Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > The Siren

The Siren by Tiffany Reisz
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's review
Aug 16, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: erotica, fiction, 2012, bdsm
Recommended to Shannon (Giraffe Days) by: Bree T
Read in September, 2012 — I own a copy

Zachary Easton is something of a big-shot literary editor who's left England - and his wife, Grace - for a job at Royal House Publishing in New York. He's got just six weeks there before moving to L.A. for a new position within the publishing house, and his chief managing editor, JP Bonner, wants him to take on Nora Sutherlin's new novel. Nora writes erotica, and Royal House wants to get in on the big-selling genre bandwagon by snapping up the hottest author in the country. But Zach is a literary editor, he thinks Nora writes romantic fluff - even though he's never read it - and he hates romance, even if it does sell well. But after picking up the manuscript and reading some of it, he decides to visit her at her home with a proposition.

Nora isn't what he expected. Petite and beautiful, she's got a smart mouth and shocks his upright English soul continually. He also can't deny that he's immensely attracted to her. After much sharp banter, Zach agrees to take on her book, but with conditions: she has to listen to his editorial advice, she has six weeks to rewrite the book, and he won't sign off on the contract until he's read the last page of the rewrite. Nora agrees promptly.

Nora introduces Zach to a world he'd never glimpsed before. Nora used to be the submissive to a man called Søren, a man she describes as a sadist. She loved him but, after years of being his submissive, had to leave him, though she isn't really free of him - and perhaps doesn't want to. But what Zach doesn't know is that, to augment her income, Nora is one of the highest-paid and most sought after Dominatrix's in the city. She can "top" as well as "bottom", but she plans to quit it entirely once Zach's signed off on her contract.

Nora's life is far from simple, and as Zach learns more his attraction grows in equal proportion to his conflicted feelings. He still loves his wife, Grace, but his guilt over the past shadows his understanding of what's happened to their relationship. Søren gives Nora an assignment: to help Zach overcome his guilt and face the past. And Nora, a queen of pain and pleasure, knows exactly how that has to be done.

This is a wonderful work of erotic fiction, excellently written and both subtle and complex in its characters. I want to be clear from the outset, in light of the recent mad scramble for books dealing with BDSM, that this is erotica, not romance, and certainly not erotic romance. There is a big difference, though I'll let Nora explain, since she says it so well:

"A love story is not the same as a romance novel. A romance novel is the story of two people falling in love against their will. This is a story of two people who leave each other against their will. It starts to end the minute they meet." [p.55]

Which helps me understand my own confusion around my belief that Wuthering Heights is a love story, since it's not romantic. The two do not have to go together - which is why there are so many love stories that aren't published by Harlequin and sold in the Romance section (ironically, this is published by Harlequin and I did see it in the Romance section of Chapters). Love and romance aren't synonymous, but two separate things. Perhaps romance can't happen without love, but love can happen without romance. Nora has written a love story that doesn't have a happy ending. The Siren is a love story but definitely not a romance. Likewise, this isn't erotic romance. For a start, there isn't hardly enough sex - in fact, there are very few sex scenes that are described in full. Another trait of erotica, giving you snippets and letting your imagination do all the dirty work. It's like a mind fuck, which you could argue is very S&M right there!

As a work of erotic fiction, The Siren excels at its aims. It brings to life interesting characters who are all very, very different: Zach, Nora, Wesley (her virginal "houseboy" from Kentucky), and Søren just to name the key ones. It deftly balances two love stories (Zach's and Nora's) with an entertaining plot, an examination of the psyche of Doms and subs, and an exploration into the S&M culture - all without ever losing steam, getting sidetracked, or being predictable. The Siren is a novel of several themes, all inter-connected and requiring each other for support, not least of which is an examination of the psyche of BDSM, of the Dom/sub relationship, of why people do what they do. Nora has some enlightening things to say about the topic, or moral or ethical question, though she speaks from a personal perspective and so doesn't make the ultimate connections:

"They know what He's feeling. The women always know. They know it isn't just a beating or a murder they're being forced to witness. It wasn't even just a crucifixion. It was a sexual assault, Zach. It was a rape."
Nora took a deep breath and Zach felt his own breath catch in his chest. He wanted to say something but didn't trust himself to speak yet.
"That's why I believe, Zach," Nora continued. "Because of all the gods, Jesus alone understands. He understands the purpose of pain and shame and humiliation."
"What is the purpose?" Zach asked, truly wanting to know.
Nora's eyes returned to the two women in the foreground [of the painting] clinging to each other in sympathy and horror.
"For salvation, of course. For love." [p.122]

It is mentioned, somewhere (I didn't take note of the page), that the beating of others for mutual pain and pleasure partly originated in the English boarding school, but as the quote above shows, it's older than that. Nora's not saying that it originated in the Christian church per se, but that humans are predisposed to it. Our psyches are complex, and some religions just happen to latch onto certain emotions over others, I suppose (such as guilt, which is why BDSM seems so very Catholic, or Anglican, or any of the other denominations). As Nora says,

"S&M is as psychological as it is physical and sexual, Zach. Imagine being as deep inside a woman's mind as you are inside her body." [p.62]

When Nora takes Zach to the top-secret underground club where all the S&M-ers come out to play, she has to educate him on the attraction, the appeal:

"Are you a masochist?" Zach asked, fascinated despite himself.
"Not exactly." Nora smiled almost shyly. "Not everyone who practices S&M is an actual sadist or masochist, not in the pathological sense anyway. With Søren, I loved submitting to pain. I loved the submission, though, not the pain itself. There are a handful of actual masochists down here, though, if you want to meet one. Fair warning, they can be almost as dangerous to play with as the sadists."
"Warning taken. You don't seem like those people down there." Zach nodded toward the pit.
"Those people down there are doctors, lawyer, stockbrokers, politicians, you name it. If I'm not like them it's only because I don't have a real job. And I have played in the pit before, I'll have you know. It's like Sodom and Gomorrah down there sometimes. Tonight's Monday so the play's a little tame."
"You say 'play' like this is all a game. But people are actually getting hurt down there, Nora."
"I have one word for you, my uptight English editor - rugby."
Zach winced. Rugby - the sport as rough as American football but without all the padding.
"A lot of people think we're crazy, Zach. Some even think we're evil. But I'm a Switch so I've seen both sides of the whip. I know you can't imagine it, but this is love to a lot of us. When Søren hit me, it was because he loved me, because that's how we loved each other."
"Sounds horrifying."
"Horrifying is the last thing Søren is. Dangerous, yes. I'll give you that. But S&M's only dangerous if you play with someone you don't trust or if you forget your safe word." [p.216]

That brings us neatly to the subject of Søren, I think. He was really the only surprise for me here, and it was a delicious one. I loved the truth of Søren. More than that, though, his charisma and leadership is excellently rendered, it fair blazes out of him and sucks you in as deftly as it does Nora and everyone else. You can really believe in him as a character, not just of fiction but someone who could be real, too. He's scary though, his sadism frightens me much more than his obsessiveness - because I'm not in love with him like Nora is and I'm not a masochist! But his charisma is enticing, and matches that of other "dark and dangerous" men I'm always drawn to in fiction. Søren is also scary - or intriguing - because of his ability to understand people, beyond the facade, which is really what makes him such a good Dom:

"I saw a book at Nora's. The Jabberwocky. You, I presume it was you, wrote, 'Never forget the lesson of the Jabberwocky' inside it. But it's a nonsense poem. It has no lesson."
"But it does," Søren countered. "A handsome prince fights a terrible, beautiful dragon and slays him then carries the head home strapped to his saddle. The lesson is obvious. When one is a monster, one does well to beware knights in shining armor. A good lesson for Eleanor."
Zach heard the meaning behind Søren's words. "Nora is not a monster. She's not perfect obviously. But she's a good person, and to call her a monster is ridiculous."
"You know her that well, do you?" Søren asked, turning to face him full-on. "Before tonight she scared you, didn't she? Her fearlessness, her brazenness, I'm sure it's terrifying at first. Foreign to those who lead the proverbial life of quiet desperation as I imagine you do. She scared you with the sheer force of her life and being. But now you look around and think her courage is merely a byproduct of her damage. You imagine I abused her, changed her. And you would save her, as Wesley imagines he can? You would be her knight in shining armor? Yes, before you feared her and now you pity her. I assure you, Zachary, you were right the first time." [p.256]

I had one problem with the plot. Early on, when Wesley asks Nora why she doesn't tell Zach about her other job, she says that she doesn't want Zach to then dismiss her new novel as a memoir. That seemed weird to me, since he'd already learnt (I think, or soon does), about Søren and what she used to be. That seems like a much bigger deal to me than being a Dominatrix, which is a legitimate career for some people. Not only that, but when Zach learns about it from a co-worker, he gets all pissy with Nora and throws a big childish tantrum about it, and it never made sense to me. What's the big deal? Who cares if she has a second job? He whines about how she lied to him: well what business is it of his? Sure they were becoming good friends and she'd introduced him to her world - right into the heart of it - but if I were in Zach's position, as Nora's friend and editor, I'd be surprised if she wasn't keeping things to herself! It's not a part of their agreement that she tell him everything, right down to her bank balance. That was the only weak part of the plot, a flimsy, cliched attempt at tension and conflict that greatly surprised me, considering how well written the book is otherwise. It seriously ticked me off - for letting down the story and also for lowering my opinion of Zach.

Overall, The Siren is as intriguing as it is entertaining, but more than that, it's success at delving deeply into the psyche and emotions of its characters really makes it stand out. Do no compare this to Fifty Shades of Grey , I beg of you - they have nothing in common. They're not even the same genre! Reisz has taken erotica to a new place, one that welcomes new readers to the genre, and she writes with great talent. The good news is: this is only the beginning. Nora's story continues in The Angel, which I'll be reading soon.
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Bree T Can't wait to read your review of this one Shannon.

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