Friday, December 16, 2016

WTF Friday: Steel and Promise by Alexa Black

Well, another WTF Friday is upon us, which means we once again turn the Ruins over to my dark half. As regular visitors will know, Foster Medina has a passion for messed up literary diversions - books that are bizarre, twisted, grotesque, and kinky - and he's only too happy to splatter them across the page.

Although it does have its erotic moments, Steel and Promise is a cruel and bloody story that is far more cold and clinical than sensual or sexual. It is most definitely a story that puts the S&M in BDSM, complete with bloodletting, piercings, marking, violent penetrations, torture, and more. Alexa Black does weave an interesting story, complete with a sci-fi flair and some complex philosophical musings, but it takes a strong stomach to make it through to the end.

Cailyn Derys is a noble courtesan, following in her father's footsteps, who finds herself assigned to an unusual client. Teran Nivrai is something of a dark legend, a recluse with a taste for pain, who has gone so far as to have her body modified with retractable steel claws. She has selected Cailyn specifically because of her lack of 'dark' experience, which makes for an interesting dynamic. This is not a story of pain for pleasure, but pain for pain's sake. We're talking torn and ripped skin, lasting bruises, and long-term scars. It's bloody and intense, and not always an easy read.

What redeems (or perhaps justifies) all that pain is the political twist about halfway through, where Teran is called before the ruling council and forced to turn her perversions to actual torture. While I would have liked to see the philosophical aspects explored a little more deeply, it's interesting to see the contrasts of lover versus victim, and the fine line separating Teran's motivations for one versus the other. There's some significant character development during the second half, leading to an unexpectedly dark (yet somehow happy) climax, but it's hard to feel any compassion or empathy for the characters, with their violent passions so far outside the norm.

Paperback, 264 pages
Published December 13th 2016 by Bold Strokes Books

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