“Romance is beautiful, it’s a gesture, it’s a walk in a park with a pretty girl. Love is ugly sometimes. It’s a crawl through a war zone to save a friend. Romance whispers sweet nothings. Love tells painful truths. Romance gives an engagement ring. Love takes a bullet.” – The Queen, Tiffany Reisz
Tiffany Reisz doesn’t write romance novels. She writes about love. If you’re looking for the Shakespearean “everyone gets married” romantic comedy or the Disney fairy tale “happily ever after” you might find parts of it here, but I guarantee those parts won’t be typical or easy.
The main character, Nora Sutherlin, is a professional dominatrix and erotica writer. The love of her life is a Jesuit priest. Her boss, best friend, and occasional client is the king of the BDSM underground. Oh yes, the empty shells I describe here were enough to pique my interest when I read the first book, The Siren, but they are only shells in this sentence. The intertwined lives, loves, experiences, and pasts of her characters are so fully developed you can’t help but keep reading because even when they’re total jerkface asshats they’re fascinating.
They are unapologetically complex humans who happen to live in text instead of New York. By definition, their complexity makes their stories complex, vivid, painful, and exciting. Set against an extremely detailed backdrop of the BDSM scene and carrying a decidedly Catholic undertone (the author is billed as “dropping out of seminary to become a smut peddler”), the back cover copy could just as easily indicate a scintillating erotica tale.
I mean, what’s naughtier than including the Church and BDSM sex clubs in intertwined, overlapping worlds for your characters? And there is a lot of explicit erotica, make no mistake. But unlike many of the books labeled “warning, explicitly hot!” in the Romance section of Barnes & Noble, the sex scenes fit within the world. These are not books based on loosely connecting dirty moments with a flimsy story. Reisz explores all the corners of love, pain, and healing by putting her characters through cringeworthy pasts and blushworthy (ok, also often cringeworthy) situations: erotic and otherwise.
I’m not going to lie: some of the scenes are horrendously uncomfortable to read. Some of the scenes are horrendously uncomfortable to even think about. There is darkness and real evil (the sort humans do to each other) in the story arcs that Reisz faces head on: this is not stuff for the faint-hearted. There are no limits, and your only safe word as a reader is to put the book down.
If you can.
Also (because I’m a stickler about terrible writing) let me just say how much I wish this woman would teach a writing class. If you read all eight novels in a row it’s easy to see her skills’ progression. The tight, clean writing and vivid imagery starts out strong only gets better. The quote at the top of this post is one of the best things I’ve read in a long while.
This is not fluffy feel-good reading or mental junk food. Oh, but it’s so, so fantastic you find yourself reading every possible short story on her blog and buying the next book in the series the day it’s released. I don’t buy a lot of books anymore: usually I stick with the library unless I’m so enamored with a character/world/story that I know I’ll re-read it. I own every book in this series.
I read the final installment, The Queen, in a night (and have the bags under my eyes to prove it). So yes, if you want a real BDSM erotica tale and/or if you just want a fucking excellent story with characters you can’t help loving and hating all at once, read The Original Sinners series.
Start with The Siren. The list, in order is here.