Sunday, September 7, 2014

Review of "Fetish Fair" and "Sigil Fire" by Erzabet Bishop

Erzabet Bishop’s funny, blithely diverting short story The Red Envelope was among the standouts in Slave Girls, D.L. King’s recent anthology of D/s erotica, reviewed here a few weeks ago. What made Bishop’s story particularly interesting was the way she so skillfully got into her heroine’s head, so naturally, believably illuminating the young woman’s self-doubts, worries about her weight, social anxieties and fear of rejection. It all rang so pleasingly true without any unwelcome detours into darkness or authorial self-indulgence; a first-rate piece of erotic entertainment that had me keen to explore more of this writer’s work.  

Fetish Fair is about as uncomplicatedly entertaining as erotica gets without descending into the realm of simplistic “bubblegum” cliché. BDSM romance at its very lightest with more conventional sex than kink, this is a frothy vanilla treat. Set at a BDSM convention, readers follow kink-novice Kari through the hall as she visits various exhibits and workshops. The book itself is structured— theoretically at least—to give us a sense of her random peregrinations through the event. Taking a cue from interactive media and contemporary gaming, the publisher aspires to a kind of “Choose Your Own Sexy Adventure” in which the reader is continually prompted to take one path or another. There are three or four different storylines, each culminating in an equally steamy happy end.

It’s a fascinating attempt to impose a non-linear structure on what is in essence a fairly conventional narrative, and kudos to Silkwords Press for endeavoring to take advantage of those features unique to e-books. The only problem is that it doesn’t work here--or, at least, not very well. The hyperlinking was not done properly, so readers are left at the end of each section having to toggle back to a menu somewhere near the head of the text (there is no table of contents). It’s clunky, awkward and distracting, and it needs be redone. I would suggest placing a mini-TOC at the end of each discrete section, like a set of doors to be chosen, leading to subsequent sections. This would eliminate some of the awkwardness with navigation, and make the interactive experience as pleasant as the story itself.   

I encourage the publisher to get on a fix as soon as possible, because Fetish Fair is certainly a lot of fun, and well worth the effort.


Bishop’s Sigil Fire is a pulp-genre outing with a good basic tale to engage fast-reading fans of steamy paranormal fiction and police procedurals. The story certainly has its moments, but I got the impression of something written in a terrible hurry with insufficient editorial attention. Especially in moments of high tension and intense action, there are problems with continuity, unnecessary repetition, confused points-of-view, and blurry, poorly delineated descriptions. The main female characters—vampires and succubi—all seem to think, talk and act exactly alike, so it’s difficult to relate to any one of them or, for that matter, care. They are all described as attractive, young-looking women, a more-or-less meaningless set of characteristics, which don’t help when they all converge in a busy action sequence.
This, too, needs to go back to the editor’s desk for some work. The author needs to more carefully analyze her high-action scenes and work to make them clearer, better distinguish her characters, pay due attention to proper dialogue attribution, jettison some of the blandly overworked genre tropes (yet another "council" of elders) and clichéd speech patterns (“Damn him!” “The bastard!”, or the use of "friction" when "frisson" is clearly intended, though that, too, is rapidly becoming one of the most overused--and abused--words in erotic fiction). I did like the flashback sections revealing the heroine-vampire’s backstory. These were very sensitively written and came as close to originality as anything in the book. The way the two main characters bond, whether sexually or through the shared sigil of the title is quite beautiful, and admirably imaginative. On the other hand, I don’t think “Jellybean” is a good name for a Hell Hound, unless one is trying for a kind of Joss-Whedon-ish ironic humor, which was certainly not the impression I got here.  

With a little more work, greater attention to detail, and a strong hand on the editorial tiller, this could be made into a much better book. Bishop has already demonstrated that she is talented enough to do better, and I sincerely hope that with her next effort, she will.



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