Our final Dirty Book is the multiple volumes of the Marketplace series, which, after a tangled and sordid publication history, is now available in its entirety from Circlet. We got so many requests to write about the series that we decided to do something a little special for this one. What follows is three (3) appreciations by three different Circlet writers. The eponymous first volume is reviewed by long-time Circlet writer Tammy Jo Eckhart, author of the Beyond the Softness of his Fur Furry BDSM series.
What drew me to The Marketplace was a simple fascination with the idea of a formal world out there where it was perfectly normal to be an owner or a slave. I bought the 1993 Rhinoceros edition and had it signed by the author using her then-pseudonym Sara Adamson. I later got the Mystic Rose Books edition from 2000, and now you can buy this book from Circlet Press in multiple forms.
There are plenty of kinky novels out there, but even after all these years, “The Marketplace” holds a special place for me because of its groundbreaking nature. It was written by a leatherwoman, not a romance author or a wannabe, but someone who knew her subject matter. Back in the early 1990s we didn’t have a readily available stream of dubious online experts we could glance through in an hour and pull out some ideas to toss into a novel. If you wanted to know how a riding crop felt, you needed to feel it; if you wanted to know how masters and slaves interacted, you needed to meet some and spend time with them. Antoniou knew these things because she had firsthand experience and lots of kinky friends.
Fantasy novels about leather or BDSM had been around for decades when “The Marketplace” came out, but for the first time I can remember, the focus wasn’t on the fantasy or the kink but on the characters. While the novel may seem to examine the training of four potential slaves — Robert, Claudia, Brian, and Sharon — it gives enough time to their trainers, Grendel and Alexandra, and their support staff, to fully develop them in the reader’s mind. While the program is harsh, they really care about their trainees, their business, and each person in that house. For a growing dominant like me this was very reassuring to read.
“The Marketplace” also went beyond the orientation limits of most books, not only in the 1990s but also today. This international community of slaves and owners has a few hard rules, and one of them is bisexuality for slaves, at least in practice. Once you’re in the system, once accepted for sale within that mysterious world, you never know whom you might be kneeling before, or what you might be asked to do. Gender identity and role identity are fluid and best personified in majordomo Chris Parker.
From the very beginning of the novel, Antoniou makes it clear that no one should be in this world unless they are geared toward serving, not merely getting off. For those of us who felt the same way, the look into what service really means was invigorating and affirming. Service isn’t about sucking someone’s dick or taking a good flogging; it’s about doing whatever is needed and desired and taking pride in your work without letting yourself be drawn into the me-me-me mentality so many of us find in public dungeons.
Antoniou uses just enough description to get your mind working and your groin geared up for action. While you might find yourself getting aroused, you needed to keep reading to see if our quartet of stereotypical slaves could become competent servants that you’d want helping around your house. If you were submissive, you wondered if you could handle training like they did. You felt this way because this is a well-crafted world with engaging characters that grow – a rare thing for the novels found in porn shops at the time.
While the world of “The Marketplace” doesn’t exist, the feelings and needs Antoniou reveals do. That is what keeps you reading as she expands the world.
Robotica author and Fantastic Erotica contributor Kal Cobalt writes about The Trainer:
For the longest time, I ignored The Marketplace. Somehow, I’d picked up the idea that it was just another unrealistic fluffy bit of pseudo-BDSM stroke fic, like Anne Rice’s Beauty series.
For once, I’m glad I was dead wrong.
I started reading just after I’d realized that “genderqueer” didn’t fit me anymore and “trans” did. As I zipped through the books, my Marketplace-loving partners kept snickering and eagerly asking me where I was in the series, oh, and who was my favorite character?
You see, I’m also a switch, and have heard often enough that I’m impossible. (Someone I knew refused that ANY switch existed, convinced that I simply hadn’t chosen or accepted my “side” yet. This lasted until they actually witnessed me playing both ways, at which point I was christened “real.” Sigh.) So watching Chris Parker be the uber-dom AND thrill to every moment of submissive opportunity…well, I went through a lot of underpants.
This also disabused me of a writing “rule” I had absurdly failed to shed previously. In the vein of Chekhov’s gun on the mantel in the first act which must be fired in the third act, I had decided that much of the lack of invisible-minority characters in pop fiction was a simple structural problem: mention on the page that they are trans, gay, invisibly disabled, what have you, and it must serve the story, which gets complicated, and so we don’t get mentioned. Thankfully, everything from BBC’s SHERLOCK to Netflix’s ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK have shown how to illustrate invisible minorities — or, indeed, have that trait serve the story — with a serious minimum of fuss. As it should be. I never made the connection, though, until Chris Parker.
Until him, I hadn’t been exposed to a trans character I could relate to who was not in the story to have Trans Problems. I had never read a trans character with whom I could truly identify. As a porn author in their 30s with all of fiction at my fingertips, I’m not sure whether this is a failing of my search terms or whether Laura Antoniou was a vanguard who remains unmatched.
The Trainer gives me a blueprint, a way to properly integrate people like me into fiction without focusing unduly on one particular set of traits that, honestly, don’t get too much airtime in my day-to-day. It opens up a new vista of writing for me — something that can be personal and honest without gazing too deeply into my navel.
All that said, The Trainer has to have one of the most satisfying endings I have ever read. I will not spoil it, but I do believe I pumped my fist and laughed out loud while reading, and smirked about it for days. You don’t even really know you’re waiting for it, but when it happens, you know it’s exactly what you’ve ached for all along — just like those slaves who are told, one day, that there is a Marketplace.
The Academy is reviewed by Madeline Elayne.
I have a confession to make: I’m a smut snob. If a dirty book isn’t well-written, with compelling, flawed and fully realized characters, and if the “good stuff” isn’t more about what goes in in those characters’ heads than about which bits go where, then no matter how amazing the premise or how delectable the plotline, my libido will be as limp as a wet noodle.
I also happen to be pretty damned kinky, poly, and queer, and my taste in the smut I prefer to consume tends to run that way as well. Unfortunately, I am a voracious reader, and while there is a lot of quality erotica out there, and a lot of kinky poly queer erotica out there, I find myself often having to sacrifice one for the other to accommodate my limitless cravings for more words to consume. Good, straight, vanilla smut or not-so-well written queer kinky smut can both be entertaining to read, but I have to admit that neither really does too much to make me very turned on, and isn’t that the point of one’s favorite dirty book?
Lucky for me, there occasionally comes along a book that has both my two arousal-inspiring criteria in spades. The Academy is at the top of that list. It also happens to be the only book in my list that can both turn me on, and make me cry. Word to the wise – don’t read the chapter “the Nurse” by Karen Taylor without a box of tissues handy.
The book is actually a collection of several short stories by some extremely talented contributors and woven into a cohesive storyline by the inimitable Laura Antoniou. The different voices are a huge asset to the re-readability of the book, and they have the added bonus of creating a dizzyingly diverse cast of character personalities, body types, gender identities and orientations. Best of all, it’s clearly diversity not for diversity’s sake, but because it’s more interesting, and by extension more titillating, that way. My favorite scene in the book is a conversation in which the cis-het characters bemoan the fact that they are actually in the minority in the Marketplace. Nothing has made me want to be part of a fictional world more, let me tell you!
Most importantly, though, the Academy makes me look at the fantastic tales woven into it, and say to myself “that is what I should be doing right now – making more of this!” Any writer who’s ever experienced writer’s block can tell you how important it is to keep those types of inspiration close to their nightstand…and to the bottle of lube.
Thank you for reading! Ten Dirty Books is now over, you can resume your ordinary lives as if this glorious week and a half was some marvelous dream.
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Mirrored from Circlet Press: Welcome to Circlet 2.0.