I was afraid to read The Angel, and I put it off for several weeks. My fear was a little bit ridiculous, because I loved The Siren, and I was confident that The Angel would be just as good, but I worried that it would break my heart the way The Siren did, and I wasn’t eager to put myself in the path of that kind of pain. I needn’t have worried. Tiffany Reisz is that excellent variety of sadist who never offers the same pain twice.
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.
Unless you’re accustomed to the vagaries of erotica (and few of my readers are), you might read that blurb and think, wow… that sounds kinda lame. But it’s just a case of badblurbitis. Everything that is brilliant about Reisz’ writing cannot be adequately summed up or even hinted at in a traditionally plot-focused publishers’ blurb. I am convinced that Reisz could drop her characters into a room and give them nothing to do except react to each other, and the result would still be beautiful, but what would the blurb say?
As with The Siren, the main theme in The Angel seems to be love (seems to me, anyway… other folks might think the theme is BDSM erotica, but I happen to think all that stuff is just the byproduct of a story about these characters). The Angel begins with an idyllic glimpse of Nora’s life with Søren. Through a mysterious plot device, Nora and Michael (if you haven’t read The Siren, you won’t know who he is. I didn’t bother mentioning him in my post about The Siren because I was so distracted by other things. Just read The Siren, and all will be explained.) hie off to Griffin’s estate (that place where the hazing never ends, if the publisher’s blurb is to be believed). At the estate, new love blossoms, and it’s beautiful and tender. It is also a foil for the more complicated love that exists between Nora and Søren (and Nora and Wes and Suzanne and Patrick) and, maybe, contains a little seed that might help us to understand what drew Nora to Søren in the first place. Let me add a quick warning to those who may not be quite ready for m/m scenes. They happen, but I thought they were handled really well. I enjoyed the side-by-side comparison of new love and old love, acknowledged love and hidden love, easy love and difficult love.
Given the state of their relationship in The Siren, it is surprising how innocently happy Nora and Søren seem at the start of The Angel, but readers of Tiffany Reisz should know that everything is not always what it seems. For example, I was repulsed by Søren when I read The Siren and, especially, Seven Day Loan. I thought him the least sympathetic character in The Siren, though I didn’t like Zach all that much, either. His arrogance and blatant manipulation seemed despicable, and I judged him harshly as a result. But after reading The Angel, I have to reflect back on The Siren and admit that Søren doesn’t appear in the best light throughout that book, and most of what we see of him is through Nora’s memory colored by her relationship with Wes. Søren could not possibly have won me over in such circumstances, and I began to wonder if he was such a bad fellow as he seemed.
I had a conversation with Tiffany Reisz on Twitter recently, and she pointed out that she based Søren’s character on the God of the Old Testament, who, depending on how you look at it, is kind of sadistic and manages to balance love and a need for blood offerings, who is feared and loved simultaneously by his people, who is implacable and just, who is jealous. When you consider a character like Søren paired with Nora, who feels the strong desire and inclination to submit to him (naturally enough) and an inclination to be independent, to be his equal even though no one can equal an Almighty, you know that the rest of the story Reisz is building will be epic. This is not a story of tawdry sex; it is a tale of human nature and a human understanding of the divine.
I jotted down some rough notes immediately after I finished The Angel: Love is like a coral reef – I should explain this. Two people grow together and fill in the spaces with shared experiences and new growth in each. This is good, because it makes them stronger, but if something/someone/some event comes in and breaks off a piece, there are these sharp edges left behind. The Angel is very cool as a book, because you get to view the very beginning of that reef-growing process–the falling in love–and you get to compare it to the full-grown and many-times broken and tested reef that both unites and divides Nora and Søren.
My favorite moment in The Angel is a little bit silly, compared to all the epic stuff I’ve alluded to elsewhere in this post (and in the one on The Siren). There’s a moment, towards the end of the book, when a new character meets Nora for the first time, and it’s a little bit shocking to see Nora once again as someone new. After all the stuff that happens in The Siren and The Angel, the reader really knows Nora and is accustomed to her quirks and her strength and, at least in my case, sees her as charming rather than scary. Then all of a sudden you get to see her through the eyes of a stranger, and you know that she’s actually been scary all this time. That’s good writing, because it was so subtle that I almost didn’t notice it, and it made me think back and wonder why I didn’t have a similar reaction at the end of The Siren when Grace meets Nora for the first time.
I do have to be honest and admit that I felt the beginning of The Angel was a little slow to build. At first I thought it just hadn’t been edited tightly enough, but now I’m not convinced. I am inclined to suspect that the pacing, lightness, and idyll of the first quarter of the book are actually a clever trap designed to lull readers into complacency before hitting them with the rest of the story. Shortly after Nora and Michael arrive at Griffin’s, the story hits its stride, and from that moment on it wends its inexorable way through heaven and hell, dragging you along with it.
Reisz writes great stories, stories without boundaries, but the best thing about them is that they are entirely open to interpretation. Søren can be a hero or a villain, and it’s entirely up to the reader to decide what she thinks about him. The true benefit of that style of writing is that readers can discuss the ideas that are introduced in the book and help each other along in the process of achieving a better understanding not only of the books but also of themselves and their lives. It takes courage to write a story that can and will be interpreted in so many different ways, and I’m right glad that Reisz has that courage along with a strong sadistic streak. Wherever she takes us, I’m along for the ride.
The Angel is scheduled to be released on September 25 by Harlequin MIRA in both e-book and print format, I believe. For more information about the author (including a selection of free bedtime stories that are well worth a read–but read The Siren first–check out the author’s website http://tiffanyreisz.com. If you click on the cover image above, you can visit the book’s page on Goodreads and follow links to purchase through Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*