense, threesome spanking stories seem very logical. Even in childhood, a real spanking (delivered by parents) is/was likely to be the result of a set-up: Child A tempts Child B to misbehave, thereby earning a spanking, or one authority figure (e.g. Mom) reports the child’s bad behavior to the designated punisher (e.g. Dad).
In several of the realistic stories, understanding friends or mentors play a key role in the initiation of newbies, some of whom don’t understand their own desires as well as others do. In “A Cure for Excess” by Annabeth Leong, a young woman is devastated after being dumped by a boyfriend who complained that she was “too demanding” sexually. Her friend Rebecca, and Rebecca’s sexy boyfriend, offer to help spank this quality out of her. Of course, being part of a threesome was exactly what she needed.
In “The First Weekend” by Nan Andrews, a married woman (Miriam) lunches with her married friend Celia, who seems to be having much more fun than Miriam is. Then Miriam’s husband invites her to join him on a business trip, and he introduces her to the world of BDSM to spice up their marriage and bring them closer together. He spanks her even when she is pleading with him to stop, presumably because he knows that she needs an emotional catharsis. Feh.
“Glass Slippers” by Leela Scott is about a married pair of ballet dancers who integrate spanking into their rehearsals. Both their dancing and their relationship are shown to be works of art which require much practice.
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by George Glass is about a woman’s search for the right man; like Cinderella, she has to date many suitors who are not quite suitable until she finds the one whose desires mesh with hers. “On Switch” by Penelope Pruitt is a similarly realistic story about a young man who needs a spanking so badly that he knocks on his girlfriend’s door in the middle of the night, unable to rest until he gets what he wants; eventually, he discovers that he has to give something in return. In “Little Boys” by Angela R. Sargent, men who crave the feeling of being boys again get when they want from a Domme.
Probably the most unusual story (and one of the best) is “Venus Callipige” by Cesar Sanchez Zapata, set in the Swinging London of the 1960s. The central character, a male clothing designer, is pestered by a model until he realizes to his amazement that his strait-laced persona and his efforts to brush her off are exactly what turn her on. While the happy ending stretches the reader’s credulity, both the style and the plot evoke a time when the energy of rock music seemed likely to transform the world.
Strangely enough, I was disappointed by the one convincingly lesbian story, “My Slutty Little Girl,” by Sinclair Sexsmith. The repetitious dialogue, which emphasizes the contrast of roles, is less sexy on the page than it probably would be in life. This type of pairing has often been described in lesbian anthologies, and it has been done better.
Anthologies always include stories which will not appeal to all the members of the target audience. Spankalicious, however, includes enough gems to be worth checking out.
It’s often more difficult for a writer to tell a story from a Dom’s point of view than it is to tell it from the sub’s. While it may seem that a sub is the passive one, that isn’t so. They are active participants. And, more importantly for a writer, they are often the experience the reader wants to share. Doms are supposed to be mysterious, distant, in control, and unreadable. That’s part of what makes them such fun fantasy figures. Imagine a lover who can read your mind and body so well you don’t ever have to talk, even if you could around that ball gag. But in order to create that mystery, the writer can’t let you inside the Dom’s head. And for that reason, even though this is the Big Book of Domination, many times the stories you’ll read are from the sub’s point of view.
Alison Tyler’s stories are always wonderful. She steps out of the usual tropes and writes such interesting characters. Although I read an anthology in order since the editor selected that order for a reason, I always want to save the Alison Tyler story for last. In “Playing for Keeps,” a reporter for an Avant Garde magazine hooks up with a sexual sadist. It makes her editor uneasy, and this reader uneasy too, to see how far she’ll go. If something beyond safe or sane revs you up, this is the fantasy to save for your alone time.
Have you ever seen a show where the performer was obviously loving every moment of it too? That joy and energy takes it to another level for me. D.L. King’s “The Day I Came in Public” has that same infectious spirit about it. The characters are having a good time, the writer is so clearly enjoying herself, and the reader? Well, the reader gets to enjoy being hot and bothered with a grin on their face. Don’t take this all too seriously and have fun with this gem of a story.
If you like your BDSM on the high fantasy side, try Andrea Dale’s “A Healthy Dose.” Mothers – it’s always the mothers, the doctor muses- send their daughters to a clinic to help them explore their submissive side. A young doctor watches with increasing arousal as a young lady in the garden thoroughly enjoys her punishment for spilling some whiskey. There’s no question he’s going to enjoy working here.
I’ve only mentioned the heterosexual couples, but there are several stories that feature gay, bisexual, and lesbian lovers mixed into this anthology. It’s a big book with room to be inclusive. With such talented contributors, you’re sure to find many stories that make you want to slip your hand under your clothes. Word to the wise for those of you reading on trains—your ebook reader may hide the cover, but we can tell from your flushed cheeks and squirming what sort of naughty things you’re reading. You should probably be punished.
I'm probably not the ideal reviewer for The Harder She Comes. I'm bisexual and I definitely enjoy lesbian erotica – I've written some myself. However, I'm pretty clueless about lesbian sub-culture, with its myriad labels, roles and self-identifications. Sure, I've heard the terminology – baby butch, boi, high femme, transman, and so on – but I don't have the first hand experience, the sociocultural background if you will, to fully appreciate the intended distinctions. It's a tribute to D.L. King's acumen as an editor that I enjoyed (and understood!) most of the stories in this book despite my ignorance.
A simplistic definition equates “femme” with feminine traits, appearance, and behavior, and conversely, “butch” with masculine attributes. One of the messages of this collection, however, is that the real meaning of these terms varies dramatically with the individual. On the one hand, we have Evie, the slinky flapper in Evan Mora's “Speakeasy,” and Jay, the dressed-to-the-nines “gentleman” who claims her during Roaring Twenties night at the local lesbian salon. The roles are well-defined, with Evie literally swept off her high-heeled feet by Jay's confident conquest. At the other extreme, there's the unnamed narrator in Aimee Herman's “Channeling Charles Bukowski.” Impersonating the notorious poet from the title for a Halloween dress-up day at work, she is discovered in the men's room by Emily from accounting, who has changed her usual feminine garb for a cowboy costume. In the steamy encounter that ensues, it's not at all clear who's playing what role – but it doesn't matter.
Up until now, I had never let a girl go there, minus a few times in college. I am a top, wrist grabber, dominant thruster. Allowing anyone down there puts me in too vulnerable a position. But I'm not me today; I'm not political butch bull dyke; I am a man who was too boozed up and covered in poems to say no or to have a type, so I just let go.
Suddenly, I understand what it feels like to be bisexual – the best of both worlds – except my genitals are sexual multitaskers, transforming shape and desire. My dick wants to be sucked on, to stick itself into something, someone. My pussy wants to be stuffed, filled, suffocated.
In between these two poles, The Harder She Comes offers a million variations along the two dimensions of male/female and dominant/submissive. “Winner Take All” by Andrea Dale features a shy, sincere butch who's trying to win a truck for the animal welfare non-profit where she works. Teddie's only real competition is Grace, a petite, glamorous woman who distracts poor Teddie by whispering the most filthy, kinky suggestions the poor butch has ever heard. Ultimately Teddie wins the truck, and Grace takes Teddie as her own prize.
“It's So Peaceful Out Here” is a funny, sexy story about a naughty femme going camping with a bunch of butches. Flirty, exhibitionistic Frankie is bound, clamped and brutally fucked by her Daddy, just the punishment she deserves – and just what she wants.
“Manchester 2000” by Stella Sandberg describes a New Year's Eve encounter between the butch narrator and a voluptuous straight woman who apparently believes she's screwing a biological man – or does she?
“Valentine” by River Light is hard-core BDSM, again with the femme on top. Silvia, the narrator's mistress and lover, presents the butch narrator to her own top, Casey, as a Valentine's gift. The physical trials Casey inflicts are not nearly as difficult to endure as the fear that the narrator has been abandoned.
In “Farmhand,” Miel Rose creates a confusing but delicious ménage involving a married butch/femme couple and the butch young woman whom they hire to do farm chores in return for rent. From one scene to the next, the power shifts in unexpected but exciting ways. “Official” gender roles are discarded in the pursuit of pleasure and connection.
Two of my favorite stories concern long-term relationships, in which the butch/femme roles are not really the focus at all. Kathleen Bradean's (literally) luscious “Tamales” is a snapshot of a couple's Christmas traditions, which involves cooking and other sources of heat. “The Bucket List” by Charlotte Dare deals with the unrequited love between a thirty-something butch and her married fifty-something best friend, highlighting the nonsensical barriers to their own happiness people sometimes erect.
The cocky butch in Valerie Alexander's “A Date With Sharon Tate” seems at first to epitomize the stereotypes. Yet her determination to win back the affections of her ex-girlfriend Shandra (who left because of a lapse in the narrator's fidelity) reveals a level of need she can barely admit.
In Anna Watson's “Bienvenido”, Daisy doesn't just want to play a masculine role; she's desperate to actually be a man. Wade, an unusual consultant, tutors the young butch in male attitudes, behavior and manners, turning the protegé into an accomplished Southern gentleman well-equipped to satisfy a lovely lady.
Other contributors to this collection include Shanna Germain, Beth Wylde, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Sinclair Sexsmith, C.S. Clark, Crystal Barela, and Teresa Noelle Roberts. The fact that I haven't specifically called out their stories should not be interpreted as negative. I want to leave some tales for readers to discover on their own! Also, these stories in many cases reprise strong themes of dominance and submission that I've already mentioned, sometimes with the butch on top, sometimes the femme.
Overall, D.L. King has done a great job with this anthology. Whether your criterion of excellence is deft writing, intriguing characters, sizzling sex, or all three, you won't be disappointed by The Harder She Comes.
This collection of nineteen vampire stories manages to enchant the reader, despite the glut of vampire fiction on the market. In these stories, the restlessness of modern travelers (mortal or immortal) meets the claustrophobic despair of static characters, like solid ghosts, who are trapped in particular places and old habits. The mortals in these stories are not the only ones who feel an ambivalent desire for the strange and exotic.
Here is Marta, the vampire narrator of Remittance Girl's story, "Midnight at Sheremetyevo:
Ever since I joined the family, the annual journey to Zurich to arrange our legal and financial affairs has fallen to me. I'm the only one left of us who still loves the cold, the only one who yearns for a nice crisp snowy night.
On her way to Zurich, Marta has to spend several hours in an almost-empty Russian airport where she meets a delectable young man who is drawn to her like a moth to a lightbulb. Both of them suffer as a consequence of their mutual attraction; dark romance doesn’t get much better than this.
Thomas S. Roche's story, "Wait Until Dark, Montresor," is also a traveler’s tale. The narrator gives detailed instructions to the reader, who presumably wants to meet a waif-like vampire author who lives in a room over a coffee shop. This route could be traced on a map:
The town of San Esteban is best reached by car on State Route 13, which slips off Interstate 101with subtlety, implying it doesn't wish to be noticed. Watch for the exit south of Ukiah, make your pukey, carsick way through the Coast Range and be sure to stop for an espresso and a home-baked brownie at Space Cowboy's shack just past the Chatelaine Reservoir about half-hour past Bargerville.
This story is as much about an otherwordly road trip in California, the state that has drawn so many of the curious and the hopeful from other places, as it is about star-fucking, or a cult of celebrity.
Other stories about rootless travelers include Maxim Jakubowski's story, "The Communion of Blood and Semen," in which an English writer who travels too much to form long-term attachments meets the female vampire of his dreams in cyberspace:
We'd met in Manhattan. On, of all places, Craigslist, the Internet Sargasso of obscene desire, barter, thievery, fakery and false identities.
Strangely enough, this romance has a happy ending.
Several of these stories are set in particular cities, all shown at night (of course). Lisabet Sarai, an American living in Thailand, uses local color to good effect in her story, “Fourth World.” When two English-speaking male tourists meet a glamorous Thai woman whose motives aren’t clear to them, one explains the local culture to the other in terms that could apply equally well to the culture of supernatural beings:
An Aussie friend of mine says that Thailand is ‘fourth world’ – a world where laws and logic are indefinitely suspended. Where anything can happen, and usually does. It’s a surprising place.
Madeleine Oh’s “Nightlife” is set in nineteenth-century Paris, where an apparent lady of pleasure picks up a sad man who drinks alone while recording the nightlife of his city in his art. The perceptive reader recognizes him as an actual person who became as immortal in his own way as the lady is in hers.
"Cutter" by Kristina Wright is set in the night world of Las Vegas, which attracts risk-takers. It seems like a logical place for the meeting of a self-destructive young woman and a hungry but compassionate male vampire.
These stories manage to squeeze fresh juice (so to speak) out of the traditional themes of vampire fiction. Probably the most obvious theme is the erotic exchange of vampire and mortal victim as a metaphor for Dominance/submission or sadism/masochism, and the confused desire of the “victim,” which is usually more obvious to the mind-reading vampire than to the self-ignorant mortal. In “Red by Any Other Name” by Kathleen Bradean, the roles of vampire as Dominant and mortal as submissive are neatly reversed as a professional Domme with human limitations responds to a telephone call from a mysterious male submissive whose taste for blood is expressed in a series of words for red, which are never spoken aloud.
Besides traveler’s tales, stories set in exotic locales and stories about the giving and taking of blood as power exchange, there are stories here in which bloodlust is a metaphor for addictions of various kinds and stories in which vampires function as eyewitness guides to the historical past.
The most powerful story (in this reviewer’s opinion) about bloodlust as addiction is “Once An Addict . . .” by A.D.R. Forte. In this story, a centuries-old female narrator (who is obviously a vampire) forces a modern man whose life is spiralling downhill to kick his habits and return to life and health, despite his resistance. Only when he has come to need her presence as much as he once needed mind-altering substances does she tell him why she chose him. They develop a mutual addiction:
I catch sight of us sometimes in mirrors, once with him behind me, his cock tight in my ass, and his bleeding wrist pressed to my mouth, our eyes glazed with euphoria, with the high.
The symbiotic relationship of vampire and mortal in this story points to a central irony in all the stories here that could be classified as romances with happy endings: even though vampires live parasitically on the essence of human life, several of these vampire characters fiercely preserve the lives of their mortal lovers even when those lovers are suicidal.
In “Blood and Bootleg” by Teresa Noelle Roberts, a debutante of the 1920s tries to distract herself with sex and illegal booze from the pain of losing her beloved twin brother in the Great War of 1914-1918. A handsome German guest appears at her birthday party, and responds to her hatred of “Huns” by letting her know that he has survived other atrocities in other times and places. In effect, he puts her grief in perspective while offering her consolation if she has the courage to accept it.
Singling out individual stories in this collection is hard because each of them is effective in its own way. However, one especially memorable story for me is the one lesbian story in this collection: “Devouring Heart” by Andrea Dale. In this heartbreaking tale, the good intentions of both vampire and mortal can’t make up for the communication gap between them. This relationship makes a valid-enough metaphor for real-life relationships in an incestuous lesbian community, and the story seems true to its literary roots.
The grandmother of such stories seems to be Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu, a novella about a young woman who exerts an apparently magical (and harmful) influence on her female friends. It was published in 1872, approximately a generation before Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
The one story in The Sweetest Kiss which seems out of place is “Kiss and Make Up” by Lisette Ashton, a kind of dark dirty joke about a vampire seductress who provokes her mate, Dracula, by seducing an innocent new male vampire who is unable to resist her charms or to realize that she has played this game many times before. Vampire humor is not a bad thing, but since it tends to debunk the tradition of vampires as objects of dread and desire, its appearance here undermines the mood that has already been set up.In general, the quality of the writing in this book is vivid and hypnotic. Anyone with an interest in vampire erotica is likely to find at least one favorite story in this batch.
James had done everything right that evening. The key word she had texted after she finished work, Shattered, had told him what she expected. She’d come home to a house decked in candlelight, to have James remove her coat and heels and store them in the correct places, to devour a sumptuous repast rich with cream and tomato and imbibe the two glasses of sparkling wine James had poured her. Afterward, he’d offered her his arm and brought her upstairs to the bathroom, steamy with hot mist, all white marble and gilded edges and in pride of place the long bathtub with curled, gold lion’s paws. He’d undressed her, and pointedly ignored her nakedness, even as his cock was clearly half-hard through his black jeans, and hadn’t touched her but to help her into the tub.
Bottled and Bound by Jacqueline Brocker
There is an element of power play in all dyadic relationships. Whether it’s between a couple in a committed relationship, an employer and employee or a pet and its owner. Invariably the balance of the power play falls between subtly negotiated boundaries with one participant being dominant and the other being submissive. In Under Her Thumb, as the title suggests, the theme is that of female domination.
Ordinarily, whenever I’m reading and reviewing an anthology of short stories, my first point of call is the foreword. The foreword usually gives me an idea of the mindset behind the anthology and in this one Midori presents a Sartre-esque explanation of the misunderstood dominant feminist.
But I didn’t read the foreword first on this occasion.
In the absence of a foreword I’ll sometimes read the introduction. This one, a courteous welcome from the extremely talented D L King, explains the relationship the anthologist has with this subject matter. It should be noted here that D L King has a personal investment in the specific perspective of the female dominant, establishing her authority as the right person to compile this collection of titillating stories.
But I didn’t read the introduction first on this occasion.
Sometimes I’ll go through the index, identifying names I recognise and trying to weigh the potential intrigue of various titles. This is a solid collection and contains writing from some of my favourite authors including Teresa Noelle Roberts, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Kathleen Bradean and Lisabet Sarai.
But, instead of whiling away my time choosing how to approach this anthology through that method, I picked on the name of an author whom I’d met, but whose fiction I hadn’t previously encountered: Jacqueline Brocker.
Jacqueline Brocker is an Australian writer living in the UK. She is published by Filament Magazine, Every Night Erotica, Freaky Fountain Press (Erotica Apocrypha), and by Ravenous Romance (My First Spanking). I was lucky enough to meet Jacqueline Brocker at Eroticon at the start of March this year. She’s a funny and intelligent person but I hadn’t read any of her material. This was the first time I’d met a writer and then had a chance to read her work afterwards. It’s more common to encounter an author’s work and then (if ever) meet them. I was curious to discover if this would affect my opinion of her writing.
Regina smiled. She gave the nipple a small pinch and twist, and skirted over her ribs and stomach to the sculpted pubic hair. Just before she found her clit, the path diverted to trace a line down her inner thigh. James’s head twitched, and he clasped his hands behind his back. She drew one finger back up, spreading her labia, opening herself so he could see the wet beginnings of her desire. His breathing quickened, and his erection expanded beneath the denim. Regina could have sunk her teeth right into it, if she’d had a mind to.
Bottled and Bound by Jacqueline Brocker
"Bottled and Bound" is the story of a dominant woman and her submissive partner. There are typical themes of power play within the story, echoed by the monarchic overtones of the character names (Regina and James) as well as the familiar tropes of BDSM activity including riding crops, black velvet cords and a cross. As with all the stories in this collection, Brocker’s writing is a combination of efficient storytelling, combined with an eye for the exciting, enticing and erotic.
James’s lips—thin and agile—caressed the length of her body, toe to neck, leaving trails of saliva and burning lust all over her. His fingers stroked her skin as if brushing her hair, never probing or pressing, and while he edged very close, he never touched her cunt, though it was becoming wet and plump and Regina was beginning to pant; he would get into deep trouble if he did so before she said.
Bottled and Bound by Jacqueline Brocker
This is an impressive collection of stories, following an eclectic path through the rituals and ramifications of female domination. From the mutual respect in Andrea Zanin’s story, "Quiet" through to the misandristic atmosphere of Veronica Wilde’s "In the Chill of her Displeasure," this is an anthology that’s worth reading for all those readers who celebrate female domination and for those who simply like well-written fiction.
These stories all share a common premise. All feature a kind of magical telescope that enables the viewer to see into hotel rooms at a distance, all involve the fictional Skylane Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada (“Sin City”) and the collection as a whole is a fundraising project to help finance the next annual conference of the Erotic Authors Association, which met for the first time in Las Vegas in 2011. In a sense, this collection captures the exuberant spirit of the first conference, which took place in the delightfully tacky Flamingo Hotel. A short elevator ride from the conference rooms, there were showgirls, slot machines, a sex shop and live flamingos. It was a place where, it seemed, anything could happen.
Despite the wish-fulfillment nature of the voyeuristic fantasies in this book, most of these adventures could have happened. The pacing (for lack of a clearer word) is exceptional in most of them. Each move is described in such detail that the sex scenes seem to occur in real time: it takes the reader approximately as long to read a story as it would to watch two (or more) strangers get it on behind huge, un-curtained windows.
In several of these stories, the strangers who are watched from a distance remain strangers, and that is part of their appeal. A vision of Las Vegas as an oasis in the desert where people from elsewhere come to indulge their appetites is prominent in some of the stories. In “Sin City” by Anandalila, the male watcher observes a rendezvous between a businessman and the mistress who consents to meet up with him in various cities, on his terms. She does this because he offers her sexual thrills she can’t get anywhere else.
Gambling, an activity which is exciting because it is risky, makes an obvious analogy for edgy sex, for leaving the curtains open so anyone can watch, and for masturbating while watching. Interestingly enough, most of the tourists in these stories are not experienced gamblers who win money. They know the cards are stacked in favor of the house. In most cases, however, their sexual experiences provide them with valuable memories.
In the humorous “Room 1101” by Nik Havert, a losing gambler returns to his hotel room, looks into the telescope and sees a gorgeous woman who is deliberately giving him a show. She writes her room number on a piece of paper and holds it up to the window, clearly inviting him to come join her. His mishaps along the way are frustrating but hilarious. Like a lost traveler in a past era, he finds his way past various obstacles until he arrives at his destination.
“Zoom In,” a Marketplace story by Laura Antoniou, can best be understood by readers who have discovered her novels about the Marketplace, a fictional international organization for the recruitment, training and selling (or leasing) of voluntary slaves. In this story, a British “spotter” comments on Las Vegas as the home of American excess while observing an heiress who reveals herself as a member of the pervarotti, a kind of aristocracy into which one must be born.
The other BDSM stories (to use a vast generalization) show that a Las Vegas hotel is the perfect anonymous place for activities that might be more awkward at home. In “Private Viewing” by the editor, D.L. King, the female narrator has come to the city to gamble, and is pleasantly surprised to see a sister domme playing with her boy-toy in another room. In “The Birthday Present” by I.G. Frederick, a domme brings her boy to Las Vegas to play, and he is delighted to run into a “brother,” his friend and fellow-bottom. What follows is a female-dominated threesome.
One would expect the sex trade to loom large in these stories, but the only scene that explicitly deals with prostitution is “Window of Opportunity” by Cecilia Tan, in which a female watcher has sent an inexperienced young woman to a male customer who thinks he is getting her, the woman who made the deal. The watcher is amused and aroused:
Fuck, is he good? Your face tells me he is. Maybe he’s one of these guys who imagines he’s in a porn film. He must have a nice view of his own reflection in the window there. Looks like he’s doing you nice and slow right now.
Several of these stories feature self-stimulation by ordinary people who are married with children and who surprise themselves by what they are willing to do while alone on vacation. In “Alone Time” by Cecilia Duvalle, Karen follows her husband’s instruction via long-distance telephone call. In a parallel story, “Dancing Waters” by Nan Andrews, Elaine follows the telephoned suggestions of a persuasive male voice. In “Vegas Lights” by Jade Melisande, Grace learns what turns her on when she watches a cigar-smoking man blindfold a woman, then let two other men enjoy her, within limits. The next day, the man gives Grace a nod and a smile of recognition. Thus she is forced to think about her own desires in the sober light of day.
One of the themes of this collection is that voyeurs often learn more about themselves than about those they watch. In “Seeing Clearly” by Genevieve Ash, the male watcher realizes that the man and woman who are touching each other in front of a window are a couple, two people with an intimate, complex relationship. Love is shown to be the ultimate aphrodisiac, although (or because) it is not a physical activity that anyone can perform on a whim.
In “The Mist Between Us” by Penny Amici, the female observer watches a man put a collar and chain on his female plaything. The watcher, who has apparently not recognized lesbian desire in herself before, becomes aware that she is intensely attracted to the pliable, submissive body of the woman.
Much of the appeal of voyeurism comes from the revelation of hidden truth, including the secret activities of the servants or the staff when they are off-duty and unaware of being watched. In “The Art of Watching” by K.D. Grace, a maid is caught masturbating while watching others through the telescope. The male hotel patron who catches her thinks she is in his power, but all is not as it seems. In “Dazzle” by Dominic Santi, a man watches a series of scenes in the supply room, which is clearly a favorite meeting-place for the hotel staff.This collection of stories is the next best thing to a trip to Las Vegas: not the Lost Wages of reality but the Sin City of imagination.
Where the Girls Are is a smooth and delightful entertainment that is as slick and slippery as a three-card Monte pitch on 42nd St in the heyday of the real Times Square. This book is an anthology of urban legends created from the authors’ lesbian fantasies (or perhaps memories?) -- both lipstick and butch -- of far-flung cities. I should point out here that D. L. King, founder and publisher of Erotica Revealed, edited Where the Girls Are. Much as it pains me to suck up to authority, I am bound to say that it is very ably put together and presents us with an engaging mix of settings and tastes.
While the issue of which city is the more felicitous for Sapphic adventures may remain moot, Where the Girls Are presents us with a seemingly endless array of possibilities from the most romantic to hard-edged BDSM. Indeed there is something for every taste as long as you don’t want a dick, or at least that you will allow that a fine, fat dildo will do in its stead.
There is a seamless flow to this book as one story elides nicely – with exotic variations – to the next. It makes the experience of reading the book rather dreamy in a one-handed sort of way. I will grant that I have some particular favorites beginning with the very first story, “The Critic,” by Charlotte Dare. “The Critic” is a truly wonderful example of erotic irony: you may get everything you wished for, but it may not be what you wanted. I am loath to spoil the plot by saying more, but it is worth noting that her style of writing is deliciously bemused and graced with subtle humor.
Top honors here go to Jacqueline Applebee’s “Old London Town” for her ability to create the voice of a real lifelong city dweller who finds fresh eyes for her surroundings by sharing them with a girl from out of town. San Francisco not surprisingly gets a lot of play in these stories among the best of which is Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “My First Play Party” where she is long and thoroughly spanked and otherwise ravished by a group of playfully stern erotic disciplinarians.
Further spankings and a dose of Gallic humiliation is administered in Andrea Dales’ “Come to my Window,” a sort of coming of age story filled with revelations and humiliations while having one’s bottom pleasantly blistered. In fact these stories contain an unusually high number of forcibly reddened rear cheeks not to mention anuses spread to the limit by dildos and sundry forms of restraint. It is a juicy array of possibilities.
The best use of the urban environment must go to Sommer Marsden in “Hot Child in the City.” She takes full advantage of Baltimore’s soggy, suffocating summer heat to set up a hot encounter between two equally hot denizens of that city’s sweltering streets. This story is especially pleasing because it is one of the few in the book where the urban environment and climate really do effect the characters’ choices and behavior as indeed they do in real life. The genuine grit of the narrative contrasts with the lust that allows a measure of escape. It is a form of self-preservation.
Best of all though is an absolutely steamy and utterly hilarious encounter between a cowgirl from Alberta and a wanna-be horse (girl) from Toronto. Though they meet in the sophisticate’s home city, it is clearly the country girl who has the upper hand in the outstanding story, “The City Pony” by Roxy Katt. Not the least of this story’s many virtues is the dialogue. It is genuinely witty, delightfully absurd and absolutely authentic in the way it captures the curious non-sequiturs of human discourse especially in the jittery throes of sexual arousal.
At times the ‘pony’ seems a bit unsure if she is not actually a cow of some sort. The cowgirl often has to race to keep up with the innuendo the ‘pony’ is tossing to her as the would-be equine tries to maintain the illusion of a subordinate position. After all, she is the pony, right? When at last she is brought to tether, the experience is really a good deal more humiliating and exciting than she had expected.
Where the Girls Are offers something for everyone including an aging hetero male like myself although the street wisdom is that we compose a large part of the audience for lesbian erotica. At any rate anyone can have a good time finding out where the girls are, and indeed, what they are up to between the sheets.