I was prepared to dislike this story. Let me explain: I have real difficulty reading traditional “the only value a woman has is if she’s virginal” tropes, particularly when they’re virgins being exploited for their virginity alone. So, when I read the description of Immersed in Pleasure, I gritted my teeth and decided I’d read it anyway, because it was written by Tiffany Reisz and I love her work. The thing is, when you find authors who consistently work for you, it’s worth setting aside assumptions: this little novella was wonderful. WONDERFUL.
Immersed in Pleasure opens with a fairly stereotypical scene: a dude in a bar with his buddies, half bragging and half lamenting the loss of “the perfect girl”. The mythical “mermaids” of the NY underground scene are, of course, managed and maintained by Kingsley Edge, owner of some of the wildest and most infamous kink clubs in the city (King is a recurring main character in The Original Sinners series).
Mermaids are marked with delicate and distinctive tattoos, are universally young and gorgeous, and are for viewing/flirting only. Their virgin status is well known, and should they lose that status they are immediately retired. Derek meets the lovely Xenia in King’s club and is, of course, completely mesmerized by her. He follows her through a secret door to a secret club where the mermaids hang out, complete with pools.
On the surface the story seems like an immature man’s fantasy, doesn’t it? But Reisz is so damned adept at flipping the script on tropes that the story didn’t end up that way at all. The power here is ultimately with Xenia, who isn’t some pure prize to be won and refuses be treated as a sex object whose only value is her body. I found myself completely engrossed and rooting for her.
There is one thing in the story that I didn’t enjoy, because it plays on stereotypes of what virginity is (physically) and, I think, perpetuates damaging myths about how to tell if a person with a vagina is a virgin. I honestly would’ve preferred King hire “mermaids” he can trust to tell the truth, versus the antiquated physical verification which assumes the vagina-haver’s word isn’t good enough. It’s the only theme I ended up disliking in this one.
The romantic dance between Derek and Xenia weaves mermaid/siren mythology right along with the sexual tension. And let me say, if you’re looking for erotic drama this story delivers: sexual and emotional tension, bitchy rivals, tragic rules, and a breakup for all the right reasons. Overall, what starts as a brag-story to his buddies ends up as a cautionary tale for the boys about treating women like objects, and I loved it.
Immersed in Pleasure is a fun, quick read. It’s peripheral to The Original Sinners series, but stands alone as a story. And after my foolish trepidation, I ended up losing sleep reading it (someday I’ll learn NOT to pick up a Tiffany Reisz book at bedtime) because I couldn’t put it down, which is always the mark of a good story.