Anne Rice makes a triumphant return to erotic BDSM fiction
Beauty’s Kingdom by Anne Rice (writing as A.N. Roquelaure) (Viking 2015) $27.95, 272 pp.
I first came across A. N. Roquelaure’s Sleeping Beauty Trilogy in the early 1990s, well after its author had already been exposed as a pseudonym of Anne Rice. I found the books enticing and amazingly erotic fantasies about a medieval world where BDSM was the norm and naked pleasure “slaves” and dominant men and women filled their days indulging in activities that would make most people blush. (The plot revolves around the awakening of Sleeping Beauty who, as in the fairy tale, has been put under a sleeping spell. Rather than a kiss, Beauty is awakened by a prince who has sex with her and then takes her away to his kingdom where she becomes awakened to the submissive nature she finds so delightful.)
As a member of the leather community, these books — though far from what most would consider “leather-oriented” — were delightful diversions and just plain hot. There was no prevailing sexual orientation in this fantasyland, and members of both sexes indulged in delights with whatever gender happened to strike their fancy at the moment. It was pure hedonism, save for an underlying current of a moral structure that lead readers to believe that no real harm would come to the kingdom’s slaves and subjects.
I have been asked dozens of times if these books bear any resemblance to the reality of BDSM and my answer is typically, “In a lot of ways, Rice gets it absolutely right.” The activities would most likely be not only possible, but probably a blast! That said, Rice seems to have a big fascination with butt plugs and pony gear, and perhaps she has been the root of the whole “pony play” phenomenon. (If you don’t know what that is, it would take another full column to bring you up to speed.)
Now, almost 30 years later, comes the fourth book in the series, Beauty’s Kingdom. Rice herself remarked she was eager to get back to writing erotica, and I for one am delighted she did. Writing as Rice she is very good; writing as A.N. Roquelaure, she is a master of erotica.
The story picks up some 20 years later and now the kingdom has matured in many ways. In the original construct, young nobles were given to the kingdom for a period of mandatory slavery and were groomed in the ways of discipline and sexual servitude before being restored to their rightful titles and returned to their own countries with a new wisdom gained from the experience. It reminded me a great deal of the position that some boys, slaves and submissives held in the real-world leather community I first knew in the late 1970s. In an ideal setting, those who chose to be submissive or serve as slaves were held in a special regard and respected and protected by their Daddies or Masters. They often matured sexually into dominants themselves though that was not a prescribed path. Much of what Rice wrote about felt a lot like a pansexual version of the Old Guard wrapped in the trappings of a fantasy realm.
Now, the position of sex slaves has changed. In this mature kingdom, they come willingly and apply to become participants in the training and activities. Social status is no longer a barrier, the common and the royal can experience the joys of submission and things have become so popular, there is a waiting list.
Much like the modern leather/BDSM community, the old structure of rigid rolls has become blurred, and the idea of “switching” is accepted and common. The bisexuality of the kingdom is more profound and though there are men who much prefer other men and women who prefer women, most can appreciate the attractive qualities of a well-trained slave. There are even those individuals who magically change their gender in this new kingdom and they are awarded a special place.
The activities are mostly realistic, or at least plausible and though the kingdom has a marked propensity for spanking, pretty much every aspect of BDSM is present. The butt plugs are back, but this time instead of being polished wood, they are hardened wax and are melted down between uses. I suspect a concession to criticism about the previous book’s less believable (and less hygienic) ones.
The fact that Rice noticed these details leads me to believe she knows a lot about the real world of BDSM, a fact that is almost assured in the dedication of the book to John Preston, noted homoerotic author of the Mr. Benson books.
Making inevitable comparisons of these books to 50 Shades of Grey I can only say, Roquelaure gets it far more accurate and believable than the clumsy grammar and silliness of E. L. James. For my money, Beauty’s Kingdom is a better read and much better erotic literature than most of the genre available today.
— Hardy Haberman
Course Correction: A Story of Rowing and Resilience in the Wake of Title IX by Ginny Gilder (Beacon Press 2015) $26.95, 272 pp.
The first time Ginny Gilder ever saw a rowing team in action, she was 16 and didn’t quite know what she was seeing. Everything about that boat, its rowers and the motion spoke of serenity and control — things Gilder lacked in her young life. She was a goner.
Two years later, while enrolled at Yale, she finally got a chance to try the sport, though the women’s rowing coach strongly discouraged her. Gilder was shorter than the optimal height for a rower and, because Title IX (ensuring an end to gender discrimination at federally funded institutions) had only recently passed, she’d never seriously engaged in sports before. She was out of shape and inexperienced, but determined. She started training, running and practicing. Within six weeks, she was competing.
“Everything hurt,” she recalls in Course Correction, her new memoir, “including my butt. My hands sported new blisters, my lungs felt like they had been rubbed with sandpaper… I had never felt happier.”
For the rest of that year, Gilder threw herself into her newfound love, barely socializing except with teammates at workouts, training and competitions. Rowing helped her focus and forget about the home life she’d escaped: her family’s wealth, her father’s infidelity and her mother’s mental health issues. Rowing helped hide her self-consciousness and lack of self-esteem.
She saw her teammates’ swagger and confidence, and she saw two of them try out for the U.S. Olympic team in Montreal. At least one teammate was gay and didn’t try to hide it; says Gilder, “I couldn’t imagine being that bold or comfortable.” Her self-doubts were exacerbated by family naysayers and by Gilder’s own inner critic … a voice she had to silence before she could excel at the sport she needed to her core. She also had to come to terms with all aspects of herself, including her sexuality.
I’m very happy to say that Course Correction, while sometimes a little rough in a first-time-author, way is, overall, a nice surprise. Between a breathless story of the making of an athlete, Gilder writes of the past that caused her to lose faith in herself, even as she was gaining strength, physically and intellectually. That uncertainty of self — a big part of this book — led to many regrettable decisions, and is portrayed so well that it’s hard not to feel empathetic. That empathy only leads us to want more.
Add in heart-pounding accounts of races and trials and you’ve got a nice memoir about a subject that’s largely unsung by an author to watch. And if that sounds like an ideal read to you, then try Course Correction. This book is but a dream.•
— Terri Schlichenmeyer
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 19, 2015.