Grace Warner has tried to live kink. She has been to clubs and given herself over to BDSM and her perverse fascinations with the lifestyle. But it's not enough; it's too much like `tie-me-up-tie-me-down' play. And then Grace meets Lucas Stone online, and starts chatting to him about the island of Eleu.
Populated by the rich and reclusive, Eleu is Private Island inhabited by natives and extreme BDSM participants. There are no embassies on Eleu, and citizenship is revoked the moment you step onto the island - effectively turning a person into a refugee. The little island is made up of large mansions and plantations, owned by rich `Masters' who seek willing masochists to be their slaves and live with them on the island.
This is what Grace wants and needs. To give herself fully to Lucas and live with him on Eleu . . . she needs to give herself over to the fantasy, completely and totally.
But eight months later and Grace is a broken, bleeding shell of her former self. Lucas is no Master; he is a tyrant intent on pushing Grace until she is beyond repair . . . but before all hope is lost, Grace is sold to a fellow Eleu resident - Asher Collins.
There are rumours about what happened to Asher's last slave girl . . . rumours that set Grace's frayed nerves on edge and have her believing she will die in Asher's dungeons.
But it is in Asher that Grace finds a true Master. Someone to banish Lucas's nightmares and show her the difference between hurt and harm . . .
`Tender Mercies' is the new darkly erotic literary novel from Kitty Thomas, due for release on May 15th.
I discovered Kitty Thomas last year with her novel `Comfort Food'. I likened that erotica novel (about extreme Stockholm syndrome) to literary wasabi - sinus clearing and somewhat unsettling, but also incredibly, breathtakingly powerful. So I went into `Tender Mercies' excitedly knowing that Kitty Thomas writes at the extreme-end of the erotica scale. She intrudes upon reader's comfort zones and pulls you (kicking and screaming) into an abrasive and compelling world of fetishism and erotica . . .
`Tender Mercies' is actually a very nice complement and follow-up to Thomas's `Comfort Food'. Both novels explore captivity, trust, BDSM and the extremities of that lifestyle. `Comfort Food' was all about a woman accidentally finding love in the most unconventional and disturbing of ways, `Tender Mercies' acts as the complete flipside to that story. Grace Warner is actively seeking an extreme BDSM lifestyle - and she believes she has found her perfect new life on the island of Eleu, which is a refuge for Masters and their slaves. But while Grace signed up for a secluded life of masochism, she was utterly unprepared for the horrors that lay in Lucas Stone's dungeons . . . she is beaten, humiliated and subjected to perverse forms of torture (seriously, I'm talking `American Psycho' levels of disturbing). Lucas Stone is no Master - he is the devil incarnate.
It is only when Lucas sells Grace to the island's resident `killer', Asher Collins, that she starts to learn the true BDSM lifestyle . . . for Asher is a kind and intuitive Master. He is still reeling from the accidental death of his last slave (and lover), and is determined to treat Grace with the utmost care while also introducing her to the wicked carnality of the Master/Slave relationship.
Together, Grace and Asher learn to trust and love again. Grace comes to accept her fetishes and explore them in the safe and trusting relationship that Asher establishes. Meanwhile, Asher begins to let go of his guilt and rebuild his life, with Grace kneeling by his side.
I loved the romance between Grace and Asher. It's partly `white knight syndrome' - that Asher rides in to save Grace from the devilish clutches of Lucas Stone. But it's also the fact that Asher has his own disturbing problems with guilt and forgiveness. He was a very tender and enticing Master, but underneath his firm hand lay a broken heart. His rebuilding of Grace's confidence and love is dramatic and romantic and made for such a compelling storyline.
Dare I say . . . Kitty Thomas is fast becoming the erotica novelist du jour. Her books of extremism, BDSM and fetishism are the very best examples of the erotica genre - as she writes smartly sexy books that explore the darkest facets of sexual gratification and perversion while also weaving a marvellously compelling storyline with intense romance.
`Tender Mercies' is more bitter brilliance from Kitty Thomas. Yes, there are some very disturbing aspects to the novel - not least of which is an island dedicated to promoting a Master/Slave society where only the death of a slave warrants punishment . . . but Kitty Thomas is, above all else, a literary erotica novelist. In `Tender Mercies' she is exploring the `perversions' of kink and the traumas of captivity, followed by the struggles of post-traumatic stress. I feel it's important to stress that Kitty Thomas doesn't write `smut' - her novels are above all that. She instead writes insanely powerful sex scenes that flip between being sensuous and serious, delicious and disturbing. Her sex scenes make you think, as they lead into the subliminal storyline of trust and captivity, of surrendering yourself to another human being and opening yourself to pain in return.
Kitty Thomas is one of the most audaciously brilliant erotica novelists I have ever read. Her second novel, `Tender Mercies', is another example of her brilliance as she weaves a twisted tale of punishment and betrayal, redemption and understanding - all against the kinky backdrop of a BDSM island wonderland.
(reviewed 3 days after purchase)