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REVIEW: The Christmas She Rules by Jennifer Leeland

Dear Ms. Leeland,

1286Yes, OMG, this is a femdom book — a book with a female dominant and a male submissive. I read it solely for that, because despite being told time and time again, as I’m sure you are, that femdom just doesn’t sell, and is therefore rarely offered, I’m still and always on the look-out for it.

Pamela is lonely during the holidays. She’s in her 40s, has very few close friends, no lovers, and her part-time submissive just went back to her husband. She goes to San Francisco for the holidays and goes to a club where she meets Christian. Christian, for his part, is a dilettante in the BDSM world. He’s played both top and bottom, enjoys the pain as a bottom, and the power as a top, but has never really connected with anyone, never truly hit subspace, never really flown. He and Pamela, known as Mistress Dane, immediate hit it off and disappear off into The Cage, a public play space. There they play for three nights in a row, until Pamela scares herself with the depths of her feelings and runs off.

First of all, this is a short novella. 43 pages short. And it could have been at least double the length, what with the Deep Dark Secret In Her Past that Pamela has to get through and with the heat that these two generate. The “I love you” “I love you too”s come way too quickly — after all, these two people know nothing about each other besides their sexual compatibility. I don’t knock sexual compatibility, but still, lifelong commitment should take more than one week of acquaintance and some quick fucking on the floor in front of 20 people. In my opinion. Your mileage may vary, of course.

I’m learning to try to separate my reading of a BDSM story into two distinct tracks (I say try, because I’m not close to being there yet): (1). how completely fucked up is the representation of the physical reality of BDSM? (AKA: how much of a fantasy is the BDSM play?; or, what percentage of people would be hurt if they attempted what the characters do?); (2). how completely fucked up is the emotional realism of the BDSM depicted? Getting either right indicates a familiarity with BDSM, either through experience or really good research, but I’m much more likely to forgive fuck-ups in the first track if the second track does a good job. In fact, in my opinion, fuck-ups in the second track are MUCH more dangerous.

So. Your book doesn’t do such a good job with the first track. A quick litany of issues: DON’T ever throw a flogger on the floor (especially a floor people jerk off onto — yuck) and then use it; a “back criss-crossed with white scars” does NOT “indicate he had been flogged” — it indicates instead the serious abuse of a single-tail whip (which is also what one snaps, not a flogger — very difficult to snap a flogger); one does NOT allow a submissive to hang from his wrists with his entire weight, unable to touch the floor; if one DOES leave a submissive hanging from his wrists, unable to touch the floor, one does it for a few minutes only; one does NOT then also climb on board for a good fuck, adding your weight to his, OMG are you fucking NUTS?!; BDSM negotiations are usually more than a bare-bones discussion of safewords, especially if sex with a stranger is involved; a tight leather skirt reaching to her knees probably means he won’t be able to stick his head under it to lick her pussy; what happened to her pantyhose?! they disappeared!; most clubs don’t appreciate random bodily fluids being flung all over their play-spaces; he can’t think of her by her real name when he has only been told her scene name!

So, yes, some of this stuff demonstrates to me an unfamiliarity with BDSM (the flogger/whip confusion, the suspension), but some of it is just sloppy writing and editing (the tight leather skirt, the mysterious disappearing pantyhose, and the equally-mysteriously appearing name are the prime examples there).

But you do a little bit better with the second track (the emotional realism of BDSM). Christian and Pamela both do a great job describing what BDSM feels like. Christian’s description of subspace is particularly good:

For the first time in his life the energy he’d heard others talk about and seen others experience lifted him. Both power and helplessness combined inside him and expanded. Once he’d heard a woman describe something called "subspace". It was a word bandied around BDSM clubs, but she actually gave it description. Her voice floated through his mind now. It’s as if the whole universe is in my hands, but I can release it because someone else will cradle it for me. It’s both strength and weakness, everything and nothingness. It is the moment of birth and it feels like death. In this moment, with his hands bound and this woman towering over him, the words came back to haunt him. Now he understood them. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for her, his Mistress.

So I’m willing to forgive some of the ridiculousness in the first track (although not the hanging by his wrists thing!) for the emotional realism of the second track. Until you abruptly throw them into the “I love you because you fuck so well and you’re my Sooowwwl Mate!” scene after she sobs out her Deep Dark Secret In Her Past. The emotional arcs are seriously truncated. Christian learns about subspace and Pamela has to learn to accept emotional connection. Pamela’s journey is much more the focus of the story, which sometimes makes Christian seem like little more than a pretty cock for her to play with, despite their emotional connection. Again, more length (har har) would help this, I think.

All that aside (ha!), you generate quite some heat between these characters. The sex scenes are hot hot HOTT! proving that femdom can be done and done well (at least, when it comes to the sex scenes). The femdom dynamic is not is what’s wrong with this book — in fact, that’s what’s very right with this book. It’s the other stuff that needs a LOT of work.

Grade: C-

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

This book can be purchased at Samhain in ebook format.

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

12 Comments

  1. Jennifer Leeland
    Dec 12, 2009 @ 21:39:47

    Thank you for reading Fem Dom. And yes, I have heard “Fem Dom doesn’t sell” and yet these characters won’t leave me alone……
    I’m just thrilled to have been read and reviewed by someone so savvy.

    ReplyReply

  2. Keziah Hill
    Dec 12, 2009 @ 22:18:31

    I’m another person who’s always looking for femdom. Done well they’re great fun.

    ReplyReply

  3. dri
    Dec 13, 2009 @ 03:13:35

    Oh dear lord, I would love to find as much femdom as I can …! I never knew it didn’t sell … that saddens me so much because oh christ, all the possibilities of female empowerment and sexual/spiritual evolution … *cries*

    I can’t wait til you find a novel/la worth an A review, Joan/SarahF, cos the moment you do, I’m going right out to buy it.

    ReplyReply

  4. Joan/SarahF
    Dec 13, 2009 @ 08:10:58

    @dri: There is, of course, Joey Hill’s Natural Law. Don’t know that I’d give it a full-on A, but it’s in my Top 100 Romances Evah! list. And Stephanie Vaughan’s Cruel to be Kind is good. I’d say go out and buy both of those without fail. :)

    ReplyReply

  5. kirsten saell
    Dec 13, 2009 @ 13:19:07

    @dri:

    Oh dear lord, I would love to find as much femdom as I can …! I never knew it didn't sell … that saddens me so much because oh christ, all the possibilities of female empowerment and sexual/spiritual evolution … *cries*

    I kind of scratch my head over this, too. I mean, I’ve heard readers insisting it’s because it’s just not sexy to see a man on his knees–but then they’ll gobble it up in m/m BDSM stories. So it’s not that they’re uncomfortable seeing a man as submissive, IMO. It’s that they can’t quite handle seeing a woman on top of a man. It’s a female sexual agency thing all the way–played out in an arena where an alpha hero will win over a beta one nine times out of ten, even in less hard core stuff.

    I’ve ended up having to find the woman-on-top scenario–not necessarily BDSM, but a D/s dynamic with a dominant female–in f/f or f/f/m. The dynamic certainly floats my boat there, but it won’t float everyone’s…

    ReplyReply

  6. joanne
    Dec 13, 2009 @ 16:50:45

    @Joan/SarahF: So since I read this review I’ve wrapped some gifts and then cleaned up the mess from wrapping gifts and walked the dog and payed some bills online and cooked dinner and tidied the house and got stuff ready for work on Monday and —- still: THIS

    : I don't knock sexual compatibility, but still, lifelong commitment should take more than one week of acquaintance and some quick fucking on the floor in front of 20 people. In my opinion. Your mileage may vary, of course.

    I’m still laughing.
    Best review quote ever!

    ReplyReply

  7. Nonny
    Dec 13, 2009 @ 20:27:30

    Also another vote for femdom!

    … although my preference is F/F femdom and that seems to be non-existent. *sigh*

    ReplyReply

  8. Joan/SarahF
    Dec 13, 2009 @ 20:30:52

    @Nonny: I found one. Sherri Livingston’s WATCHING YOU from Loose-Id, but haven’t been able to finish it b/c one character’s a right bitch. I’m going to try again, because I’d like to be able to review it, again just to support f/f and femdom.

    ReplyReply

  9. donal geraghty
    Sep 07, 2010 @ 18:30:05

    Femdom doesn’t sell because -85/100, probably more- it fails to fulfil the main criteria for satisfying the more discerning fantasist.

    Believability.

    Rubber & latex; dungeons & whips; and all the other paraphernalia of the roleplaying scene that, in reality, obectify women into little more than lust fodder for male consumption, actively work against the believability necessary for femdom to sell in more than dribs and drabs.

    Until publishers encourage authors to create intelligently plotted and crafted stories, with characters inhabiting real life situations – without resorting to the cop-out come fail-safe of scene and role players and cod psychological justifications that fail to apply Santayanas observations on the true beast at the expense of veracity – femdom will, as stated, fail to sell.

    Be truthful now, do you analyse the nature of your passions as you’re experiencing them? If you do you’re in a minority. And a minority pandered to, in this respect at least, is a minority that does not sell.

    The buzz I myself get from a fantasy where I can actually believe in a strong and powerful woman -be she wife, mother, daughter or secretary, etc- as she inhabits a situation not a million miles from a reality I can actually suspend a large percentage of disbelief in, is not to be matched and is one reason I continue to scour the net for examples of the breed.

    The closest I’ve come to my fantasy/intellectual buzz is on the Femdom Cave where they have a writer named Kurt Steiner.

    But, as scat-man said to golden-shower-lover: it’s all to taste.

    ReplyReply

  10. Suki
    Jan 02, 2011 @ 08:32:37

    I love FemDom too. A FemDom story I helped with, Controlling Sarah is still doing well on BDSMlibrary.com and the primary author, John Tagliaferro, is working on a prequel. They have some pretty good FemDom over there.

    Sadly, I do not have time to help with serious fiction writing right now. FemDomCave.Com looks promising too. John is talking with them about a new story adapted from what I worked on with him.

    ReplyReply

  11. S Doro
    Dec 05, 2011 @ 10:14:21

    One thing I come up against on booksellers’ sites is that there isn’t an easy way to find the femdom books, i guess they are afraid there aren’t enough people interested in the niche? But it could just be one tag of many and its a super pain to have to go through every book on their catalog.

    The way I see it, let’s write them and the world will change. As women grow more and more equal to men and empowered, I feel like its inevitable that more interest will arise.

    ReplyReply

  12. Brad Amante
    Jun 26, 2012 @ 19:31:20

    I second everything said here. Finding this sort of writing is extraordinarily hard.

    My own interest is in “romantic femdom,” and that seems even harder to find. Ironically, it is easy to discover material in which men are degraded, mutilated, or even killed. But stories in which they are cherished is virtually impossible.

    Maybe that’s way I started writing such material myself.

    ReplyReply

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