In case you needed further proof that there is an erotica boom going on, what we have here is what Wendy likes to call "literary erotica."
Lying in my latest stack of review books was House Of Dark Delights by Louisa Burton, which Bantam is touting as an "extraordinary debut." Ah, OK. Sure, it's the first book for "Louisa Burton" but the author's alter egos of Patricia Ryan and P.B. Ryan have published a few books. Anyway, having worked in contemporary and historical romance, and historical mystery, Burton is now looking to explore the world of what I call, "literary erotica." It's not the best term, but it's all I got. Basically what we have here is erotica written in a literary style. Unfortunately it doesn't prove to be terribly successful for me, but you be the judge.
House Of Dark Delights is the first book in the projected "Hidden Grotto" series. Burton takes classical mythology and melds it with history and Victorian erotica. It's an interesting concept actually. Shake a tree in Romance Novel Land and about 300 vampires and werewolves fall out, but there aren't a lot of elves, satyrs and sexual demons in the mix. So kudos to Burton for being creative.
There are four main characters: Elic is an elf who can transform from male to female. His purpose in life is to sleep with men as "Elle", harvest their love juice, shift back to being the male Elic, then implant that love juice into the most worthy female. Naturally, she gets knocked up and the baby is "gifted." OK, I love to have little remembrances of my vacations but a baby? How about a magnet or snow globe from the tacky tourist shop instead?
Lili is a succubus and Elic's soul mate. Basically she has a lot of sex with a lot of men. Inigo is the satyr and his job is to be lecherous and have a lot of sex (seeing a pattern yet?). That leaves Darius, the most interesting of the bunch. He's a dijinni, a shape shifter who can "read" human desires. This isn't terribly desirable for him, because once he knows a human's secret desires he's obligated to fulfill it.
The story takes place in the French countryside at a secluded Chateau where they have all lived for centuries. Written as an anthology, there are four stories detailing their antics throughout history. The opening story takes place in present day where Elic/Elle is boinking a tennis star and impregnating his fiancee. Next we're in the 18th century with the Hellfire Club where Lili runs afoul of a vampire and Darius is doing the BDSM-thing with a cool Countess. Next we hit late Victorian with a prudish bluestocking who has a sexual awakening thanks to Darius and begins seeing her father's scholarly assistant with new eyes. And last, we have a time Before Christ where a druid must thwart his mother's mechanizations in order to be with his true love.
Frankly what's missing here is that something that makes me care. Oh, like character development. Burton spends a lot of time talking mythology and setting ground work. Hey, this is nice, but I want to be inside the characters. What makes them tick? It isn't until we're almost through the second story that any sort of plot begins to surface, which means for about the first 70 pages I was bored. If I hadn't been reading this for review, it would have failed my "hook me by page 50 or you're gone" requirement. A shame, since once the author drops her world-building and concentrates on telling me the story it begins to work a bit better.
That said, with this being a projected series, there isn't a lot here to "make" me want to read the next book. It's nice enough, but it lacks something. That "something" that gets me invested. The paranormal aspects are intriguing, since they are based on mythology, pagan religion(s), and classical history - but all of these characters seem more like "types" as opposed to "real people."
So it's a mixed bag. I didn't hate it. I didn't love it. Which means it's average so Final Grade = C. I vaguely recall that I enjoyed Patricia Ryan's story in the Burning Up anthology from a couple years ago, and I still have a couple of her historical romances buried in the TBR. Which I've heard are quite good but again - buried in the TBR.
Final Note: I'm curious to read more feedback on this book since I think it might get "lost." While they end "happily," the stories don't fit into a conventional romance mold. And while the writing style is a bit more literary, will the appearance of paranormal creatures and erotic sex turn off (Tee Hee) literary fiction readers? It will remain to be seen.