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Monday, May 6, 2013

Maidens and Dragons and... Steamy, Oh My!!


When your sweet tooth demands that you satisfy it (since all of us know a sweet tooth never asks politely, right?), the choices available to do so run the gamut... from something like the lowly vending machine Twinkies or bag of M&Ms (cheap and found everywhere), to fancy-schmancy wrapped bon-bons or an exquisitely-decorated cupcake (requiring a bit more searching and considerably more than the spare change jingling around in your pocket or the bottom of your bag). Either way, though, you’re unlikely to make a meal out of the sweet you’ve chosen; it’s small--a snack, something to have with tea or coffee, or for dessert--and eating too much would probably leave you with a tummy ache (yes, I do know about that first hand). 

The same principle applies to sex in books (or movies), as far as I’m concerned. A little nookie at the right time--meaning, where it makes sense in the story--is great... I just don’t want that to be all there is.

So why (you’re going to ask) did I pick up Thrones of Desire: Erotic Tales of Swords, Mist and Fire, a book whose title screams its lusty intentions? (Perfectly reasonable question, that.) 

There are a couple of reasons. First, while I don’t read erotica (those books that make a meal out of the naughty bits), I have some good friends who do, and it’s neat to be able to give them a recommendation (or a thumbs down) now and then. Plus, it's kind of fun stepping out of the ol' comfort zone. 

The main reason I gambled on Thrones of Desire, though, is right there in the title. (No, not “desire”, obviously, but “thrones”... referencing the sort of fantasy that’s ultra-popular right now, a la George R.R. Martin’s books and “Game of Thrones” series on TV.) I figure if I’m going to dive headfirst into a full-on bodice-ripping, member-throbbing extravaganza, then I at least want the background and setting to provide a little distraction from all the thrusting, eh?

So, without further ado...

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Piers Anthony sets the stage with a rather brilliant (and, in places, side-splittingly hilarious) foreword, outlining the idea behind Thrones of Desire, which is to straddle the two extremes of traditionally male- and female-written erotica. In the past, men tended to write the down-and-dirty sex scenes, while women leaned more to the flowery (euphemism-heavy) versions, which led to male-penned books having a predominantly-male audience, while female-authored erotica appealed mostly to women. That meant little cross-over in readership--despite the fact that the subject matter, sex, is universal.

Editor (and author of one of the stories) Mitzi Szereto continues in the same vein with her introduction. The result of her work is fourteen tales--each set in a world of magic and legend, populated by beings ordinary and supernatural, with good battling evil (and everything in between), and copious interludes of hot, steamy copulation--with varied appeal. Have a revenge fantasy? You’ll find a doozy here. Perhaps the romantic, maiden-rescued-(or stolen)-by-a-handsome-stranger is more your thing? Present. Gay, lesbian, or bisexual interludes strike your fancy? No problem, this book has you covered. Prefer one-night stands? That's here, as well.

But, is the book a hit or a miss? Actually, it's both (but I can recommend more stories than not, so there's that). 

The ones I really dislike include a revenge fantasy--not my cuppa (although if you enjoy those women-in-prison-getting-revenge flicks, it may be right up your alley)--and one I found utterly boring (man persuading women’s army not to form a city, but to take him with them, instead? I just lost the plot with this one). 

Among the better ones, though, Janine Ashbless‘ “Of High Renown” involves a young woman compelled to play nursemaid to a gravely-injured warrior dropped off in her village, and is a sweet (and steamy) romance. Madeline Moore’s “In the Kingdom of Roz” depicts a young woman’s arranged-wedding day... which goes along as planned (including her Lady Godiva-esque trip toward town) until she gets kidnapped right off her horse by a startling captor. These are more of a traditional take on standard romance novel themes--kicking the eroticism meter up a few notches--and are nicely done.

My favorites, though, are the ones with the highest level of fantasy. Eric Del Carlo’s “Hot as a Dragon’s Blood” presents an interesting quandary: a skilled young dragonmaster--who happens to be gay, and therefore won’t be allowed by his homophobic tribe to fly his dragon into battle, after being outed--can either stand on the sidelines by his dragon, watching the upcoming action... or he can share his blood (or semen) with someone from another tribe, transferring the dragon bond from himself to another. (It’s a thoughtful tale with a neat premise.) Jo Wu’s “Key to the Queen’s Elixir” reads as a true fairy tale (and not the happy-ending-for-all, Disney version, either). Finally, Zander Vyne’s “The Last Sacrifice”  tells the story of a princess who wins (or loses?) her city’s annual lottery, meaning she will be the year’s virgin sacrifice to appease the dragon who sleeps in the forest outside the city walls. What she finds, however, when she rides her horse out to meet her unhappy fate, is one surprise after another.

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There’s plenty in Thrones of Desire to appeal to readers of pure erotica and fantasy, alike... just remember to pace yourself, and enjoy it like you would a dessert (because reading it all at once, like I did for this review, is the equivalent of eating the whole cake in one sitting... and that's a bit much).