I am one of those readers who is very, very happy about the boom in erotica in books. I don’t always want explicitness in my sex scenes, but when I do I prefer graphic. The problem has been, however, that erotica seems to mean, “As many combinations as possible, with a minimum of one per chapter.” (E.g. anything by Black Lace, which doesn’t publish novels so much as Twister games set in print.) I don’t want to see every character banging everyone and anyone; I want there to be some plot-worthy purpose to all this sex going on. It’s like black comedy: it still has to be comedy. Erotic novels still have to be novels.
Colette Gale (a pseudonym for an author who is known for her historicals…or rather, her paranormal historicals) has begun a series of erotic retellings of famous stories. Her first one was Unmasqued, which was a retelling of The Phantom of the Opera, a story that clearly lends itself to somewhat more sensual goings-on. I read Unmasqued and I have to admit it did nothing for me: I was annoyed as hell by Christine, who was weak and passive, and by the emphasis on bondage.
However, see above: still interested in finding erotica that satisfies (ooo) as a story as well as sex. So I was interested in reading Gale’s retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, Master.
Right off the bat, I could tell Gale had done something interesting (and smart, in my opinion): this isn’t Edmond Dantes’s book. The focal character is Mercedes, the woman Edmond loved and then lost when he was imprisoned. So we see all of the events of the book from her perspective — which means that while we lose lots of The Count, we’re also not tied to following that book faithfully. This works wonderfully in Master’s favor.
The other excellent thing about Master is Mercedes herself. She isn’t a shrinking violet, at everyone’s mercy: the book spans 20 years, so she has a knowingness and a personal strength about her that is so goddamn refreshing. When she realizes who the Count is, and what he’s put her through, she doesn’t weep and throw herself on his mercy — instead, she basically says, “Get over yourself; you’re not the only one who suffered around here.” She gives as good as she gets, which made me very happy indeed reading this book.
I definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a slightly spicier read (with a heroine who has a spine, to boot!).