Cleis Press sent me a couple of books to review recently. I was hoping to get The Sweetest Kiss: Ravishing Vampire Erotica read and reviewed by Hallowe’en but I received the book too close to the date. This review will be posted over two days as it is far too long for one posting.
The two things you can expect from a title like this is that the stories will be erotic and vampires will be involved. Other than that, who knows, but because it’s erotica instead of horror I would expect few people to die as that is sometimes counterproductive to erotic thoughts. If this was erotic horror, well there could be more deaths by alluring vampires. And that’s permanent deaths, not the ones that turn a human into a vampire.
Edited by D.L. King, I was a little surprised to see there was no introduction. Perhaps it was thought that the title covered it all but there may be a premise attached: is it present day or past, are vampires hidden or known about, do they all follow a certain vampire trope (turn into bats, no reflection in mirrors, crosses burn, garlic bad, etc.)? I’m one of those people who tend to read introductions to most books, possibly because I am a writer. As it was, I’d say that the vampires are fairly classic though there is variation on powers from story to story and most take place in the last two centuries.
There are nineteen stories but only two by men well established in the field. There are so many erotic writers that I’m certainly no expert on them all but Thomas Roche and Maxim Jakubowski have long standing reputations. There is only story that is homosexual (lesbian), and another that could be. Again, perhaps this was the thrust of this particular anthology, a mostly hetero anthology for the straight people. It’s common for publishers to market to certain demographics. As I began to read I found, that like foreplay, the first two stories built in sensuality to the full on sexual bite of the third.
The book opens with “Midnight at Sheremetyeo” by Remittance Girl. It is a simple tale, not really new in plot, of a vampire who breaks the rules that keep them from being hunted down. She takes a very tasty boy sexually and for feeding. The tale is succulently worded.
Thoma Roche’s “Wait Until Dark, Montresor” oozes with atmosphere and reminds me of Tanith Lee though I’m not sure if that’s the style or the character herself, a vampire who writes erotic vampire mysteries. Perhaps a bit of both. Second person is hard to do successfully, but it works in this cautionary tale, vividly describing the idolization of a vampire and famous author. A mystery is strung out nicely with a slow reveal as opposed to a sudden bite in the dark.
“The Temptation of Mlle. Marielle Doucette” by Anna Black is the first period piece set during the French Revolution. The thing about the longevity of vampires is that a certain timelessness can enter stories. The young Marielle must choose between her beliefs, execution and revenge through a repulsive (to her) yet strangely alluring temptation. This tale has the first truly descriptive sex scene though it is strangely lacking in other details.
Lisette Ashton’s “Kiss and Make Up” has the actual Dracula and his girlfriend who have picked up/made a new vampire boy of their own but it’s for a game of turnabout. Dracula absorbs the personality of the person he drinks so he gets kind of a high or in this case, a philosophical bent on the world. Interesting take but there are some awkward euphemisms for sex like, “His length sputtered and pulsed.” Yowch.
Sommer Marsden manages a short pithy, hot and erotic story in “The Student.” Although not that original a tale with a college student (there are a few in this book) who is too sassy to take anyone’s warnings of dread about an old house, her actions bring about a truly erotic sensuality in a reluctant encounter.
One of my abolute favorites in the anthology was “Red By Any Other Name” by Kathleen Bradean. A woman who is a dom tries to bring a vampire to submission. But is he truly feeling it or playing at it and can she truly be a dom without succumbing to her own fear? The tension is twofold, with fear and eroticism. The vampire chants words for red that echo in her head: Strawberry, cherry, candy-apple. It is well done and memorable with vividly excellent writing.
The most ephemeral or spiritual piece in the book is “Enlightenment.” Amber Hipple’s story has no real time or place and almost no corporeality with the ebony black man/vampire(?) referred to as “my dream, my mystery” and her intent seems to be that it remain untethered and dreamlike. There is little to really say vampire here except in the changing into smoke but there are undertones of the Eros and Psyche myth here that fit very well.
“Blood and Bootleg” takes place in 1922 Connecticut and it’s hard to tell if the language fits but it’s good enough not to jar. Teresa Noelle Roberts’ use of language feels a bit awkward with the woman thinking “yikes” when she’s bitten. Even for the period that seems a bit…light, especially when the vampire is then described as ripping out her throat, which makes me think of huge chunks of flesh and bloody gore spattering everywhere. Not particularly erotic biting. Overall, though, the eroticism is good.
G.B. Kensington does a deft turn with a human who takes the vampire when he thinks he’s taking her. This vampire uses sex to lessen his blood hunger. This is a common enough thread through the book where tying the eroticism and the bloodlust together cannot be missed. Will the vampire lose control and will it be the little death or the big death? “Fair Play” has a good build up of emotion, pent-up hunger and lust.
The rest of the review tomorrow.