Tormented & Tortured: Books You Can’t Forget
By Madeline Iva
Picture me drinking cocktails, lit neon red, crunching on spicy fried green beans &coconut rice (heavenly!) celebrating the anthology launch with two romance buddies. (Haven’t heard about our Lady Smut anthology– where have you been? Check it out HERE.) The talk turns to erotic romance books that were AWFUL–by which it turns out that my friends mean books that are no-holds-barred Dark Erotica. No offense dark erotica folk, you know I love you, kiss-kiss.
By which we usually mean books that are/and/or display misogynistic stuff, full of no-no sex or themes that most erotic rom. publishers won’t touch–but at the same time, we can’t forget. Books that aren’t PC. Books that make the feminist inside you wring her hands, BUT YOU CAN’T FORGET. Why? Why?????
What are they doing so right that makes shaking them off so hard?
For your pleasure, I’ve decided to interrogate these ladies on the dark arts practiced in these books. I’m curious; does it matter how twisted and tiny the hero’s icy heart? Is it a unique pair bond that grips readers by the hair?Will we still follow that romance path through the scary woods full of sex practices that make most of us squeamish? Are we tempted by our heroine being tortured if her man is ultimately tamed? I’ve written about Dark Erotica HERE before, and these books are definitely that. Most of Lady Smut fans aren’t dark erotica readers–so hold on! These book descriptions are like car crashes–you just can’t look away.
Here’s what Adriana Anders had to say:
Because I’m new around here, here’s a little background. First of all, good writing, good sex and a HEA pretty much sum up my happy place. Secondly, I am not a fan of violence.
Which leads me to a book that I couldn’t put down and can’t seem to forget—Heat, by R. Lee Smith is… hmmm, let’s see, what do you call a book that brings two aliens to earth in a life-or-death chase, where the good alien falls in love while the bad one beats, kills, rapes, copulates, fornicates and… falls in love, too? What do you call that book when, by the very end, you’re rooting for both of the aliens to win?
On Goodreads, folks have labeled it as everything from Science Fiction to Horror to Erotica, with a few tagging it as Sociology->Abuse. Whatever its genre, (Dark Erotica probably pegs it best) it was utterly un-putdownable. Much like VC Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic, this book kind of rocked my world. I was fascinated by the way the author dragged me in, against my will. You can’t blame the aliens for their actions, not entirely. They can’t help it that they arrive on earth in the midst of a massive heat wave, which sets off their mating cycle. These poor guys must copulate or they’ll die.
There are scenes (I remember one in particular) that are so utterly degrading, so sexually violent, so painful to read that I nearly gave up. Something, though, kept me going. One of the heroines is kidnapped, raped, beaten, forced to do unspeakable things and, yet, when she eventually sides with her aggressor, it doesn’t feel like Stockholm Syndrome. Oh, no. It feels right, a messed-up sort of justice. Her life goes from bad to worse when she meets her alien, but eventually—and this is the best part—she saves him. And, no matter how upsetting the themes are, the writing is so convincing that, despite wanting the good hero to win, you also want the bastard’s salvation. At least I did.
In the end, I’m still not sure if I loved it or not, but I don’t regret reading Heat. Because, along with a wonderfully rocky ride, pushing through to the end brought me that most satisfying holy grail of romances, the best possible reward: a perfect double HEA.
Adriana then shared with me how funny it was that this awful/amazing book got the full treatment from Dear Author—including a review and the quotes below. I almost died laughing.
Quotes from this review:
“Heat is probably the best independently published book I have read, and one of the best books I have read in a long while. It is also one of the most graphic, and most disturbing books I have read in a long while.”
“PS – Your website is awful and your book covers almost as bad.”
Meanwhile, Elizabeth SaFleur goes down into the depths of erotic romance hell and comes back up reeking of brimstone with two books to talk about:
Sometimes damaged souls worm their way into our psyche, never to be forgotten. “M” in TOPPING FROM BELOW by Laura Reese is one. Ben O’Callahan in HOSTILE TAKEOVER by Joey W. Hill is another. One I’d like to strike from my nightmares, while I hope the other lives in my bones forever.
In TOPPING FROM BELOW, “M” is a sadistic, forty-ish music professor. Journalist Nora Tibbs is convinced he killed her sister. Nora enters in an S/m relationship with “M”, allowing herself to undergo tremendous psychological and physical cruelty at his hands. Her idea is to outsmart him and get him to admit the murder. Instead, she finds a darker side to herself, becoming more and more erotically charged by his practices, which includes being nailed into a coffin, extreme bondage, whipping, and even bestiality.
(Bestiality? EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEW! Sorry readers.)
But even as I cringed as each scene grew harsher and the emotions more intense, I fell a little deeper into this well-written story. Beautifully-developed characters engaged in OMG-activities kept me turning the pages. I simply couldn’t believe what I was reading. At the end, I was so disturbed by the level of “M”’s extreme handling of Nora and his utter lack of remorse, I had to physically leave my house and go take a walk to calm down. I wish I’d never met “M.” Yet I can’t deny this story’s power for eliciting such a strong reaction from me. It felt real. And Ms. Reese’s courage to just “go there” and explore some of society’s most taboo sexual practices, is admirable. I recommend this book to friends who like dark erotica—and who don’t mind sleeping with the lights on afterward. It’s that good. But “M,” please leave my head.
Switch to Ben O’Callahan of HOSTILE TAKEOVER by Joey W. Hill. Corporate attorney and sadist, Ben had a rough beginning in life: foster care, abuse, street living and petty crime. When we meet him, he’s the epitome of success—good job, friends, money. But he’s damaged from his past and his internal life remains a mess. When masochist Marcie sets her sights on him, Ben decides to show her just how wrecked he is. Certain, darker scenes could be alarming to some readers, such as the CNC (consent non-consent) whipping scene or the use of breath play and punishing bondage. But instead of disturbing me, the darkness drew me closer to the characters. For the first time, I understood how and why extreme play can bring people together and cause healing. Marcie’s ability to take Ben’s rough handling feeds her strength and increases her resolve to love him like he’s never experienced. Ben finds his center of gravity in Marcie and accepts he’s worth loving. I rooted for them—especially Ben. In fact, I kinda fell in love with him, damage and all.
Why did these troubled heroes have such a different impact? Perhaps it has to do with their level of self-awareness. Both were unapologetic about themselves, but I understood Ben and his motivations, and so did he. I cheered for him. Still do. “M,” is off the Christmas card list. He remained cruel, unrepentant and disinterested in changing. “M” doesn’t get off easy at the story’s end, but I still want to take a baseball bat to his thick head. On the other hand, his unapologetic stance and confidence in who he was, compelled me to him, like Nora. Dammit.
In the end, “M” raised my anger while Ben touched my heart. I won’t forget (or forgive) “M” but I forgive and love Ben. And I want to love my characters, warts and all.
There you have it, readers. Discuss amongst yourselves in the comments section below. And follow our Lady Smut blog. We won’t take you down into the lower depths very often—unless you beg nicely.