Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Angel by Tiffany Reisz

UPDATE!!!: I've found the proper Harlequin UK cover for The Prince! By 'proper' I mean that it matches the ones for The Siren and The Angel and isn't the one with the blindfolded guy or the piano and crop. A shame, because both are great but this one is truly beautiful.

The Angel (2012)
Tiffany Reisz
Grade: B+
Genre: erotica like you've never known erotica before
Sex scenes: hotter than the eighth circle of hell (you have to read it). Contains the most sadistic yet strangely titillating sex scene I've ever read. I swear even the most hardened erotica readers might be slightly put off, though this may be my relative inexperience in the genre peeking through. Also contains homosexual sex scenes, threesomes and lashings of innuendo to blow your mind (amongst other things) away; there's nothing that Ms Reisz doesn't (or won't) do
Source: NetGalley
The Original Sinners (The Red Years): (prequel) Seven Day Loan (1) The Siren, (2) The Angel, (3) The Prince, (4) The Mistress

Ms Reisz has no qualms about sticking her hand in your chest (amongst other places …), yanking your heart out and leaving you still breathing to boot. And the worst thing is, she’ll enjoy doing it and you’ll be left begging for more (I know I am). The best kind of erotica writer.

Nora Sutherlin has returned to her lover Søren and this time, it’s for good. Her love for Wesley was pure and innocent (as much as those words can be used to describe Nora) but it was never meant to be. Kink and S&M are as vital to Nora as her writing and however much it broke her heart to let Wesley go, she won’t give up her lifestyle or Søren for anything.

Michael Dimir slashed his wrists in a suicide attempt when he was fourteen, desperately wanting out of his parents’ constant arguing and his father’s unwavering derision after finding out that his only son got off on pain and graphic, violent sex. Father S saved his life and reassured him that he wasn’t alone in his fantasies; after a year of not hurting himself as Father S had ordered, Michael gets his reward: a night with Nora to lose his virginity. It was everything that Michael could have wished for and the perfect reassurance that he was in no way a ‘freak’ because of his desires. Michael is now seventeen and Father S has decided that it is time for Michael to be properly introduced to the ways of their secret world … who better to teach him than his first lover and world famous dominatrix, Nora?

Søren has a second, more serious reason for wanting to send Eleanor and Michael away: he’s been shortlisted for bishop of the diocese, a promotion that would do serious wonders for his career, but would mean that his relationship with Eleanor would dwindle to nothing. The impending investigation would be a lot easier to handle if the two most controversial members of his congregation were far, far away. And it’s not only the Church who are probing deeper into Father S’s life …

Suzanne Kanter, a tenacious reporter who usually covers war zones has been tipped off about a conflict of interests about Father S and his possible new promotion. Being a lapsed Catholic with a bad personal history with the Church, Suzanne is convinced that this ‘conflict of interests’ is of a sexual nature and is determined to do all she can to uncover the truth. What she doesn’t anticipate is her instant attraction to this man who is supposed to be the enemy …

Nora, meanwhile, has persuaded Søren to let her and Michael to escape to the secluded home of her friend Griffin Fiske. The richest trust-fund baby in Manhattan, Griffin is a big player in the 8th Circle, the Underground club to which Nora, Søren and Kingsley belong. Søren highly disapproves of Griffin (much to Nora’s delight) but Nora herself can’t find much fault with the young, rich, energetic and willing-to-try-anything Griffin. And so begins a summer that no one will forget …

The Angel was fantastic. Completely different to The Siren in so many ways and this makes it brilliant for different reasons that makes it difficult to compare the two. I went crazy when I saw The Angel available on NetGalley – I’ll do so again if the rest of the octalogy are released on the site. There’s nothing quite like Tiffany Reisz and for that I’m both thankful and distraught.

I purposely wrote my review of The Siren without spoilers. It was hellishly difficult but now I’m going to have to reveal one of the major reveals of The Siren in order for anything I say about The Angel to make any sense; I’m sure that none of the above review made sense unless you already know the shocker. So, to start, here’s a who’s who of Tiffany Reisz’s most important characters, whether or not they appear in The Angel.

Nora Sutherlin – born Eleanor Schreiber; world-famous dominatrix and erotica author – though those who know her as the latter aren’t really aware of her job as the former. Collared to Søren for ten years before leaving him, Nora has returned and still loves him absolutely.

Søren – priest. Yes, you read that right: PRIEST. Or le prêtre, as Kingsley calls him if you want to sound a little patronising and snooty. He has only broken his holy vows with Eleanor and is otherwise as devout a Catholic as the Pope. Tiffany Reisz knows how to mess with her readers’ minds.

Kingsley Edge – The King of the Underground. Half-French but one-hundred-per-cent arrogant. Keeps files on everyone, whether they be a client or not; no one crosses King if they want to carry on living a worthwhile existence. Has a twisted and complicated relationship and history with Nora and Søren.

Wesley Railey – virgin and Nora’s former ‘intern’. Type 1 diabetic, Nora invited Wes to live with her so he could continue attending his monstrously expensive college. They fell in love, but Wesley can’t stand Nora’s dependence on pain and how she willingly returns to Søren without question. Nora left him in an attempt to let him get on with his life.

Michael Dimir – seventeen-year-old skateboarding, artistic loner and only child. Tried to kill himself at fourteen? when his father condemned his prurient desires but was saved by Father S who promised to show him he wasn’t alone if he didn’t hurt himself again. Lost his virginity to Nora in The Siren aged fifteen.

Griffin Fiske – twenty-seven and Manhattan’s richest trust-fund baby. Introduced to the New York Underground scene by Kingsley in Griffin in Wonderland and hasn’t looked back. For a reason that Nora hasn’t been able to pry from either of them, Griffin and Søren dislike each other intensely.

Juliette – not really a key player, but I’ll mention her anyway. Kingsley’s wonder-woman secretary by day and submissive by night. She and Kingsley code all their files into her native Haitian Creole

Daniel – librarian, dominant and a very rich man after his law-firm-partner wife died of cancer. Introduced in Seven Day Loan when Eleanor was left with Daniel as a seven-day-loan while Søren was out of the country. Has since found his HEA in Daniel Part Two.

Zachary Easton – Nora’s very British and very demanding editor.

Yes, Søren is a priest. Completely fucked me up too. It’s arguably Ms Reisz’s biggest taboo, but since she breaks so many social no-no’s, it’s incredibly hard to say for sure. This could lead to a whole other discussion about how all priests in the Catholic Church are sexual predators (which I am NOT going to start for SO many reasons) but (much as I hate to say it) Søren isn’t like that. Yes, he’s broken his chastity vow (and Nora’s mum never lets her forget it) but only with Nora. The intensity with which he loves her (again, another thing that I hate to admit) is astonishing and I’m really hating that I’m backing out of so many things that I said about Søren in The Siren. More later.

The Siren was about introducing us to Nora and her fucked-up world. Through her writing and relationship with Zach and Wesley, we were shown both the light sides and dark realities of her life as a submissive and dominatrix. Being a Switch isn’t easy in Nora’s line of work but she handles it like she does everything: with staggering courage and a take-no-shit attitude that I envy and covet. In some ways, The Angel is a much lighter read than The Siren in terms of Nora’s current position in her life. Now that she’s back with Søren, it’s like her life has been put to rights. She may be missing Wesley like hell, but she knows that it was for his own good. As a result, she’s pretty content with life and this comes across in the writing.

The Siren was Tiffany Reisz’s first full-length novel and a stunning debut at that; I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a book like I did that one. Because of it, my standards are sky-high and Ms Reisz would have to work even bigger miracles than she does already in order to top it. For this reason, I enjoyed The Siren a tiny bit more than The Angel across a number of aspects. Firstly, I thought The Siren was funnier. Secondly, I thought The Angel had better writing. I’m sorry to say it because I love both books ridiculously, but The Siren had the edge in both areas. I’m not even sure why in regard to the former because there’s nothing I can really pinpoint, but it just did.

As to the better writing, that’s because The Siren had such a huge focus on Nora’s book. We’d forever have passages from her work-in-progress and the poignancy and beauty of the writing was stunning. There just aren’t enough adequate words to describe how wonderful Ms Reisz’s writing is and the interwoven-ness of Ms Reisz’s work and ‘Nora’s’ work is fabulous. I knew that The Angel’s focus wasn’t on Nora’s writing but I wish it was if only so that we could read her heart-breaking prose all over again.

It’s all about Nora and she’s fast become one of my favourite heroines. I might not be crazy about Søren but I can’t fault her for loving him. She’s exuberant, sassy, more than comfortable with her sexuality and just a hilarious, outrageous person. This last attribute perhaps didn’t shine through as much as I found in The Siren, but I can deal with that. I felt that Nora’s role was reduced somewhat in The Angel so that Michael and Griffin could have their chance to shine and that was okay too. Nora more than had her part to play and it’s always nice to see characters get their happy ever after – I was already starting to doubt in The Siren that Nora would get a HEA (and I think Ms Reisz will be perverse enough to deny her one) but with another six books to go (and endless possibilities for more short story freebies on her storytime website) I think I’m okay with the fact that Nora might not get a traditional ending – a huge concession from me, the traditional romantic. She’s anything but your conventional heroine and considering her unconventional lovelife and unconventional history, the only thing that would be fitting for the series would be an unconventional ending.

I disliked Søren intensely at the end of The Siren and it causes me deep regret to say that The Angel has changed my mind about him – something that I see has been happening with a lot of readers who disliked Søren in The Siren. I want to be able to hate him for the pain and humiliation he causes/has caused Nora, but The Angel shows us a different side now that he doesn’t have to compete with Wesley anymore – not that Søren ever doubted that Nora would return to him. We find out a lot about his past (and I know that there’s a whole lot more to come) and even the most hardened Søren-hater will have a hard time not feeling sorry for him after reading what he has been through. I don’t have a twitter account and don’t really keep up with what people tweet, but Ms Reisz (@tiffanyreisz) is one that I do check sporadically because she’s just so outrageously blunt and sexual it makes me crack up. She said in response to a reader’s comments about Søren’s past that what happened to him as a child made him into the Dominant that he is today, but also made him compassionate. I’m not sure that I wholly agree with the compassionate thing, but I can see what she’s getting at and it makes me understand Søren (if that’s possible) a little bit better.

I should mention the sex – I almost nearly forgot which would have been a bit silly of me. I mentioned in the ‘sex scenes’ bit at the top that The Angel has the most sadistic scene I’ve ever read. Again, given my overall inexperience with good erotica (Ms Reisz being the exception) I have no idea whether this takes place regularly in the genre. All I’ll say is that if you aren’t good with blood, then stay clear away. Far, far away. This is not for the faint-of-anything. Ms Reisz said on twitter two days ago in response to a reader talking about the graphicness of her sex scenes: “I don’t really write graphic sex. I stick to graphic BDSM and let the sex just happen”. I’d never thought about it that way but yes, this is what she does. And bloody well, at that.

The Siren was full of shockers and The Angel doesn’t disappoint. If anything, there’s even more. I don’t even want to start mentioning them because they’re not things that you want spoilt, so I’ll just give some brief hints and leave you all so desperate to find out the answers that you’ll buy the book for yourself to find out. We find out the reason why Nora left Søren in the first place (so so unbelievably shocking); discover some truths about her relationship with her mum (unexpected, but makes sense if you think about it); witness how Søren became the sadistic priest that he is (horrifying – no other words); Søren’s other relationship with Kingsley (the non-sexual one) and; Kingsley’s twisted Switch past (I didn’t expect this to go that far). And that’s just the tip of Nora’s famous red riding crop; it just never stops coming.

It’s the Nora-Søren-Kingsley thing that gets me the most. Don’t get me wrong, the rest was shocking too, but I’ve always loved Kingsley so this one resonated with me the most. We already know that Kingsley is a Switch: there was one line in Little Red Riding Crop stating the bare fact and then moving on – Ms Reisz knows how to make her cliffhangers matter-of-fact like they’re common knowledge and then forget about them until the opportune moment arises to drop the real bombshell. God, I love her for it – anyway, I digress. We also already knew that when Nora was still just a sub, she, Søren and Kingsley would frequently have threesomes so that Søren could humiliate her. I’d always gotten the impression that Nora and Kingsley had quite a good relationship with each other; after all, they spent a lot of time together during Nora’s twenties until she became Kingsley’s best dominatrix. Rather, as we discover in The Angel, their relationship (on Kingsley’s part at least) is one of tolerance and considerable envy and jealously. This saddens me: two of my favourite characters and they don’t even like each other that much (well, on Kingsley’s part at least). I mean, it’s mostly Søren’s fault because he’s a manipulative bastard, but it really hurt to read that Kingsley doesn’t like Nora. Knowing what I know now, I can completely understand why and there’s nothing I can do about it. Damn you Ms Reisz for making my favourite guy in the series hate one of my favourite heroines ever!

The Prince will be fantastic. Summaries say that Nora goes off to Kentucky to be with Wesley for a while; this is going to be interesting. Søren would never let Nora go off unless he’s confident that she’ll be back – who knows whether Nora will find what she needs with Wesley? So while Nora is gone, Kingsley takes his chance to steal back that position that Nora had stolen from him: kissing Søren’s feet. I have a feeling that the ‘prince’ refers to Wes after what we learnt of him in The Angel, but I could be wrong. I’ve read that a considerable portion of The Prince takes place during Søren and Kingsley’s childhood and so it could refer to Kingsley, but I’m doubtful. All I know is that it’s going to be UTTERLY AMAZING. I’ll be stalking NetGalley between now and November waiting for it to pop up; I’d literally do anything to get my hands on it, but given the context, that’s perhaps not the best or most advisable thing to say …

It was great to see Michael and Griffin get their own storyline. My impression of Michael from The Siren hadn’t been a great one (again, because of Søren’s manipulation) but I loved seeing him grow and develop as a person as well as finally begin to feel comfortable with his sexual desires. He’s still a minor, so many readers may have issues, but this is Tiffany Reisz and so if you’re still reading this review at this point, it’s likely that there’s little that you still find offending. Anyway, I never really took much issue with Michael’s age in The Angel; to be honest I kind of forgot that he was a minor which is rather bad of me. His part in The Siren is another story altogether.

I feel I have to mention the gorgeous UK covers. I’ve displayed the US ones on top (not in that way) and the UK ones underneath. The US ones are great – there’s a subtle hint of naughtiness about them without being too in-your-face – but the UK ones are sinfully attractive and take it that tiny step further because you won’t fully understand the significance of the items (key, ribbon, piano/crop) unless you read the books themselves (not completely sure whether the cover for The Prince is the official UK one because it doesn’t match the other two but I thought I’d put it up anyway). I do hate the fact that there are whopping great big Fifty Shades mentions on the covers (Fifty Shades Darker than Grey and More Scorching than Fifty Shades) because Ms Reisz gets by one-hundred-and-fifty-per-cent on her own merit. I’d like to see what would have happened had The Original Sinners been the big thing rather than Fifty Shades; if people thought that latter was explicit, god would the media have a field-year with Ms Reisz and what she gets up to. I accept that there’s a whole Twilight/Fifty Shades theme going on with these UK covers but IMO, these are better than any and all of them combined. Go Harlequin.

So. READ THIS. OR ELSE. But read The Siren first. There’s some series that can be read out of order; The Original Sinners isn’t one of them. It might shock you; it might haunt you; God (or at least Søren) knows that you will be completely mind-fucked, but by the end, you’ll be glad you did it. So what are you waiting for?

Images: The Angel US, The Siren US, The Siren UK, The Angel UK, The Prince UK (not entirely sure where I got The Prince US from ...

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