May 27th, 2010


Bitten: Dark Erotic Stories

I've read a number of erotic horror anthologies in my time that were filled with horror, dark fantasy and suspense authors mixing their usual craft with erotica. Some authors did a fine job, others failed by fundamentally misunderstanding what erotica is (it ain't just a story with a sex scene, folks!). But Bitten: Dark Erotic Stories, edited by Susie Bright, is a first for me--an anthology (mostly) populated by erotica writers mixing their craft with dark fiction.

The first thing I noticed is that this approach is much more sex-positive. You won't find any stories about meeting a beautiful stranger, fucking them and then killing them/being killed by them, the way you do in so many erotic horror anthologies (with the possible exception here of Shanna Germain's lush story "Smoke and Ashes," but even then I don't think the protagonist is actually going to kill any of her boy-toys).

That said, I do wish there had been a little more darkness present in the anthology. Sure there are stories of erotic encounters with demons, angels, incubi, vampires and other otherworldly entities, and a few stories that tread the boundaries of the fantastic in other ways, but a fair number of them had no suspense or speculative element at all. Granted, that may be my own fault for perhaps unfairly expecting certain things from a dark erotica anthology--there's certainly no reason every story has to have magic or monsters--but some stories here barely qualify as dark. A fair number of them were no different from what you might find in any erotica anthology, and being something of an aficionado of dark fiction, I wanted more darkness.

I wasn't familiar with most of the authors in Bitten. I'd heard of Francesca Lia Block, of course, and apparently author Sera Gamble writes for the TV show Supernatural, but not knowing most the authors' work beforehand is sometimes a good thing. It keeps you open minded, opens you up to possibilities--just as the best erotica can.

As with any anthology, there are stories you like and others you find a little flat. It's subjective, and unsurprisingly I found myself drawn to the stories here that featured dark speculative elements: Gamble's "The Devil's Invisible Scissors" is a scorching hot tale of a demon who's grown tired of stealing her lover's souls. Anne Tourney's "The Resurrection Rose" is a dark fantasy about immortality, sex and trying to run from one's past crimes. Allison Lawless' "The Unfamiliar" focuses on a young woman who accidentally summons The One Who Will Satisfy You out of her aunt's spellbook and winds up freeing a dangerous, if talented, entity. E.R. Stewart's "Cross-Town Incubus" is one of the hottest stories in the book, about a woman who discovers an incubus in her boyfriend's apartment who satisfies her desires a lot better than her boyfriend does. In Patrice Suncircle's "Master Sarah," a sculptor recounts to her suitor the story of a time she made love to a wounded angel, and how she has been trying unsuccessfully to sculpt that creature ever since. Block's "Lay Me Out Softly" is a dark fairy tale of lovers drawn to each other lifetime after lifetime, plus a serial killer and some bossy severed heads. Ernie Conrick's "Get Thee Behind Me, Satan" is perhaps the darkest of all the stories here, focusing on a bisexual man who makes a deal with the Devil to increase his wife's libido and sexual adventurousness, with devastating results.

But erotica isn't just about the strength of plot and character. It has another criterion for success too--whether or not it turns you on. Here, all the stories in Bitten, including the ones I didn't like as much, succeed admirably. A talented collection of authors exist between this book's covers, and even if they don't all know how to make a story dark, they clearly know how to make it hot.