Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Sticks and Stones may break my bones...

But whips and chains excite me!

Okay, so I've always been a bit of a prude. I was a bit of a late/bloomer with the whole boy/dating thing, and I used to be a bit uptight when it came to sexual matters. Six years of marriage and two kids later, I am much less prudish, but I was still quite attracted/repelled by the whole Ellora's Cave/romantica phenomenon. The first time I got up the nerve to order something, I felt like the fat man behind the "Adults Only" curtain at the local used bookstore (What's back there? Used porno mags? GROSS!!). I even used a VISA gift card I had so that it wouldn't show up on a credit card statement. But since I was being naughty, I figured that I may as well be really naughty, so I got one of those menage opuses by Lora Leigh, one where brothers share their women. Oy. Anyhow, now I'll freely admit that I quite like romantica, especially of the pervy BDSM variety. And apparently, I'm not the only one, as it is the top-selling genre at Ellora's Cave.

So why would any liberal, feminist, hater of "forced seductions," captive stories and sheikhs enjoy reading about women (primarily) getting tied up and having all kinds of kinky things done to them? Yeah, it's weird to me too. In a way, these BDSM scenarios are merely a more extreme version of the alpha males, and aforementioned forced seductions etc. that still exist in today's romances. Heck you even find the word "dominance" and the idea of being dominated in more mainstream romances (although it's usually without a flogger). This being fiction for women, usually the author goes to great lengths to emphasize that it is the woman's choice, and furthermore that she feels free or actually empowered by participating in such scenarios. Whether or not this is convincing depends on the skill of the author.

I have little knowledge of the reality of BDSM. All my knowledge comes from reading romantica, which I see as a form of literature for women's fantasies. So I don't know whether the authors I've read are getting it right, or cleaning it up so that women like me actually find it romantic and sexy. But different authors present the lifestyle differently, and sometimes it's hot and sometimes it super-squicky. The best author I've read is Joey W. Hill, of all the romantica I've read. I just read Ice Queen, which was a sequel to the also excellent Natural Law (one of only two I've read with a Male sub!). Hill's books are peopled with adults with jobs, interests and lives, who just happen to be involved in this particular lifestyle. Since they are already practiced in the lifestyle, it lacks the ick factor of some of the books I've read where the guy seduces the girl, then proceeds to sort of coerce her into things. Hill also focuses on the psychological and emotional aspects for both the dominant and the submissive, the give and take for both. The sex scenes may be extreme, but it is always clear what both parties are getting out of it,and how it is bringing them closer. So often, we see a lot of what the sub feels and the dominant comes off as a creep who gets off on humiliating the heroine and pushing her into embarrassing situations. Then we are told that he cares about her and he does it b/c that's what she wants. Don't buy it, squicked out. Hill avoids that whole humiliation bit, i.e. calling the person "slut" or "whore", and as I pointed out the sex scenes take place privately or in a club that the characters belong to and are familiar with.

I don't know, I intended this to be a review of Ice Queen, and has turned more into a treatise on my view of BDSM romantica. I really enjoyed Tyler and Marguerite's story, although the ending was a bit disturbing, then abrupt. But there's going to be a sequel, soon I hope! Marguerite is a truly troubled person and we need a sequel where she works out some some of her issues, so I can be convinced that she won't stab Tyler in his sleep one night. If you are thinking of trying out BDSM romantica, give Joey W. Hill a try. Bound to Trust by Jaci Burton is another good one. Now different strokes for different folks, and perhaps it's more realistic, but if you are uncomfortable with a heroine being humiliated in various ways, including public situations with strangers, avoid Claire Thompson. I have a high squick level, and I was bugged out. I'm very careful with buying this stuff these days. I don't want to spend six bucks to horrify myself.

Also: Not one of the local Barnes & Noble's have Taming of the Duke yet. WTF? I bought Lord Perfect and Sword of Darkness intsead, to make up for the disappointment.