Madness. Darkness. Death, and what might lie beyond. Gothic fiction takes us to the edge of comfort, icing our wonder with a blast of cold terror as we confront the unknown – including the unplumbed depths of our own own hidden desires.
Mitzi Szereto’s latest anthology marries the tropes of the Gothic genre with graphic erotic content. The results are surprisingly varied, transcending the clichés of windswept moors, haunted mansions and buried crypts to provide some impressively original tales.
Possibly the most startling is Benji Bright’s “Blood Soup.” An exacting master chef concocts daily feasts for his reclusive noble employer, whom he has never met. The extraordinary repast he concocts from cow’s blood brings a summons, a moment of shared release and the revelation of secrets. I loved the twisted logic in this tale, laced with somber power.
Another standout tale is “The Wildest Spirit,” by Sacchi Green. Two beings on the edges of society, both scarred by their wild abilities, find common cause and unexpected passion when they try to stop the deliberate slaughter of coyotes. With its simple, concrete language, this eloquent story has some of the flavor of a fairy tale, but it’s not at all clear a happily-ever-after awaits the characters.
Ms. Szereto’s own contribution, “The Dracula Club,” is a delight.
I knew early on that my calling to the Old Country was not the result of some youthful fancy, which was how my family, schoolmates and teachers had always dismissed it. There’s not a huge amount of interest in Transylvania where I’m from, nor is there a huge amount of interest in Goth culture. Everyone thought I was crazy to be working all hours answering phones in a grubby warehouse office in the daytime (where no one had to look at me), then serving up greasy fast food and watery ice cream at the Dairy Queen in the evening (where I could be seen, but the country bumpkins and hot-rodding juvies were usually too drunk on cheap beer to care).
But I had a plan—and it was to save up enough money to fund my trip to Romania and have a bit left over to keep me going until I figured out how to earn a living. What did I care what the local yokels thought of me or my goals? I’d always been an outcast with my dyed black hair and my face and body piercings, my heavy black eye makeup and weird black clothes. The only people back home who dressed in black were the Amish—and they sure as hell weren’t Goth.
In a grimy Transylvanian pub, the narrator meets two gorgeous Gypsy boys – Dragos and Bela – and gives herself completely into their hands – both literally and figuratively. Their smutty, uninhibited three-way couplings are among the most erotic scenes in the book. Meanwhile, bit-by-bit, the beautiful Gypsies lead the transplanted Goth girl toward her dark destiny. She’s more than willing to follow.
T.C. Mills’ “The Wicked Wife” provides a fevered modern-day reading of Bluebeard that definitely got my blood boiling. “Reynolds’s Tale” by Adrian Ludens features Edgar Allen Poe as a character, and is written in a style reminiscent of that master of horror. Rose de Fer’s “Moonfall” gives us a Victorian werewolf, incarcerated in an asylum for the insane by her evil husband and rescued by her mortal lover. “Zapada Alba” by Tracey Lander-Garett is another shape-shifting tale, told in lush, sensual prose. Gary Earl Ross’s “Sister Bessie’s Boys” is a surprisingly sweet ghost story with a strong sense of place.
I would not, by the way, call this collection romance, at least not in the modern sense – but I guess that’s necessary these days to sell books. In perhaps half of the stories, requited desire leads to the promise of a future as a couple. The others are, thankfully, far more ambiguous.
Darker Edge of Desire offer vampires, were-creatures, demons and succubi – but don’t expect them to follow the rules of popular fiction. Overall, Mitzi Szereto has assembled a strong and diverse collection that showcases the creativity of her contributors.
I have to say before I begin this review that I don’t approve of revenge. Revenge is the selfish face of subjective justice. Revenge is the acceptable justification of an unacceptable vendetta. Most importantly: revenge is just too bloody time consuming.
I speak here with the voice of experience. To quote directly from Gilbert and Sullivan: “I’ve got a little list.”
Actually, my list isn’t that little. If I bothered to print it out I expect it would look like the Oxford English Dictionary – the twenty volume, 750,000 word edition. Many people have pissed me off throughout my time on this planet. And I’m petty enough to carry grudges the way a boy scout carries badges of merit.
I’ve also taken the trouble to list my nemeses alphabetically and by individual category. And I’ve also cross-referenced both lists. Former bosses take up quite a large category on their own. The boss that didn’t know how to flush the lavatory in the small office we shared – he’s on the list. The boss that told me he couldn’t afford to give out pay rises because he’d just bought a new BMW – he’s got a special place on there. The boss who tried to sue me after I’d left his company, because I owned the copyright to his company’s website – that worthless little tosspot has his own category.
But part of my problem is that I don’t have the time to exact revenge on these cretins. More distressingly: I don’t have the imagination to plot the appropriate revenge. I stress this latter point because I sincerely believe that all revenge should be poetic. The Bible tells us we should seek “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” I know Jesus came along after that part, and suggested some pacifist bullshit about turning the other cheek, but that sentiment only appeals to pussies who are too weak to get the job done properly. Turning the other cheek is for those mere mortals who don’t want the powerful satisfaction that comes from exacting a cruel and sadistic (yet wholly justifiable) revenge.
However, whilst I know my last employer needs to suffer a payback appropriate for the sleight he has made against my reputation, my gut reaction is to simply kick the little bastard in the balls.
Of course, this plan is hampered by the fact that he doesn’t have a pair. But, if he had a pair, I would don my steel toecaps and that would be my first option as a course for revenge. Yet it wouldn’t be poetic – and a good act of revenge needs to be singularly apt. It’s a rule that seldom applies to justice but it always applies to revenge: the punishment must fit the crime.
Getting Even: Revenge Stories contains some exquisitely poetic revenge stories. Editor Mitzi Szereto has compiled a collection of stories that are clever in their execution, stylish in their composition, and wicked in their eventual denouements.
I should state here that this anthology is not the collection of erotic stories one would usually expect from Mitzi. There are some erotic elements, granted, but with this anthology Mitzi has focused strongly on the theme of revenge. The content of each different tale varies through various levels of payback. The stories are always exciting, often devious, and sometimes sexy, but they seldom venture into the lurid or pornographic.
However, whilst the anthology isn’t erotic, it is extremely compelling and certainly makes for powerful and unputdownable reading.
The Spanish say that revenge is a dish that’s best served cold. Of course the Spanish would say this. Spain is a fairly hot country and most dishes are best served cold over there to counterbalance the risk of dehydration. Personally, I think revenge is best served steaming hot with a side-serving of smouldering passion. Cold revenge can be seen as plain vindictive – boiling hot revenge is the sort of delicacy that leaves you sated, drained and wholly satisfied. Getting Even contains recipes for revenge that are hot enough to make a volcano blush.
I have favourites from this collection. I adored the clever turnaround in Becky Bradford’s “More Than Skin Deep,” the tale of a philandering tattoo artist and his mistreated partner. I also loved Stella Duffy’s genius catalogue of retribution from “Payment in Kind.” Danutah Reah’s “Glazed” is a wickedly inventive way of beginning the anthology and Jean Lamb’s “Esprit de Corpse” is a wonderfully dark and twisted way to bring about the conclusion. I was also enamoured by Tony Fennelly’s genius methodology in “How to Kill an Aries” as well as Mitzi’s own devilish contribution to this anthology: “Hell is Where the Heart is.”
In short: it’s impossible to find fault with this collection.
I think everyone looking at this page, if they’re honest, will have harboured thoughts of revenge at some point in their life. Forgiveness may be divine but forgiveness doesn’t give the gut satisfaction of revenge. Whether it’s pain, purgatory, misery or murder: we’ve all contemplated payback and Getting Even shows how revenge can work at its best in fiction.It’s said that revenge is sweet: it should be noted that Getting Even is even sweeter.
I'm not sure how we're assigned books to review at Erotica Revealed. Once, in our past - is it six years now? - I requested a book I knew would be submitted, but every other book has been the choice of Erotica Revealed's D.L. King. She knows I love fantasy, so maybe that's why I was lucky enough to review Thrones of Desire. Fans of fantasy will not be disappointed.
So many stories to choose from. Where does one start to discuss the contributions to this consistently good anthology?
Dragons, of course.
“Here There Be Dragons” by Ashley Lister was a lovely treat. I expected it to be. He knows how to tell a tale. The keeper of a dangerous collection, or perhaps zoo, of dragons is confronted by a man who could give her everything she desires, including an end to her loneliness. She makes a warrior's decision that made me smile.
“Hot As a Dragon’s Blood” by Eric Del Carlo explores society's taboos as a bisexual man (or a gay man who rises to the occasion) and a woman work around the artificial limitations their people impose to answer the call of duty in time of war.
The opening paragraph of “The Last Sacrifice”by Zander Vyne is one of those finely wrought works that makes other writers envious. If you're a fan of shapeshifting, especially if you were a girl who really liked horses, this one is for you. (And there is a dragon.)
Janine Ashbless is another writer I can always count on for a thoughtful tale. Her “Of High Renown” challenges ideas of consent and guilt. The words coming out of her character's mouths are so spot on perfect that they're timeless. This is a story that you'll reflect on long after you've read it.
“At the Sorcerer’s Command”by Kim Knox offered a glimpse of a world I'd love to see developed further, although this tale stands alone. It set my fantasy fan heart fluttering with some rather interesting sex magic and a young woman who saves the day.Megan Arkenberg's “Jericho” at times borders on lyrical. The visuals conjured by her words are amazing. The best part of fantasy is when it pulls you in so deep that you don't want to leave the world or you wish you had more time to explore it. This story left me wanting more.