Is it time for this anthology already? How the year flies. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, because Best Lesbian Erotica is a consistently good collection of work from a diverse group of writers.
Once again, I am a happy reader. So many compelling characters and good stories. And oh yes, hot sex, but that’s such a personal thing that I don’t even try to pick out the hottest stories for readers anymore.
If you’ve read my reviews over the years, you know that I generally pick out three or four stories from an anthology to talk about. That strategy doesn’t work for me this time. Each story was well-written. The more time I spend away from them, in the hopes that only a few are memorable, I find myself recalling almost every tale.
Okay, so there are a few that stayed with me. I like to compare the wonderful Fiona Zedde’s “Kiss of the Rain Queen” with Catherine Lundoff’s “Arachne,” because both are tellings of myths the way they probably used to be before the flesh and blood was stripped away to leave us with dry bones. “Kiss of the Rain Queen” evokes such a lush world full of spiritual beauty where “Arachne” speaks to the beauty of art. And yes, the sex is hot, but what stayed with me were the themes of personal worth. Arachne is confident in hers, but Hasnaa from “Kiss of the Rain Queen” has constantly been told that she’s worthless. Once she is with a lover who values her, she’s able to soak in the comfort and love.
I’m not usually a fan of stories told in the epistolary form (traditionally as letters, but nowadays commonly as a series of emails), but Lee Ann Keple and Katie King pulled it off well in “A Knock At the Door” as two women work through a fantasy where each gives the other multiple choices for where it might go next. It ends with a knock on the door, and you know these two lovers are ready to take it to the next level.
What do you want to read? Seasoned lovers helping youngsters who have lost touch with themselves? How about Sacchi Green’s “The Bullwhip and the Bull Rider” or Anna Watson’s “My Visit to Sue Anne?” Like a threesome? Deborah Jannerson’s “Andro Angel” or Nan Andrew’s “Learning to Cook” might be your thing. Okay, technically “Learning to Cook” isn’t, but neither is “Still Flying” by Andrea Dale, but there is another woman involved to get things going.
You really can’t go wrong with this anthology. It amazes me that every year they manage to find so many great stories, but they do. The stories are varied. There’s some BDSM, but there are also more vanilla stories, if that’s more to your liking. There’s sweetness and nasty, naughty sex too. Whatever mood you’re in, you’ll find something to entertain you here.
The Marketplace series by Laura Antoniou has become a classic of BDSM fiction. Fans lovingly discuss the edition(s) they have and how worn they are. It’s a world unto itself with fabulous mansions, slaves, auctions, trainers, every type of service one could imagine (and a few new ones). It’s an amazingly complete fantasy where even the bureaucracy required to run it is fetishized. Turn a corner in this world and you won’t find a façade propped up by a few timbers. You’ll probably find a whole new area to explore. No wonder it’s so beloved.
I read a lot of erotica, much of it BDSM, and after a while most submissives and their dom(me)s blur into sameness, but while it’s been years since I read the Marketplace books, I recognized characters immediately. That’s one of the great strengths of the series. There are engaging characters of varying sexualities with different visions of what they want or need so that almost anyone can find someone to identify with, or at least to pique a reader’s interest in their story. The inclusiveness that’s been a hallmark of the series from the beginning, way back when nobody else dared mix hetero and LGBT sex scenes in a book, carries on with the cover of No Safewords. Call it daring, call it transgressive, call it post-whatever, you have to admit that’s one bold, beautiful picture. I have no idea what might frighten Laura Antoniou, but it certainly isn’t offending anyone’s delicate little PC feelings.
In her wonderful forward, Laura discusses her inability to trust others with her creation with charming frankness. With this anthology, she doesn’t give up control, but she allows aficionados to offer fanfic (I mean that term in the best way possible) that shows their love of the series and to expand the universe a bit. She retains control though, as shown in the comments preceding each story. That was a nice personal touch.
The anthology begins appropriately enough with “A Thousand Things Before Breakfast” by Marie Casey Stevens. More an essay than a story, it’s a good manifesto explaining why the characters pursue the lives they do.
“The First” by D. Alexandria explores a taboo most people in the United States wouldn’t have the guts to confront. A black woman ends up as the slave of a white man. Talk about a minefield of emotion, guilt, and history. Yet it is handled so well here without ever being preachy, angry, or apologetic. This isn’t a lesson; it’s a story that never flinches from saying difficult things, while also being quite erotic. If D. Alexandria continues to write stories this bold, s/he will be an author always worth reading.
I was so pleased to see one of my favorite characters in D. L. King’s “If You Try Sometime.” I was concerned about Robert ever finding his way, but with his new owner, as the title promises, you get what you need.
“Her Owner's Voice,” by Leigh Ann Hildebrand, intrigued me. A young woman inherits her father’s house, including a great many slaves, on her father’s death. She knows about being an owner, but until she finds her voice, the slaves run rampant over her. That’s not the part I found interesting. I loved the type of slave she wanted and the service she required. Fascinating idea.
It’s probably not much of a secret by now that I enjoy genderqueer characters. Sassafras Lowrey delivers an emotionally pleasing story of self-discovery and acceptance in “Hiding in Plain Sex.” My heart absolutely wrenched at the painful confusion over expectations and what it cost to put on that dress, but that’s what I want from stories.
Anna Watson’s “Delirious Moonlight, 1916: Mr. Sloan's Boy” takes readers back to the beginning days of the mansion. This slice of history will give fans some backstory. It was also interesting to see how this writer envisioned things might have been, back before the route to training was institutionalized. I can’t put my finger on exactly what made this story linger with me, but it did.
If you were worried that there wasn’t going to be a scene of intense punishment in any of the stories, “Pearls in the Deep Blue Sea,” by Jamie Thorsen, serves up what you might be looking for. In her intro to it, Laura talks about how it shows risks and consequences, and what happens when the necessarily secretive world of the Marketplace is endangered by careless words.
“Coals for the New Castle” is the second contribution to this anthology by Marie Casey Stevens. Maybe the prolonged ‘as you know’ parts of the conversation are references to stories further in the series that I have not read, or inside jokes. If that’s the case, fans might love references to events that had nothing to do with the story at hand. I found it a bit of a slog and lost interest.
“Getting Real” by S. M. Li is for any fans of psychological sadism.
Elizabeth Schechter’s “O, Promise Me!” closes the anthology with a period piece that demands a bit of suspension of disbelief, but it’s so fun you won’t mind being generous. If you love Victoriana and a dash of adventure, this slight twist on the tales of being held captive by a desert bandit (that’s only part of the tale. Ms. Schechter packs a lot of story into a small space - so to speak) will captivate you.