Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Angel, by Tiffany Reisz - Review

Cover art obtained from publishers' website
Author: Tiffany Reisz
Publisher: Harlequin
Imprint: Mira
Series Name: The Original Sinners
Reviewing: Advanced Uncorrected e-Proof provided by publisher (please note that the quotes I have pulled may differ from those in the final edition)

The Blurb
No safe word can protect the heart...
Infamous erotica author and accomplished dominatrix Nora Sutherlin is doing something utterly out of character: hiding. While her longtime lover, Søren–whose fetishes, if exposed, would be his ruin–is under scrutiny pending a major promotion, Nora’s lying low and away from temptation in the lap of luxury.

Her host, the wealthy and uninhibited Griffin Fiske, is thrilled to have Nora stay at his country estate, especially once he meets her traveling companion. Young, inexperienced and angelically beautiful, Michael has become Nora’s protégé, and this summer with Griffin is going to be his training, where the hazing never ends.

But while her flesh is willing, Nora’s mind is wandering. To thoughts of Søren, her master, under investigation by a journalist with an ax to grind. And to another man from Nora’s past, whose hold on her is less bruising, but whose secrets are no less painful. It’s a summer that will prove the old adage: love hurts.

So, I read The Siren from Reisz earlier this year without much of a preconceived notion - I just knew that it didn't have a Happily Ever After and that one of my favorite bloggers really really liked it.  I would not really have pegged it in the erotica category, even, and said something to that effect in my review.  More that there were some erotic moments, and lots of sexual tension... but I didn't see it in that category.

Since that time, I've fangirled all over Reisz on Twitter and read some of the short stories about various characters in the world of The Siren and The Angel, and maybe I just had my expectations set differently, but yeah, The Angel totally read as erotica to me.

The Short Answer
I liked this book a lot.  It's a fun, sexy read, with a few character twists that surprised me.  I like a good Machiavellian character, who's always one step ahead of the crowd.  I felt like Angel was less of a breakout book than Siren and fit more easily into genre expectations.  Perhaps less challenging to the reader.  For those looking for a sweet, satisfying romance, they'll find that too, but perhaps not where expected.  A favorite quote:

The sound of falling water roused Michael from his sleep.  Rain pelted the roof above him and the window next to him.  Usually he loved the sound of rain, especially a morning rain in the summer.  But now his first thought upon waking was of Griffin on his motorcycle, wet roads and screeching tires.

So this is love, he decided. Love was fucking terrifying.

The Series
Have you ever been part of a crowd, at school or at a job, where everyone was so tight-knit that when you broke up with one partner, you kind of ended up with someone else in the same crowd, who maybe was going with your best friend the month before, and then there was gossiping, and who's with who this week, and it either implodes into a huge mess or you end up with some of the best friends you could ever imagine?  This is the kind of world that Reisz is constructing in her Original Sinners series.  As a series concept, I think it's somewhat unique-- it seems that each player will get a book that's more or less focused on him or her, but it doesn't look like we can necessarily expect a Happily Ever After in each one.  It's a bit more open-ended than the usual romance series, and more of an ensemble cast.  I like it.

Some Stuff
I don't get Wes.  Maybe I will eventually, but I don't right now.  I don't really get Nora's obsession with him, and it does feel like an obsession rather than a love story.  Hrm.

There's one scene that involves blood play.  It raised my eyebrows a little, and was an interesting reveal into the relationship... but some may find it off-putting.

Stuff I Liked
Beyond the sexy sexy-times, I like the way the plot twisted and turned.  I was surprised a number of times, which is always fun.  There are a couple of threads in this book - Michael's coming of age and falling in love; and a reporter's investigation of Søren pending his promotion to Bishop.  In between, we see the friendship between Nora and Griffin, and the role that Søren plays with them all. Of all the threads, I think that only Michael's love story really satisfies the strict definition of story, as I recall from my limited literary training: "in which a character undergoes a significant change." Which makes sense, given the title.

But the other threads are more about enhancing what we know about about the ensemble cast, in particular, Nora and Søren. It's a different kind of world-building.  In  a sense, the backdrop of this story is Søren's biography, pieced together mosaic-style from bits contributed from all the different characters.  His character begins to take shape for the reader through the eyes of Griffin, Michael, and the reporter, while we get a little bit more insight to Nora and his history. At the end of The Siren, I didn't understand why Nora was going back to Søren, but I also thought that was deliberate on the part of the author.  She could have made me see it, but chose not to; it's part of the "series arc," I think.  I feel that Søren as a character is still incomplete for me, still shadowy and mysterious and somewhat one-dimensional, but I'm willing to live with that for now.

Stuff That Made Me Think
"BDSM" is an alphabet soup, really.  Bondage/ Domination/ Submission/ Sadism/ Masochism.  That double-S is a tricky one.

Without delving too uncomfortably into my own predilections, I will share that I've read pretty widely in the BDSM category, lonnnnnnnnnng before the 50 Shades phenomenon.  Like, more than 20 years long.  I certainly don't claim to have read everything out there, especially these days (who could keep up? erotica is positively BOOMING --or should I say banging?-- with the advent of e-reading).  But something that stands out to me - I have rarely seen a story with a sympathetic sadist. Dominants, yes, but there's an important difference.  Doms are usually portrayed as motivated and excited by the power exchange, by the trust handed to them, and by an atavistic possessive desire.  Much of it stops short of the psychology of inflicting pain.

It's hard to feel good about a character who gets off on causing pain to someone else. A masochist craves pain. There are some physiological explanations for this: endorphins, variance in sensitivity thresholds. Much of BDSM erotica has a way of downplaying the fact that it's actually pain, and not just acute pleasure involved.  But it seems to me that the eroticism of sadism is purely psychological, and it's just hard to wrap my head around it without judgment.  I'm trying though.

I think this is what makes Søren controversial.  I'm finding myself rethinking some comfortable ruts, and it's a pretty rare author that can do that.


Amber Belldene said...

This is a great review--and your paragraph about a sympathetic sadist is fascinating. Great fiction works this way, giving us an insight into a personality, not a type, and then expanding our worldview. I've read several reviews of this book, but yours is the first that makes me thing TR is doing something really new with BDSM. I'm going to check it out.

Nicola O. said...

Amber, what a great compliment. Thank you very much!

laura said...

This sounds a thousand times more erotic and interesting than 50 Shades of meh (I mean gray). Yes?

Nicola O. said...

That sounds about right, Laura.

To be fair, I didn't hate 50 Shades. I don't think it's really BDSM since Ana wanted nothing to do with the whole thing, and I really REALLY do not get its popularity, but... *shrug*. Yeah, this is WAYYY better.


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