2010 (Circlet Press)
At one point in The Marketplace, an important distinction is made between two types of people within the BDSM scene.
The first are the folks who like to wear leather, occasionally wield a paddle, and tease their lovers with a butt plug or a dildo on the weekends. These are considered dilettantes or tourists, lost little children merely playing with a few toys. Their understanding of power and the eroticism of dominance and submission is superficial.
You won´t find such dabblers inhabiting the world of Laura Antoniou´s first instalment in the highly successful Marketplace series. Here, the characters are devoted to the lifestyle, with a commitment that goes beneath the layers of leather and skin. With every waking thought and with every breath, with every posture and attitude, these men and women strive to achieve not merely an orgasm through their roles of submissive and dominant. Instead, they seek something that is approximate to a continual rapturous state.
The Marketplace introduces readers to a world that is so detailed and convincing that it feels more like reportage than fiction. Four applicants are enrolled in a kind of "slave school" guided by the powerful Masters Alexandra and Grendel, to learn how to be properly and completely submissive. Located somewhere in the Northeast, the daily regimen is governed by Chris, the majordomo; if the two Masters are the generals, Chris is their drill sergeant. While we occasionally get clues in Antoniou´s narrative, little occurs outside the grounds of The Marketplace´s elaborate house, which is part mansion, part boarding school, part sex dungeon.
Over the course of weeks, the applicants--Brian, Robert, Sharon, and Claudia--endure a full time course of study or "trainings". These trials and assignments range from cleaning out a horse stable to reciting poetry, from how to gain more self-confidence as well as how to surrender one´s personal ambitions. There are also numerous instances of psychological humiliation, physical captivity, and sexual degradation--each intentionally crafted for each individual as part of their education towards being a complete, erotic, sensual slave.
Readers seeking something along the lines of 50 Shades of Grey might be shocked at this book´s explicit scenes of sexual submission. However, those that enjoy writers such as the Marquis de Sade, Georges Bataille, and Pauline Réage will find Antoniou´s novel intelligent and rewarding.
Antoniou´s writing is crisp, and the dialogue here feels particularly effortless and natural. This is no small feat, given that the world she has created is so unusual within both popular fiction as well as erotica. Also impressive is how much humanity she bestows upon each of her characters, particularly the slave-applicants. We are able to identify with their fears and feelings of self-doubt, as well as roll our eyes at the arrogance or the entitlement of some of them. They exist as vividly real people, within the imaginary reality of the novel.
In addition, the setting of The Marketplace provides a narrative map of how this community of Masters and Slaves live. Like any distinct group of people bound together with common interests (no pun intended), this community is international, with its own codes and traditions.
The devotion and commitment that Grendel, Alexandra, and Chris demonstrate for this world evokes other sorts of callings which require exceptional time and effort. During the course of
The Marketplace, Antoniou provides us with the opportunity to witness these applicants´ transformation from fetishist to true slave, involving a complete alteration of their outlook on what they are willing to do, how they engage with the world, how they relate to themselves.
The Marketplace is a thoroughly fascinating and engaging book, exploring the BDSM lifestyle with respect and interest. It is provocative, humorous, intense, and even tender in some moments. Even if you have reservations about about whether this kind of kink is for you, Antoniou creates engaging characters within a fascinating story to stimulate your imagination, and perhaps more.