Last Christmas I was in the Helsinki airport awaiting a return flight to New York when I realized I didn’t have enough to read. Panic ensued. Facing an 8+ hour flight without backup material wasn’t in my deck of cards. No siree. With only minutes to spare, I made a beeline for the English-language section of the airport bookstore. I scanned the thriller section faster than a Google search and landed on Maestra by L.S. Hilton. I’d not heard of either the author or the book, but “The International Phenomenon” and “Gripping Thriller” blurbs on the front were enough for me. Book in hand, I boarded my flight.
As it turns out, I never did start the book then. Who knows why. Maybe I had more left of my book in progress than I remembered. Or maybe I actually fell asleep on the flight. Whatever the case, I finally read Maestra a couple of weeks ago. And once I’d started, I was hooked.
To begin with, author L.S. Hilton is a heck of a good writer. “Sharp and extremely well written,” says The Daily Mail. “Hilton can both actually write and plot,” exclaims the BBC. But it was the story itself with its unpredictable heroine Judith Rashleigh that made Maestra un-put-downable. This book took me on a fun sexy wild ride, one I absolutely did not see coming. Heroine Judith did a 180 on me, turning out to be very different from how she first appears. And my oh my did the sex scenes ever sizzle. Huh, thought I. Why have I not heard of this book? And who’s this L.S. Hilton?
Turns out, Ms. Hilton comes with seriously respectable creds. She’s a historian and biographer, graduating from Oxford with a degree in English before studying art history in both France and Italy. She’s written gobs of books on royal monarchs, her latest being The Stolen Queen, set in medieval Europe. Scores of respected magazines have published articles by her, including The Daily Telegraph, The Evening Standard, Vogue, Elle, The Royal Academy Magazine, and a British cultural and political affairs magazine called Standpoint. So what’s up with the foray into the world of erotic thrillers? Hilton says blame it on her agent. He’s the one who planted the idea.
Apparently that agent gives good advice. Maestra is the first in a planned trilogy. Hilton has received tons of rave reviews from around the globe. She got a huge movie deal. The second book of the series, Domina, just came out this month (in the U.K., although Americans have to wait until July). But everything’s not all roses and sunshine. If you check out the reviews on Amazon they’re more mixed across the board than I’ve ever seen for a single book. Lots of people love it. Lots of people despise it. The way it has divided both critics and readers makes Trump look like a dilettante. As Lisa Hilton herself stated in a Guardian interview, “Everyone hated my book. My agent hated it, and my publisher hated it, and pretty much everyone I showed it to hated it. Even now that Maestra has been sold in 42 countries and garnered a film deal, it still seems to make a lot of readers furious.”
Before her book became the bestselling erotic thriller everyone hates, it had to get published. Hilton shopped it to scores of publishers, all of whom passed. It was rejected so many times she started considering self-publishing. She applied for a teaching position. Then the magic happened. She finally got signed, not just for one book but three. One day in the morning, Hilton received a letter that she wasn’t even going to be granted an interview for the teaching position she’d applied for. That same afternoon, she received word that film rights for Maestra had sold for seven figures. Hilton say in an interview in The Telegraph that when she heard the news, “I was so stunned I thew up.”
The critical reviews are by and large nothing short of raving. Readers are less impressed. The Washington Post review may have said it best: “Maestra will be one of this year’s most talked-about novels.” People are talking, all right, though not in the way the Post envisioned. While Publishers’ Weekly gives it a starred review and Booklist raves that it’s “edgy, decadent, erotic, and irresistible,” the latest reader reviewer on Amazon calls Maestra “one of the biggest literary disappointments I have ever had.” Ouch.
Books are so much like music or food or art or anything else on the planet where subjectivity is the name of the game. I personally thought Maestra was a good-time romp in the world of erotic thrillers, and Domina is immediately added to my TBR pile. One can’t help but draw comparisons between this book and Fifty Shades. Both authors even use two initials for their first name! But for all the naysayers who scoff at this book, plenty of writers would be more than happy to take a bath in negative reviews in exchange for an L.S. Hilton moment in the sun.
Going to RT? So are we! Join LadySmut bloggers at the RT Booklovers Convention May 3-7, especially at our super special reader event – Never Have You Ever, Ever, Ever. Win crowns, fetish toys, books and more! Goodybags to first 100 people in line! Wednesday, May 3 at 1:30.
Elizabeth Shore writes both contemporary and historical erotic romance. Her newest book is an erotic historical novella, Desire Rising, from The Wild Rose Press. Other releases include Hot Bayou Nights and The Lady Smut Book of Dark Desires.