Sunday, February 5, 2012

My Lady's Service (e-short story) by Marie-Elise Bassett

[As I was finishing this post and looking it over for errors, I noticed that SBTB had a new post inviting people to recommend lesbian romance. It looks like I'll be putting together another TBR list. I like to read outside my usual box sometimes, but this work was too short for the kind of relationship and emotional development that I prefer. I'm sure at least some of the commenters' recommendations will be more to my taste.]

This is the second work in the author's Songs of Sappho series. I was going to call this a novella, but it's really more of a short story. I ended up changing my "novellas" tag to "novellas/short stories," because I didn't want to have a separate "short stories" tag and be faced with deciding whether or not something is a novella or a short story in the future. Sometimes, it's hard enough figuring out whether something is better tagged as a "book" or as a "novella."

This story is 8,000 words long, which comes out to 25 pages on my Nook (20 pages, if you don't count the first few pages with the cover, copyright info, etc.).

Synopsis:

In this historical erotic short story, Lady Kate is a 19-year-old who is being strongly encouraged by her parents to marry the elderly Lord Brougham. Kate doesn't love him, and he makes her skin crawl, but the practical part of her can see the sense in marrying him. As old as he is, she would likely be a wealthy widow soon.

However practical marrying him might be, it's still not a nice future to contemplate. Kate finds herself thinking more and more about her pretty new maid, Hannah, instead. After a surprising and enjoyable sexual encounter with Hannah, Kate feels bold enough to confess her nervousness about her future wedding night with Lord Brougham, and Hannah offers to help her prepare for it.

Review:

I can't remember how this work first came to my attention. I think it might have been a “featured book” on the main page of ARe at one point. I saw that it was the second in a series, but, from what I could tell, none of the works in the series had to be read in order. I admit to having a bit of a soft spot for stories involving master-servant romances/pseudo-romances, so I thought this story involving the relationship between a lady and her maid might be a good fit for me.

For the first few pages of this story, it seemed like I had wasted my money. I've mentioned before that I'm not as big a fan of erotica and erotic romance – I tend to prefer reading about characters having conversations or (in stories with modern day settings) going on dates to reading about them having sex.

I knew going into this story that it was f/f erotica. I was looking forward to the change of pace, since I rarely ever read f/f anything (check out my reviews for Malinda Lo's books – I think those are the only works I've ever read with lesbians as main characters), and the one review I was able to hunt down that had a sufficient amount of detail seemed to indicate that the story's sex would be accompanied by actual emotion (this is my main problem with the erotica I've read – there's lots of sex, but I often find the emotional content lacking).

Unfortunately for me, the first part of the story just seemed like sudden sex, and Bassett's word choices made it hard for me to find any of it sexy. Kate has just gotten back from an exhausting ball. The man she knows she will probably marry doesn't interest her at all. His heir actively dislikes and distrusts her. Hannah, Kate's new maid, is undressing her, and Kate notices that she seems to be enjoying it...and Kate starts to enjoy it too. Then things go even further.

Like I said, this part struck me as just being sex, without much emotion. Kate hardly knew Hannah, and it wasn't until later that she (and the reader) found out more about her. The biggest turn-off for me was the word choices used in the story's sex scenes. From reviews I've read of other historical romances and erotica, I'm guessing that Bassett's word choices weren't unique, but this was the first time I had ever encountered them. Specifically, I'm referring to her use of the words “quim” (vagina), “slit” (also vagina?), and “nubbin” (clitoris). If you're comfortable with seeing these words used in sex scenes, you may find the sex scenes in this story sexier than I did. I had problems not laughing when Kate said “'Touch my quim. Touch my quim, Hannah.'” (Nook pg. 10).

Thankfully, I thought the emotional content improved as the story progressed. Kate became interested enough in Hannah – who she was and her past – to ask her about herself, and I thought it established a more solid connection between the two women that went beyond “Kate thought Hannah was pretty and was curious about having sex with her.” I absolutely loved the bit where Hannah explained what calling Kate "my lady" meant to her. I found myself wishing the story had been longer – I would have liked to have seen Kate and Hannah's relationship deepen over time.

For as short a work as this is, it has an embarrassing number of errors (typos, missing commas, etc.), starting with the cover image. What is the proper spelling for the author's last name? I went to Musa's product page for this book, and the author's last name is spelled “Basset” on the cover image and “Bassett” in the story's description. I went with “Bassett,” since that seems to be the most commonly used spelling. Unfortunately, this is not the only error in the work. For the most part, the typos and other errors weren't so bad that I had problems figuring out what was going on, except in one instance:
“Kate's mother pressed her cheek against her daughters, a staggering show of affection for her.” (Nook pg. 7)
I had to reread that sentence, wondering if I had missed the part where it was explained that Kate had a sister. I tried to remember when she entered the scene, and then I realize that the word shouldn't have been “daughters,” but rather “daughter's.” I could list more typos, if asked. I highlighted several of them before I got tired of my Nook's clunky highlighting tool. I don't know if this work is a good example of the quality Musa usually puts out, but, if it is, then I'm less than impressed.

I'm not inclined to try out Bassett's other Songs of Sappho works, primarily because they're all about the same length as this one and I'm guessing will be similarly limited in how much they can develop the characters' relationships. However, I might be interested in reading a longer (and preferably better-edited) work by her. The characters were just starting to get more interesting as individuals when the story ended.

I set myself up for read-alikes list horrors when I wrote this post. I've done the best I can, but, as you can see, that wasn't very good. Feel free to make your own read-alike/watch-alike suggestions in a comment.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Huntress (book) by Malinda Lo - This is YA f/f fantasy - there's no sex, just, if I remember right, a bit of kissing. Kaede and Taisin are sent, along with a few other people, on a journey to see the Fairy Queen, in order to right whatever has made the sun stop shining and caused dangerous creatures to start roaming the land. There's a little bit of romance between Kaede and Taisin, but, although the book doesn't end too badly, there's no HEA for the two of them. I added this one to the list because 1) it's one of the few f/f books I know of and 2) those who liked the "we can't really be together" aspect of My Lady's Service might like the agonizing Taisin does over whether or not to be with Kaede and give up her goal of becoming a sage. I've written about this book.
  • The Scantlebury Demon (e-novella) by Tracey Shellito - I haven't read this and have no idea if it's any good. I added it to the list because it's a f/f historical and it has a bit of mistress-servant love - the main characters are an Englishwoman (Josephine) and her Egyptian lover (Kheper). Kheper must pose as Josephine's manservant in order to be in a position where she can protect her.
  • Maria Watches Over Us (anime TV series) - There's no sex, just really intense relationships between girls. Kate's position reminded me a bit of one of the main characters in this series, Sachiko. Like Lady Kate, Sachiko will probably end up in a loveless marriage. The school she attends, the Lillian Girls' Academy, has a system whereby older students choose younger students as their petite soeurs, guiding and nurturing them. Out of the blue, Sachiko chooses Yumi, a girl who had admired her from afar. I have written about the first two seasons of this series.

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