Edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel
2021 (Cleis Press)
Erotic anthologies are an adventure, providing a stimulating way to get to know new authors while simultaneously exploring a particular genre or theme. The collections of short stories published by Cleis Press tend to be consistently excellent in my experience; earlier, I reviewed their anthology Hot to the Touch, edited by Cole Riley, and focused on the sensual complexities of polyamorous relationships (for that review, please go here). Now, under the expert curation of Rachel Kramer Bussel, one of the best and well-respected editors, writers, and teachers in the world of erotic fiction, comes Best Bondage Erotica of the Year, Volume 2.*
*(Interested in the first volume? Bussel has gathered a terrific array of authors there, too. Check that out here.)
BDSM is one of the most popular subgenres in contemporary erotic fiction, and Bussel´s latest anthology presents nineteen stories exploring bondage: how, within various D/s relationships specifically, sexual arousal can arise when not only consensually submitting one´s mind to another, but also allowing some or all parts of one´s physical body to be restrained. Such an act of surrender involves care as well as consent, and the stories contained here provide windows into how some lovers into this brand of kink "stage manage" their sexual scenes. All of the pain mixed in with the pleasure here is voluntary and desirable, and often there is a healthy dose of fun, humor, and affection tangled up with the ropes, restraints, and other binds.
Some of these fictional episodes emphasize the psychological, where the restraints are equally about the power and trust given to the Dominant, just as much as it is about the literal restraints on the submissive. In "Restorative Justice," Alexa J. Day has high-powered lawyer Mike tied up by his girlfriend to remind him that part of her attraction to him is his brutal, aggressive, take-no-prisoner attitude he exhibits in the courtroom, but maybe thought he should "tone down" for their bedroom. Or Evan Mora´s "Headspace," between a younger woman and an older man, set in an office. While he has more status and power at the job, she is the one who is ultimately in control when following his directions in front (or under) his desk.
Refreshingly, a number of the stories in Best Bondage Erotica 2 also explore how BDSM and other kinds of sexual role-play can be therapeutic, particularly in confronting physical and/or emotional trauma. In Rosalind Chase´s beautiful "Hammered Gold", an unnamed degenerative illness is causing Morgan pain--suffering which she only feels can be alleviated when she is flogged by Daniel (who also recites "Sailing to Byzantium" with each lash). In the inventive and engaging "Back in the Saddle," Page Chase centers her narrative on Vanessa, a competitive cyclist recovering a near-fatal accident who hires ProDom Damien, a specialist in "recreational discipline" who incorporates bondage, nipple-clamps, and a riding crop to interval training on her stationary bike. And in the intense "Day 730" by Rebecca E. Blanton, Cleo celebrates her two-year-anniversary as a submissive by embarking on a new level of trust in their sexual exploration: confronting her history of self-harm and cutting by willingly surrendering to knife-play at the hands of Lou, her husband and Master.
For those wanting some group-play, there are a number of fun entries in this collection, as well. In "Escape" by Veronique Veritas, for example, a throuple role-plays being spies, as two of them try to decipher clues as to the whereabouts of an essential key from their "prisoner" tied on the table (hint: it´s inside the narrator´s body). Meanwhile, in Dr. J´s "A Constructed Threesome", Luc surprises his wife Ava on their 30-year wedding anniversary by having their lover Justin bring them to the site of their unfinished new home, one which will house all three of them. As a way of christening the space, the three enjoy some bondage, blindfolds, and even a few power tools, before culminating in a hot double-penetration scene.
Some of the entries here fetishize specific objects--such as Trystan Kent´s "The lash of a Thousand Wolfords", a delightful paen to the alluring and potentially empowering uses of panty hose; and a number of take BDSM out of the dungeon and into unusual but no less sexy environments. From a public library after hours (Elna Holst´s "Leather-Bound") to on top of a piano in a concert hall just before a Chopin recital ("Ballad of Desire and Saccharine Melodies" by Sonja E. DeWitt); and from a quickie in the kitchen of a restaurant, using torn pieces of an apron (Emma Chaton´s down and dirty "Chef´s Special") to being bound before dawn to a tree just before the loggers come to cut them down (Sienna St. Cyr´s inventive "Activist"), the stories here are certain to arouse stimulation and variety in most readers.
Frequently, bondage and BDSM erotic fiction is populated by characters with endless amounts of wealth, who seem to be living only to be bound and gagged by their lovers. The stories that are particularly engaging within this collection are those that seem to upend this convention, and feature characters who are located at different places of the economic scale. At the opening of Jacqueline Brocker´s "Unicorn," for example, Cara has just quit her job, and stumbles upon a highly charged and public scene between a Dom and her sub. Similarly, the protagonist of "Dark Dreams" by Posy Churchgate is a woman whose curiousity about BDSM starts by reading erotica, and ends with her witnessing an in-person scene during a convention. In both instances, the characters feel both more identifiable to readers who are not already well-versed within this scene, but also provides a richer narrative arc. Part of the pleasure of these stories is that we get to see both of these woman-protagonists evolve, grow, and change over time.
Any anthology will not have stories or scenes which will get every reader off all the time, but the Bussel/Cleis team has produced yet another rewarding collection of erotic short stories focusing on this particularly evocative and engaging realm of the erotic. Get naughty with these stories, with all of their knotty ideas and possibilities--you´re sure to find some treasures here.