tagReviews & EssaysMore than Queen of the Damned

More than Queen of the Damned


Author's disclaimer: While writing her famous vampire tales and others, gothic novelist Anne Rice has also written a number of erotic novels, publishing them under the pen names A.N. Roquelaure and Anne Rampling. While each of the five novels undoubtedly deserves its own separate consideration, I offer this as an introduction to them, and an invitation to try them on for size, if you haven't already. This is not an academic critique, in other words.

* * * *

Belinda is the story of the love affair between a sixteen year old girl and a forty-four year old painter named Jeremy Walker. (In many ways, "Memoirs of a Lady, chapter 2" makes a nice companion read). As in so many of her vampire stories, San Francisco provides the romantic, European-accented backdrop to a tale of sensuality and discovery. While the character Belinda is legally a minor, this is not about exploitation, nor even a Lolita story. Instead, this novel chronicles the strange moment of awakening, that brief instant when a woman becomes aware of her own sexual power and promise, but hasn't yet become jaded by the predictable responses they inspire.

The character Jeremy Walker provides a narrating voice of experience, strengthened by a painter's obsessive eye for visual detail. His emotional and spiritual attachment to Belinda develops in fairly realistic fits and starts, and his ethical struggle to reconcile his feelings with her age resonates, much more than the titillating but usually vacuous stories obsessed with objectifying youth and beauty. This is a story about youth and sex, lust and obsession, but it is not one about conquest.

This novel is part romance, part sensual exploration and adventure. It's as if Jude Devereux and Henry Miller got together to write a novel, but Jude got final cut on the sex scenes. This is a good book to start with if you are squeamish about hardcore sex portrayals (though I know you aren't!), or aren't sure if you can get into Rice's writing style.

If you prefer your sex a little less vanilla, and the descriptions a little less tied to the intricacies of portrait painting, you might want to take a look at Exit to Eden. If you saw the wretched movie with Rosie O'Donnell and Dan Akroyd, the two unsexiest non-politicians on the planet, you may already be turned off to this one, and that's a shame. The book is engaging, often funny, and far, far sexier than the movie gives any reason to expect.

This tale follows a photo-journalist with submissive desires on his trip to a secluded island resort dedicated to BDSM fantasy play. On the island, he's to spend a year as a "slave," a contract-bound submissive paid to entertain the fantasies and desires of the extremely wealthy guests. But from the time he gets on the boat to the island, he starts to realize that while he enjoys a good paddling, he's not sure he's ready to live life as a full-time sub. And it only gets more complicated from there.

Suffice it to say there's love, sex, bondage, D/S, romance, intrigue, and a complicated web of lies; it's maybe the first BDSM fantasy soap opera. Because it's Anne Rice, expect to see (sometimes in needless detail) San Francisco and New Orleans, in addition to the tropical (and fictional) island that occupies a significant chunk of the book. Give this one a look if you want the sex heated up a bit, or if you find yourself in need of a good spanking.

If you've read this far, you're probably looking for something a little wilder, and you won't be disappointed. The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, Beauty's Punishment, and Beauty's Release together form the trilogy The Erotic Adventures of Sleeping Beauty. This series takes the fable character Beauty on an erotic voyage, spanning years, continents, and increasingly intense explorations of the relationships between pain and pleasure, mastery and submission, and the many meanings of bondage and release.

In the first novel, beauty is captured and mastered. When the master she adores seems to abandon her, she loves a fellow slave named Tristan. The second tale follows her punishment for this indiscretion, centering on the rituals of "the village," a place where her bondage takes on new meaning, and Beauty can find fulfilment of her previously unknown exhibitionism. She is auctioned off to the Captain of the Guard, a harsher master with whom she finds a different level of pain, and a whole new realm of bodily pleasures. The series's final instalment finds Beauty kidnaped by a mysterious sultan, added (along with Tristan and their previous master, Lexius) to his harem of slaves. Here, Beauty learns that she can be a mistress as well as a slave, a realization that starts a chain reaction of insights about herself, about the ultimate resilience of love, and about the trust and love it takes to release a submissive through skillful and passionate dominance.

The tales are enjoyably written, largely narrated by Beauty herself. The first-person view allows a fuller exploration of what bondage and slavery come to mean to and for her, and also makes the read seem more personal and intimate. There are a few things to keep in mind, though. Some BDSM enthusiasts have problems with Rice's tale, suggesting essentially that Rice doesn't have the credibility to write an "authentic" tale of slavery. Personally, I think that's a lot of posturing and defensive bullshit. However, if you take the unspoken rules about who can and can't write about "the lifestyle" seriously, this may not be for you. Also, the final novel gets weirdly Orientalist in lots of ways, rather like Victorian travel narratives. In other words, "the East" is a mysterious, exotic, single place. (I found myself waiting for the old stereotype of the inscrutable Chinese to show up.) These caveats aside, however, they're worth the effort.

Because I don't want to give too much away, I'll leave it at that. However, I would recommend starting from the beginning, for two reasons: first, the sex gets increasingly ritualized, and might make some uncomfortable, so it's best to start from the shallow end of the pool; secondly, because Beauty's adventures tell a complete tale of transformation, one that's best enjoyed in its entirety.

I hope that helps some of you find some new books for the long, hot summer. Happy reading!

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