Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Review Tuesday: Darker Edge of Desire

Darker Edge of Desire: Gothic Tales of Romance
Edited by Mitzi Szereto

Madness. Darkness. Death, and what might lie beyond. Gothic fiction takes us to the edge of comfort, icing our wonder with a blast of cold terror as we confront the unknown – including the unplumbed depths of our own own hidden desires.

Mitzi Szereto’s latest anthology marries the tropes of the Gothic genre with graphic erotic content. The results are surprisingly varied, transcending the clich├ęs of windswept moors, haunted mansions and buried crypts to provide some impressively original tales.

Possibly the most startling is Benji Bright’s “Blood Soup”. An exacting master chef concocts daily feasts for his reclusive noble employer, whom he has never met. The extraordinary repast he concocts from cow’s blood brings a summons, a moment of shared release and the revelation of secrets. I loved the twisted logic in this tale, laced with somber power.

Another standout tale is “The Wildest Spirit”, by Sacchi Green. Two beings on the edges of society, both scarred by their wild abilities, find common cause and unexpected passion when they try to stop the deliberate slaughter of coyotes. With its simple, concrete language, this eloquent story has some of the flavor of a fairy tale, but it’s not at all clear a happily-ever-after awaits the characters.

Ms. Szereto’s own contribution, “The Dracula Club”, is a delight.

I knew early on that my calling to the Old Country was not the result of some youthful fancy, which was how my family, schoolmates and teachers had always dismissed it. There’s not a huge amount of interest in Transylvania where I’m from, nor is there a huge amount of interest in Goth culture. Everyone thought I was crazy to be working all hours answering phones in a grubby warehouse office in the daytime (where no one had to look at me), then serving up greasy fast food and watery ice cream at the Dairy Queen in the evening (where I could be seen, but the country bumpkins and hot-rodding juvies were usually too drunk on cheap beer to care).

But I had a plan—and it was to save up enough money to fund my trip to Romania and have a bit left over to keep me going until I figured out how to earn a living. What did I care what the local yokels thought of me or my goals? I’d always been an outcast with my dyed black hair and my face and body piercings, my heavy black eye makeup and weird black clothes. The only people back home who dressed in black were the Amish—and they sure as hell weren’t Goth.

In a grimy Transylvanian pub, the narrator meets two gorgeous Gypsy boys – Dragos and Bela – and gives herself completely into their hands – both literally and figuratively. Their smutty, uninhibited three-way couplings are among the most erotic scenes in the book. Meanwhile, bit by bit, the beautiful Gypsies lead the transplanted Goth girl toward her dark destiny. She’s more than willing to follow.

T.C. Mills’ “The Wicked Wife” provides a fevered modern-day reading of Bluebeard that definitely got my blood boiling. “Reynolds’s Tale” by Adrian Ludens features Edgar Allen Poe as a character, and is written in a style reminiscent of that master of horror. Rose de Fer’s “Moonfall” gives us a Victorian werewolf, incarcerated in an asylum for the insane by her evil husband and rescued by her mortal lover. “Zapada Alba” by Tracey Lander-Garett is another shape-shifting tale, told in lush, sensual prose. Gary Earl Ross’s “Sister Bessie’s Boys” is a surprisingly sweet ghost story with a strong sense of place.

I would not, by the way, call this collection romance, at least not in the modern sense – but I guess that’s necessary these days to sell books. In perhaps half of the stories, requited desire leads to the promise of a future as a couple. The others are, thankfully, far more ambiguous.

Darker Edge of Desire offer vampires, were-creatures, demons and succubi – but don’t expect them to follow the rules of popular fiction. Overall, Mitzi Szereto has assembled a strong and diverse collection that showcases the creativity of her contributors.


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