Christina Shelly has been a favourite author of mine for many years, ever since I accidentally discovered a copy of her first book, Silken Slavery, in...moreChristina Shelly has been a favourite author of mine for many years, ever since I accidentally discovered a copy of her first book, Silken Slavery, in a Toronto bookstore. Somebody had clearly lifted it from the erotica section, flipped through it, and dropped it on the horror shelf right next to the Clive Barker book I was looking for. Coincidence or fate, I (being the bookslut that I am) bought both.
Unlike so much of the commercially produced erotica available in mainstream bookstores, which usually just pays lip service to the transgender community by mixing in some forced feminization with its female domination, Christina’s books are unapologetically for and about the ready-and-willing transgendered girl.
With The Secret Self, Christina takes that expression to the next step. Her protagonist is already an accomplished, extremely passable transvestite, although one stuck very much in the closet. While there is a femdom element to her past, with a Mistress largely removed from the immediate action, that relationship is more about forcing Adam to overcome his fears and fully embrace the Eve within than it is about forcing him to be something/somebody he doesn’t want to be.
Much of the story revolves around an exclusive, invitation only club (Crème de la Crème), populated by transsexuals, transvestites, shemales, and their admirers. There, Eve is challenged and encouraged to explore her secret self. Christina’s descriptions of how it feels to dress, walk, and act like a girl are absolutely breathtaking. She doesn’t gloss over the preparation, and doesn’t shy away from the confusion of being in transition.
This isn't just a story about sexual fetishism, no matter how hot and delicious those scenes may be. It's also a story about relationships. As the story progresses, Eve find herself involved in a relationship with two Mistresses (one largely off-stage, and the other very prominent in the club); a trans-sister whom she admires, envies, and adores; and a male admirer who pushes her to complete her transformation. The romance that develops between Eve and Richard is one of the strongest aspects of the novel. It’s not something Adam could ever want, but it is something Eve is coming to desire, and Christina handles that emotional conflict between beautifully.
The relationship between Eve and Richard is an intense one. He is the strong, forceful, dominant male that Eve needs if she is to wholly overcome the lingering aspects of Adam's persona. Even though Richard treats her like a woman, the spectre of her dual-persona is always there, and they frequently cross the line from romance to BDSM in an attempt to completely overwhelm those 'drab' memories. Even as we thrill at Eve's seduction, however, we never entirely trust Richard or his motivations.
Fortunately, whenever things start to get too intense, Christina smartly reintroduces Cherry into the action. A long-time member of Crème de la Crème, she serves as Eve's buxom and beautiful (not to mentiuon, very well-hung) transition guide. She is equal parts big-sister, BFF, and bisexual lover. Eve's relationship with her is never casual, but sweet, silly, fun, and even a little bit frantic. Their roles within the club don't allow them much time to play, but you can't help but smile every time they get together.
Without giving away too much, the book's conclusion is as deeply arousing as it is satisfying. Yes, it's very heavily weighted on the fantasy side of things, but that's entirely appropriate for a story about dreams and desires.
Although the Nexus publishing line has been discontinued, here's hoping that someday we get to experience the next chapter of Eve. (less)
The Tamir Trilogy is truly a `proper' trilogy - that is, a single story, broken up into three volumes, as opposed to a series of self-contained, inter...moreThe Tamir Trilogy is truly a `proper' trilogy - that is, a single story, broken up into three volumes, as opposed to a series of self-contained, interconnected books. Book 1 (The Bone Doll's Twin) sets-up the story and sends us on our way. In an age of plague and war, a girl child is destined to take her place as the rightful Queen, to reunite the people, and to bring peace back to the land. To thwart this prophecy and ensure his continued rule, the King carefully monitors all noble births and arranges to have the female children murdered.
When a daughter is born into the king's family, the odds of her escaping notice (much less death) are decidedly bleak. However, there is another child - a boy - sharing their mother's womb. Sadly, for one to live (and rule), the other must die. An act of darkest magic binds the twins together, concealing Tobin's true gender with that of her brother. Fittingly, for night of such dark magic, events do not go as planned. The boy child, who was to be declared stillborn, draws a single breath before his life is cut short.
That bleak mistake leaves the future queen tormented by the angry ghost of her death brother, drives their father into near-exile, and sets their unwitting mother on the path to madness and death. This is a dark, creepy, and deeply unsettling story that will have you questioning whether the end ever really can justify the means. Prince Tobin is brought up believing herself to be a boy, with only her father, her nanny, and a trio of wizards privy to the truth. We watch as she grows up, alone, isolated from the world, trapped in the confines of a gothic castle.
Perhaps not surprisingly for an author who so tenderly dealt with the intricacies of bisexual romance in her Nightrunner Series, Lynn Flewelling does an absolutely masterful job of handling Tobin's growing gender conflict. As readers who know the secret, the very subtle cues as to Tobin's true gender are as clear as they are heartbreaking, even while it remains completely conceivable how others can remain oblivious. Transgender readers especially will sympathise with Tobin's plight. For us, the cure may be surgical rather than magical, but we are no less trapped in the wrong sex than her. (less)
**spoiler alert** The Tamir Trilogy is truly a `proper' trilogy - that is, a single story, broken up into three volumes, as opposed to a series of sel...more**spoiler alert** The Tamir Trilogy is truly a `proper' trilogy - that is, a single story, broken up into three volumes, as opposed to a series of self-contained, interconnected books. Book 3 (The Oracle's Queen) brings all the threads together for a triumphant conclusion. War comes to the kingdom, forcing an end to the awkward stasis that has plagued the land. When the King is slain, Prince Korin must take the throne, having already proven himself a poor choice to lead the land in battle. In order to save the realm from Korin's failings (and the greater failings of his court wizard), Tobin must reveal herself to the world and declare herself Queen Tamir.
Even though we, as readers, know it's coming - it's inevitable, in fact - the dissolution of the magic, revealing Tobin as Tamir, is absolutely breathtaking. It's bold, it's beautiful, and (for the sake of regal legitimacy) it's very much public. This is an act that needs to be witnessed, and witnessed it is! If her coming out doesn't leave you in tears, then you have my condolences for your absent heart.
Sadly, this magical moment does not mark an end to Tamir's suffering. If anything, it adds to it. Many across the kingdom refuse to believe it, either accusing her (ironically) of being a boy in drag, or simply distrusting the magic used to disguise her for so many years. I have no idea whether Flewelling has any transgender friends, or whether she intended to so accurately mirror the experience of a modern day transsexual, but she does a magnificent job. (less)
The Tamir Trilogy is truly a `proper' trilogy - that is, a single story, broken up into three volumes, as opposed to a series of self-contained, inter...moreThe Tamir Trilogy is truly a `proper' trilogy - that is, a single story, broken up into three volumes, as opposed to a series of self-contained, interconnected books. Book 2 (Hidden Warrior) continues the story, as Tobin tries to fit in at court with her cousin, the Prince, the other noble children, and their squires. By this point in the trilogy, Tobin knows the truth about herself, leaving her to not only to cope with her own destiny, but to struggle with a secret that threatens to change everything and everyone around herself.
While not as dark and gothic as the first volume, this one is equally as bleak. We see a young `boy' struggling with the knowledge that he's really a `girl' inside, and fighting the thoughts and feelings of the one, which do not mesh with the other. Confusing matters further is Tobin's awkward relationship with Ki, his long-time, faithful squire. By the end of this second volume, it's clear that they have feelings for one another, even if one can't express them and the other can't really understand them. In Ki, we find the friend every tgirl craves - never have I loved a supporting character more.
Once again, for transgender readers, Tobin's emerging conflicts really hit home, and are handled beautifully. It's a heartbreaking struggle to witness (and to share), but there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. We get the sense that the truth truly will set her free. (less)
Before we get into things, let’s deal with the most common complaint regarding the book. Yes, it is sexist, anachronistic, and often patently offensiv...moreBefore we get into things, let’s deal with the most common complaint regarding the book. Yes, it is sexist, anachronistic, and often patently offensive in it’s portrayal of BOTH genders. It’s also a book that was first published in 1970, and is the work of a man who began writing science fiction as early as 1939. Critiquing Heinlein for not being properly progressive regarding gender equality 40 years ago is like lambasting Mark Twain for not being politically correct regarding race 135 years ago.
Anyway, the book introduces us to Johann, an elderly, crippled, bitter old man who also happens to be exceedingly rich. He knows his body is dying, but his brain is just fine. So, he comes up with the idea of transferring his brain to a new body upon his death. He doesn’t actually expect it to work, but figures it’s better to waste his money on a sliver of hope than to let his children squabble over it.
Not only does he not expect it to work, but he certainly does not expect to wake up in the body of a woman – specifically, that of Eunice, his beautiful young secretary. Fortunately for Johann, something of Eunice has survived to share her body with him. It’s never made clear whether this is her spirit, her memory, or just his imagination, but it serves to jumpstart the plot past the awkwardness you’d expect of a man who is suddenly a woman.
Once the legal/ethical/philosophical issues are dispensed with, much of the book deals with Johann’s (now Joan Eunice’s) sexual exploits. Again, yes, they’re sexist and sometimes crude, but also thoroughly entertaining.
Ultimately, what I took away from the book was an appreciation for the dilemma of sex vs gender vs sexual orientation - what does it means for a man’s mind to desire other women (while in a woman’s body), or for a woman’s body to continue desiring men (while guided by a man’s mind).
As I said, it’s an interesting book, and one that makes you think. It’s not the greatest story every written, but certainly a great concept.(less)
OMG. Captain Jack being himself, Ianto Jones transformed into the ‘perfect’ woman, Captain Jack, lots of gay sex, and (did I mention?) Captain Jack. I...moreOMG. Captain Jack being himself, Ianto Jones transformed into the ‘perfect’ woman, Captain Jack, lots of gay sex, and (did I mention?) Captain Jack. If you’re even a casual watcher of Torchwood, then you have to pick this book up! I stumbled across it in a bookstore one weekend, then ignored everyone and everything around me as I devoured most of it on the train ride home.
As the book begins, we learn that Ianto Jones has awakened with a gap in his memory, no clothes, and the body of a ‘perfect’ woman. Thanks to the alien device responsible (no spoiler here - this is Torchwood, after all), he is physically perfect. Mentally and emotionally, however, he is still the same shy, awkward, loveable young man he’s always been. He has to learn how to walk, how to dress, how to talk, and how to respond to the opposite sex. His struggles and grudging acceptance of the situation are beautifully handled, complete with generous doses of humour and sweetness.
Meanwhile, single men are disappearing from speed-dating nights all over town, victim of another ‘perfect’ woman. How she became so perfect, and what’s happening to her unfortunate dates, is all inextricably linked to Ianto’s situation – if only he could remember his last night as a man.
On top of all this, the solution to all of Cardiff’s problems involves Captain Jack literally diving into the gay community, which itself has become strangely ‘perfect’ over the past year. I won’t go into too much detail here, but the scenes at the gay dance club are absolutely priceless. The ending gets a little dark, but Torchwood is all about the interplay between light and dark, good and evil, hope and despair.
Well-written and thoroughly entertaining, this is not only a book that lives up to its promise, it’s a book that lives up to its inspiration. James Goss completely captures the tone and spirit of the TV show, and I cannot wait to see what he does next. Absolutely recommended!(less)
In hindsight, the product description probably should have raised a few flags, but it just sounded so good! “Cleverly kidnapped by the CIA . . . force...moreIn hindsight, the product description probably should have raised a few flags, but it just sounded so good! “Cleverly kidnapped by the CIA . . . forced, at gunpoint, to drink a secret serum . . . alters his gender and he becomes Lisa Youngblood . . .” It sounded like such fun that the spelling mistakes (victum, focusses) and awkward grammar (escaping and on the run, unintentionally meeting) went right by me.
If only the story itself could have lived up to expectations, it would have been so much easier to overlook the issues with the writing. Sadly, a great premise is wasted early on, and the story never redeems itself. (less)
While I'm sure it was ground-breaking when it was published, I personally don't feel it's stood the test of time. About halfway through I began skimmi...moreWhile I'm sure it was ground-breaking when it was published, I personally don't feel it's stood the test of time. About halfway through I began skimming the chapters, more to get a sense of what the final 'twist' would be, than to really follow the plot. A few late chapters detailing the nature of the hermaphrodite race caught my attention, and are probably the only reason I would recommend picking this one up.(less)