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Possession by Mathilde Madden, Madelynne Ellis and Anne Tourney


When I was asked to review Possession, I responded with an enthusiastic affirmative. I had previously reviewed Mathilde Madden’s audacious Equal Opportunities and I was curious to see what she’d do with the paranormal genre. I’ve been a fan of Madelynne Ellis’ work every since she posted some sizzling pre-publication excerpts from A Gentleman’s Wager on the ERWA Storytime list many years ago. And I knew Anne Tourney as the author of “Come for Me, Dark Man”, one of my favorite stories in Sacred Exchange, the anthology of BDSM erotica that I edited with S.F. Mayfair. All in all, I was expecting a challenging and enjoyable reading experience, and for the most part, I was not disappointed.

Possession is a collection of three paranormal novellas, one by each author. The three tales all feature characters who are blessed or cursed with various supernatural abilities, and they all contain abundant sex. Aside from these commonalities, however, they are quite different in tone and style.

In “The Silver Chains”, Mathilde Madden gives us a classic werewolf story with a twist. Alfie is an alpha wolf, head of a small pack that includes clever, loyal Leon and waifish, seductive Misty. Alfie’s strength and good looks make him practically irresistible to women, but he has a problem. Unlike normal lycans who change only at the full moon, Archie’s unstable. His wolf nature is “close to the skin” and likely to emerge whenever he’s subject to powerful emotion—in particular, whenever he’s sexually aroused. If he changes, though, he’ll kill his partner. Hence, Archie is one frustrated werewolf.

“The Silver Chains” chronicles Archie’s efforts to find a legendary set of magical chains which can hold him fast and keep him from changing. The quest takes him and his pack to the rainforests of Brazil and into the clutches of Hera, a female alpha who keeps him bound so that she can use him to satisfy her prodigious lust. The trials of living with the jungle pack threaten to tear Archie’s own cohort apart, and gradually he realizes this is not where he’s meant to be, that despite Hera’s love for him, his fate lies elsewhere.

I found this tale amusing but a bit incoherent. There’s no real plot arc, just a series of episodes, many of which involve pleasurable but not particularly meaningful sex. The dominant Caroline picks up Archie in a club, orchestrates a couple of red-hot BDSM scenes, tells him about the chains, then vanishes from the story. Somehow I didn’t feel any urgency regarding Archie and his plight, even though there are frequent weighty references to his “life mate” and his “destiny”. Though this tale revolves around creatures of the night, I searched in vain for any serious darkness.

Finally, I’ll admit to being annoyed by the fact that the novella has no real ending. Instead, there’s a come-on for Ms. Madden’s trilogy of werewolf novels, in which the story would be continued. Serials and sequels are fine, but in my opinion, every installment needs to have a clear resolution, even if it raises new questions.

Madelynne Ellis’ tale, “Broken Angel”, is a different story indeed. Set in a decaying city that is literally haunted by the Ghost Wind – wailing, disembodied spirits that gust through the streets at twilight, carrying away human souls – “Broken Angel” offers a genuine Gothic ambience of madness, evil and obsessive desire.

Blaze Makaresh knows nothing of his heritage. He steals an ancient manuscript that he believes will cast some light on his history, only to be ambushed and near-fatally wounded by the youkai demons who terrorize the city. He is rescued by Asha and Yaku, members of the fearsome Talon brotherhood of demon-killers. Yaku is an elegant, cynical cross-dresser who couples with faceless men. Asha is icily beautiful, with a secret addiction that makes her doubly cruel. Yet something draws her to Blaze, even as he begins to undergo a physical and psychic transformation that confirms all of their worst suspicions—that in fact he is no human, but a demon prince.

I loved this story. The characters are sharply drawn, and the settings – musty archives, catacombs dripping with phosphorescent algae, abandoned alchemy labs – come vividly to life as Blaze, Asha and Yaku flee from the pursuing youkai. The sex is raw, painful, compulsive, fueled by the lust-inducing poisons secreted by the demon race and sought as drugs by the “bleeders”. Whatever darkness was lacking in the first third of Possession can be found here with a vengeance. Distrust and fear threaten to destroy the fragile tenderness that binds Blaze and Asha. The power of evil is seductive and difficult to resist, even when you know that it will destroy you.

Finally, I come to “Falling Dancer”, Anne Tourney’s magnificent contribution to Possession. While Madelynne Ellis has created a baroque imaginary world of magical races vying for power, Ms. Tourney sets her tale in a deceptively normal, slightly sordid everyday of iPods and automobiles, strip bars and emergency rooms, rock bands and high-rise apartment buildings. Told in spare, elegant prose that left me admiring and envious, “Falling Dancer” gives us the first person experiences of Kelda, former stripper, current bartender, and sometime exorcist.

“Last night’s Release just about killed me. The lost spirit tore through me with a need so monstrous that it left me crumpled up on the floor of an abandoned department store, whimpering and shaking, the aftermath shuddering through bone and muscle, through heart and brain… I call myself an exorcist. I’m really more like a co-dependent for fallen angels.”

Kelda has not yet recovered from her last exorcism when she gets drawn into a desperate chase with a new Fallen One, who has taken over the exquisite body of a shy, insecure ballerina named Lia. Amara, the possessing spirit, has waited for ages for the chance to become incarnate—hungrily watching the humans she was supposed to be guarding.

“She touches her breasts, lifts their satin weight, touches the tips, which are small and pale as pearls. Under her fingers, the nipples darken and harden into dusky new buds. The flat silk surrounding them rises into scalloped rings. Using her nails, her palms, her forearms, Amara paints sensations across her skin – shivers, shudders, a deep electric throb. Desire used to haunt her like a shadow; now the ghost is coming to life again in stolen flesh.”

Kelda struggles with the voracious spirit, but she has her own depths and darkness. Her own lusts are nearly as insatiable as Amara’s. Kelda has powers, too – the Speak, the See, the ability to slip into the dreams of the man she craves. The chase quickens to a final, shattering climax, yet ultimately everything remains ambiguous. We do not know who Kelda really is, whether in fact she might not be part demon or part angel. We don’t know if Amara has truly released Lia’s body, or simply come to an accommodation with the human’s fragile essence. Ultimately, all is dark and hidden, even, or perhaps especially, the souls of Kelda’s lovers.

Possession showcases different facets of the hugely popular paranormal romance genre. On the whole, the collection is well-written, entertaining, even, perhaps, a bit thought-provoking. If you’re in the mood for something other-worldly, I recommend it.

(Virgin Black Lace; April 1, 2008; ISBN-10: 0352341645)
Available at:Amazon.com / Amazon UK

© 2008 Lisabet Sarai. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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