Earlier in the week, author K. D. Grace stopped by to share some insights about the relevance of erotica, and today I’m happy to share my review of The Initiation of Ms. Holly, her latest erotica release. I was initially reticent to give the book a try, because “initiation” calls to mind ingenue characters who are coaxed from a virginal (or effectively virginal) state of innocence to a sexual awakening and flowering. But a four star RT review of this book gave me the hope and courage I wanted to give it a try. I’m glad I did.
Here’s the blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:
Sex with a mysterious stranger aboard a train leads Rita Holly to an initiation into the exclusive and secretive Mount Club. Sophisticated and deviant rituals await Rita, as do the endless intrigues and power struggles deep within the heart of the organization. Rita learns that membership in the Mount Club is not for the sexually repressed. During her initiation, sex with her new lover from the train, Edward, is forbidden, but Alex the dance instructor is happy to take his place, and Leo the zoo keeper is happy to encourage Rita’s animal instincts. With more and more titillating punishments in store and the club’s sexy head, Vivienne, intent on her failing, will Rita succeed in her lengthy and lurid initiation?
May I just say — again — how much I hate blurbs? Why would anyone ever want to read a book that self-identifies as “lengthy and lurid”? Lucky for me, I tend to ignore blurbs, else I would never have read this book.
I’ll start with the obvious: there is a lot of sex in this book. Yes — DUH, it’s erotica — but even knowing the genre, I was a little surprised at the sheer quantity of sexual encounters. What was more surprising, though, was how inventive all those encounters managed to be, and that helped avoid the “Oh, my God, they’re getting naked again…” fatigue.
Before I get into the few things that bugged and confused me about this book, I want to talk about the two things I liked best.
- The word initiation connotes a certain scenario… the initiate starts out inexperienced and then grows in experience throughout the course of various trials until the end, when full membership (in whatever) is achieved. Rita Holly, though, approaches her initiation with enthusiasm and self-possession, and — even in cases when she’s a little bit out of her element — she finds a way to be present in each situation, to participate fully. She’s never passive. Rita’s active enthusiasm made the reading experience a lot less squicky for me, even when the encounters veered into the strange and slightly uncomfortable. Rita manages to own all of the challenging encounters in the book, and the result is empowering rather than degrading.
- I was a little surprised to find metaphor in an erotic novel, but it’s there. Rita Holly is a woman who cannot bear to be constrained. Her claustrophobia, rather than proceeding from some childhood trauma, is a physical manifestation of her fear of being repressed, unable to express and explore her sexuality. That’s what she’s looking for, after all: sexual freedom. So, yeah, she’s freaked out by dark, close spaces, but she’s also made uncomfortable by restrictive clothing, particularly any restriction around her lady areas. There’s also a motif about blindness (not being able to see her true love until she completes all the steps of her initiation), but I don’t think it was handled as well as the claustrophobia/sexual repression thing.
There were a number of things about the book that I enjoyed but did not consider as standout as the above two things. I didn’t approach this book with the expectation that it would have a great story, so I was pleasantly surprised to encounter some elements of mystery. I found myself wondering why Rita was running from her past, what was up with Edward’s situation, and whether Rita and Edward would ever be able to make a go of it. (I also wondered why such a big deal was made about Rita not seeing Edward’s face until her initiation was complete and about Rita and Edward not being able to enjoy a tab A, slot B-type encounter during the course of Rita’s initiation. Frankly, both things seemed a bit overblown to me.)
And now, on to the things that baffled me.
- Condoms. I am in favor of safe sex in erotica (and romance), because it reinforces our cultural reality and could — perhaps — help contribute to the idea that the only sexy sex is safe sex. So I noticed right away that there weren’t any condoms present during any of the crazy sexual encounters in this book. I noticed, was annoyed, and then decided that this book operates in a world in which there is no disease and also no fear of pregnancy. Everything was tracking along OK, until one scene about two-thirds into the book when a dude is about to have sex with a lady, and he puts on a condom and remarks in his inner monologue that he doesn’t know where she’s been. Hold up. No one in this book knows where anyone else has been, either, so… And that was the only condom in the book! It made all the other scenes — especially the pet sequences — seem incredibly questionable and more than a little disturbing.
- Language. I am not normally the type to clutch my pearls at the language I find in either romance or erotica, but I could totally have done without some of the phrasing in this book. There were so many references to male characters shooting their wads or loads, jizzing, and spouting jizz that I totally did… I clutched my pearls and laughed my ass off.
While those two things are pretty damn ridiculous, they are outweighed by the amount of things the book did right. So, there you have it. This book is definitely not for everyone — not for the faint of heart or those who are easily annoyed by OTT erotic encounters — but it is utterly fun and interesting. I liked it.
The Initiation of Ms. Holly was released on February 4, 2014 as a paperback and e-book by Sourcebooks Casablanca. For more information about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads. For more information about the author, please check out her website (or view her guest post for more links).
*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley from Sourcebooks via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*