Paranormal Smut Novels

My brain needs a break.

Seriously.

I spend my days doing research, writing analysis, and submitting status reports for my gig at a major government agency.  By night, I’m reading through newsfeeds, writing critical race analysis, editing submissions, and trying to make sure there’s blog content every single day.

So, is it any wonder I go straight to the saccharine stuff when it’s time for a little brain candy?  Fashion magazines used to be my favorite refuge, but now I just find too many things to critique, so they fall into the work category.  International fashion zines are fun, but I can’t find enough of them to keep me sated on my commute.  I love a good novel, but I prefer to mull over those.  I need something more disposable.  My manga habit is awesome, but it’s a pocket breaker – and I’m starting to drift into more josei anyway.  (More on that a bit later.)  I tried reading chick lit, but after a few books, the genre as a whole started to annoy me.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love an escapist tome every now and then.  I’m particularly partial to Marian Keyes, some Jane Green, and Alisa Valdez-Rodriguez.  (And Benilde Little and Erica Simone Turnipseed, but their stuff is a bit too deep to qualify.) But for every good book I picked up I went through three that had me scowling at the page.  Why the hell can’t I have a protagonist with some fucking sense?  If your bank manager keeps blowing up your phone, either pay your bill or invest in caller ID!  Please stop cataloging all your clothes, I don’t need to know the exact brand of every cream, panty, and necklace your heroine drapes on herself, particularly not if she changes her clothes at least twice a day.  And I have put a moratorium on buying any books with any clue to shopping in the title.

Still, I wasn’t quite sure what to replace these books with, when something of interest slid across the desk at my local library branch, where I was clocking time in exchange for a decent hourly rate and a staff card that accrues no fines.*

I had seen this book cross the desk a few times, but I was always too busy to pick it up.  Finally, I decided to take a peek at the book jacket.

I cracked the book open and fell headlong into the world of adult fantasy.  Later I discovered adult sci-fi, and the more interestingly termed “paranormal romances.”  These books both satisfied my mental sweet tooth and gave me complex, nuanced, non perfect characters to grapple with.  There characters were in leading roles, making tough decisions, kicking ass, and taking names.

And did I mention these characters are women?

For the purposes of this piece, I am going to examine the four writers whose worlds I play in on a regular basis:  Jacqueline Carey, Kim Harrison, Kelly Armstrong, and L.A. Banks.

Jacqueline Carey – Kushiel’s Legacy

Kushiel’s Dart was my introduction to Jacqueline Carey’s work, and I ate every bit of Terre D’ Ange up with a spoon.  Could it be the intricacies of Terre D’Ange, a nation founded by fallen angels, a world created and marked all about with religious theology, remixed and reapplied in scintillating and female friendly ways?

Perhaps.

Or maybe it is the wonderous characters – the many different Servants of Naamah, the familes, the houses, the varying nations that become more prominent in global politics as the series progresses?

Or maybe it’s the interesting treatment of sex and sensuality in the series, where Blessed Eula (a Jesus like figure, founder of the land) has one major edict to his people – “love as thou wilt.”  This plays out in interesting ways in the course of the series.  The wiki entry on Eula and His Companions notes:

Elua’s only commandment to his followers was to love as thou wilt. The nation of Terre d’Ange takes it as their guiding philosophy, and as such embrace all forms of love. This makes them a sexually liberated culture, accepting of homosexuality, bisexuality, and BDSM. Rape is not only a crime, because of this precept, it is the highest and most severe heresy. This includes forced intimacy as well as sexual acts with minors (generally considered under age 16 in the series) or animals as neither can make fully thought-out decisions or thereby give true consent.

But, I believe what drew me most deeply into the series was the chracter of Phèdre nó Delaunay, the protagonist for the first three books in the legacy arc.

Narrating her own story, and describing herself as “a whore’s unwanted get,” Phèdre does not appear to be the kind of heroine one expects to see.  She is trained and skilled in languages and tumbling, the covert arts, and other useful courtship skills.  She is also an anguisette, meaning she feels pain and pleasure as one. When she enters the story, she is strong headed, strong willed, and more or less a pawn to the interests of others.  However, as the story progresses (and her foster father and brother meet their untimely deaths), Phèdre finds that she needs to rely on herself – first, to stay alive, and then to save her kingdom.

This series is not for the faint of heart.  A major theme of Phèdre’s life – and the nexus of her power – is dominance through submission.  As an anguisette, she is often tasked to bend to the will of her patrons, to take the pain they inflict and desire ever more.  This leads to quite a few cringeworthy scenes in the book – like when Phèdre finds herself about to be skinned alive.  The BDSM level in this book is heavy and even with my iron will to read and heightened sexual curiosity, there are scenes in the third book that are so painful I still cannot read them.  (I have read each of the books in Phèdre’s arc at least three times.)

Still, Phèdre is a phenomenal character, both a maverick force in the face of a staid, polite society as well as a wise, temperate woman.

Kim Harrison – The Hollows Series

Can I just fan girl out for a sec and say how much I love the Hollows?  Kim Harrison’s series keeps me in stitches, starting with the Great Tomato Plague that wiped out half of humanity and exposed all of the other species that were keeping a low profile.

The Hollows wiki explains the course of events:

The [T4 Angel] virus killed a quarter of the human population, revealing the existence of several supernatural races – the vampire, Were, witch, pixy, fairy, elf and more, since the virus affected non-humans only to a small degree. The supernatural beings decided to reveal themselves to humanity, (an event thereafter called “The Turn”), and established themselves in open communities across the world.

The supernatural beings are known as “Inderlanders”. As laws and societies are dramatically changed by factors relating to these new sentient species, in the United States all levels of law enforcement break down. Two new organizations, the Inderlander Security service, (consisting entirely of non-humans), and the Federal Inderlander Bureau, (consisting primarily of normal humans), replace the former law enforcement agencies at all levels.

The main character is Rachel Marianna Morgan who has a knack for getting into trouble.  She is often getting into trouble somewhere as she tends to act without thinking.  She generally has most of the world pissed off at her (including, but not limited to her partners, the ever-after demons, the Inderlander Bureau, other governing bodies) and is great at choosing a solution that gets her into even more trouble.  (How else does one get on a nickname basis with a demon, when contact between the world and the demon realms are forbidden?)

Her partners are quick witted and humorous and a trip through Harrison’s world is always good for a laugh.

The most compelling piece to The Hollows series is the navigation between the sexual wants and desires of Rachel’s vamp roommate/partner Ivy, and Rachel’s own fears stemming from such a relationship.  Ivy is a gorgeous, living vampire (which means she can walk in daylight and live on hollowed ground) whose feelings for Rachel escalate with each book.  Rachel is also falling for Ivy, and comes dangerously close to blood mixing, which is a way for vampires to provide pleasure to those they feed from.

However, due to Ivy’s past sexual abuse at the hands of another master vampire, she is unable to fully control herself having always experienced blood mixing with violence.  It would appear that Ivy believes that being with Rachel – being with someone she genuinely loves – will help her to heal.  Rachel, too, understands Ivy’s love, but has a deep fear of being controlled, as mixing blood allows a vampire unrestricted access to their subject.

Oh.  And Rachel appears to be mostly heterosexual.

That could also be a tiny snag.

(This reader is seeing that as another part of Rachel’s hesitation, as she generally runs away from Ivy into the arms of a guy – but that may not be what the writer is trying to convey.)

Either way, I can’t wait for the next Hollows novel to figure out the newest twist in Rachel Morgan’s semi-charmed, often be spelled life.

Kelley Armstrong – The Otherworld

The Women of the Otherworld is a fascinating series as the narrator changes frequently.  I was introduced to the series with Paige Winterbourne, a modern witch who – to be honest – grated on my nerves in Dime Store Magic.  I kept reading because I liked the plot and the supporting characters, and I was rewarded – as I explored the series, I discovered Elena Michaels (werewolf), Eve Levine (half-demon with/ghost), Jamie Vegas (necromancer) and Hope Adams (half human – half chaos demon).

The other world women all have different strengths that work to their advantage.  Elena is the only female werewolf walking the earth, was turned, and tends to use both her strength and intellect to work her way out of situations.  She is a fairly balanced character, but her weakness is her mate Logan – tempestuous and brash, he is often causing as many problems as he solves.  Eve is a strong willed, power hungry half demon half witch who found a way to negotiate herself into a charmed position in the afterlife.  She often meddles in the affairs of mortals – and once in a while, she finds herself helping to solve a case.  Paige is the witch I don’t care for, though I like her a lot more as a supporting character.  Hope is the first character of color to headline a book, being mixed South Asian and white, and her powers are fairly negligible (and actually, a liability if put in the wrong situation).  However, she is extremely analytical and uses her environment to her advantage.  Jamie Vegas is a fly necromancer around forty years of age. (Oh yes, older protagonists are the norm – before Eve Levine died, she was also about that age.)  The ability to see and speak to spirits threatens to drive her insane – it’s apparently an occupational hazard.  However, she still finds enough time to pine after (and eventually seduce) the hot werewolf elder and potentially land a TV show, so obviously, Ms. Vegas is on her game.  I just realized that there are online stories at Kelley Armstong’s site, so I’ll end it here.

[Easter Egg:  Kelley Armstrong will be writing for the Angel comic. As in Buffy & Angel. ]

L. A. Banks – The Vampire Huntress Legends

I see black people!

That was my first thought when I finally came across the first book in L.A. Banks series, after hearing tales online about a vampire huntress novel with multi-ethnic characters.  After tracking down Minion, I ended up devouring it in one night.  Never did I think that a novel could come so close to my hopes and dreams:

*Multiethnic characters…

*Including a wisecracking white sidekick…

*A heroine rocking dreadlocks…

*An urban setting, with a cast of characters who are aware of pop culture.

Can I just say I never knew how sweet it would be to have a master vampire ride on a rival crew banging Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz? (Can I hear somebody say YEAH!)  To hear a fight between the huntress and her vampire lover, in which a master vamp asks “Woman, why are you disrespectin’ me?”  An entire hunter squad that also doubles as a spoken word group?  And a whole mix of global mythology round out a damn good series.  Now, the series does drag a bit in the beginning. And it’s a little proselytize-y (yes, I made up that word like I work at Lucky) but I am fully into the fourth book and the *only* reason I haven’t blown through them faster is that I have a lot of deadlines over the next few weeks.

So those are my favorites, readers.

What are your favorite paranormal smut novels?

—-

*When I got the job, I also got a limited edition anniversary key chain card.  The next time I saw my mother, she took a look at my key chain and cracked “Well, you used the library so much they gave you a gold card! How many books do you have to read to go platinum?”

Temptation Waits (Song Only)- Garbage

[Aside: There are novelists I love, but aren't on here, like George RR Martin and Octavia Butler.  Feel free to discuss other novels as well, but I am all about the smut on this post.  We'll get to the highminded stuff later. - LDP]

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38 Responses

  1. tomorrowshorizon
    tomorrowshorizon September 8, 2008 at 12:04 am |

    I love, love, love all of those books! Great reads, great recommendations, frequent use of feminism, and always plain old good fun. Although, I’ll admit I had difficulty getting into L.A. Bank’s books.

    If you like those, you may like the early Anita Blake novels by Laurell K. Hamilton. That series is ultimately disappointing because the books turn into plotless (and boring) sex books the farther along you get in them, but about the first half of the series is legitimately awesome.

  2. denelian
    denelian September 8, 2008 at 12:05 am |

    i am, quite literally, addicted to reading. i own just about every book written by the first three you listed (i haven’t read any Banks yet… now i will)
    yeah, they rock.

    i reccomend Patricia Briggs. HIGHLY. the third book in the Mercy Thompson series (spoiler!) has the best post-rape intervention ever. i mean, i cried. i wish i had had the book when i was raped years ago… even reading it now was wonderful and helped. and there are more coming. i haven’t read a SINGLE book by Briggs that i didn’t like, and most of them have kick-ass female leads.

    although, i have to save i *DO* like Paige. but i’m the bossy eldest sister…

  3. Entomologista
    Entomologista September 8, 2008 at 12:45 am |

    I really don’t read a lot of fantasy, but “Children of the Night”, by Mercedes Lackey, is something you might want to check out. Sheri S. Tepper, whom I love unconditionally, writes feminist literature which is a mix of sci-fi and fantasy. I don’t particularly care for Ursula K. Le Guin, but she does write feminist fantasy. Octavia E. Butler is sci-fi and not fantasy, but you should check out her books, assuming you haven’t already.

    But I totally understand your frustration with trying to find female protagonists, or even good female characters. I tend to read more hard sci-fi. And a lot of it, especially the older stuff, is just awful in terms of representations of women and PoC. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle are such sandy little buttholes, but “Lucifer’s Hammer” and “Footfall”…sheer genius.

  4. shah8
    shah8 September 8, 2008 at 1:30 am |

    1) First post is completely correct. Anita Blake series from roughly about the 4th book to Midnight Butterfly are truly about the best *urban fantasy/horror* series around. The world-building is tremendous, and logical–with logical politics and plenty of whiz-bang I didn’t mean *that* thinking.

    2) Carrie Vaughn’s werewolf series would appeal to Latoya, no really, it would.

    3) Naomi Novik’s Tremaire series (dragons as airships) is quite addictive, easy to read, and a fun world. It also mixes up the Napoleonic Wars–the earlier battles/books follow the standard timeline, but then it starts to bounce around.

    4) Liz Williams Singapore 3 series is pretty damn cool. No white people at all in it. Plenty of Hell and the people who love it, though.

    5) Barbara Hambley The Windrose Chronicle trilogy was a boatload of fun. Standard magic/normal world bifurcation.

    6) Kat Richardson’s novels featuring the Grey are truly excellent. Very little sex in them too, which is a cool twist for something ostensibly along the lines of a paranormal romance. She writes pretty geeky, and there are strong elements of 60’s-70’s type science fiction. They are also very tightly plotted so you’re zipping along at breakneck speed and then the end. Naomi Novik does this as well, but she has an excuse since she’s copying the form of O’Brian’s novels about naval warfare against the French.

    7) Emma Bull’s Bone Dance is rather criminally less known. Do what you have to find this book, is all I gotta say. You will love it.

    Okay, that should tide anyone over for easy but good paranormal reads.
    If the conversation goes to sci-fi, I’ve got plenty more on tap!

    Also, the sociology of paranormal romances is truly interesting. Most of the early stuff, Dennis Danvers’ Wilderness, S.P. Somtow’s Moon Dance, LKH’s Anita Blake series, all had strongly liberal sensibilities. This has been changing as time went on, such that the Twilight series, Jennifer Rardin’s Jazz Parks series, Rachel Vincent’s werecat series, and the like with very conservative mentalities are gaining in market size these days…

  5. kara
    kara September 8, 2008 at 2:35 am |

    Sherrilyn Kenyon, with her Dark Hunter Series. A huge guilty pleasure. The protagonists changes every book, but the essential plot is love, of course, leads to great sex and heals men of emotional abusive childhoods (which is completely unrealistic, but hey, fantasy).

    Oh, also, there are soul-eating vampires, and immortal hot guys that kill them, and living Greek, Celtic, and Atlantean gods roaming the earth, and so on.

  6. Echolalia
    Echolalia September 8, 2008 at 3:58 am |

    I love, love, love Elizabeth Hand. I stumbled onto her with Waking the Moon. The premise of this book, along with Black Light, and Immortal Beloved (to some degree), is that there is a multi-millennia patriarchial secret society (the Benandanti) dedicated to keeping pre-christian, Goddess-based religions in check for fear that they will unleash chaotic powers that will undo the world as we know it.

    The protagonists are almost always young women whose undiscovered powers that put them at odds with both the Benandanti and pagan gods and godesses who strive to regain their place in this dimension.

    She has also written some great sci-fi: Winterlong (post-nuclear world meets the Renaissance), The Glimmering (the endtimes brought on by an enviornmental catastrophe). Her stuff is a more sophisticated than the the guilty pleasures of Laurel K. Hamilton or Kim Harrison, but is very readable and entertaining.

  7. White Trash Academic
    White Trash Academic September 8, 2008 at 7:40 am |

    Thanks for all of these great suggestions! Based on the post and the comments, I have come to the conclusion that I need to read more smut. Screw those research manuscripts!

  8. Angelia Sparrow
    Angelia Sparrow September 8, 2008 at 8:15 am |

    Elizabeth Donald’s Nocturnal Urges series. Murder mystery, sex, politics all set in Memphis TN. Features the really kick-ass cop team of Anne Freitas and Kelly Parker.

    I’m starting my Anita Blake odyssey with Bloody Bones,/i> which has been really excellent. Sherrilyn Kenyon doesn’t work for me. I find her style off-putting, with too much head-hopping.

    The Raintree series by Linda Winstead Jones isn’t bad.

    I read a lot of romance because I write romance. However, very little of my paranormal stuff has women as main characters. For example, my Gay Christmas Werewolves interact with women–family, people in stores, clerks–but they are the focus.

  9. Flourish
    Flourish September 8, 2008 at 8:48 am |

    When I picked up Minion I was really excited about it for the same reasons you were – but then I dropped it cause it dragged so much in the beginning. I’ll have to take a look at it again.

  10. Angelia Sparrow
    Angelia Sparrow September 8, 2008 at 9:14 am |

    Latoya, actually, they aren’t camp. They’re funny at first, but then their lives get more complicated and darker. The tag-line comes from the old myth that children born on Christmas Day are werewolves. Their fifth story, “Siul a ruhn” is coming out Sept 16 from Torquere. (All royalties go to Lambda Legal and Marriage Equality, and Torquere matches 100%)

  11. atlasien
    atlasien September 8, 2008 at 9:35 am |

    My favorites are Tanith Lee and Angela Carter (anything by Angela Carter, but the Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman is a good start). Tanith Lee has written a ridiculous amount of books (I own about 60 of them), but most of them are pit of print in the U.S. If you can find Tales from the Flat Earth — Night’s Master, Death’s Master and the rest of the books — they’re pretty mind-blowing, and I think most of the authors you list above were heavily influenced by her. Paul Park’s Princess of Roumania series is also very good. C.J. Cherryh also has some excellent books in this genre: The Tree of Swords and Jewels, Faery in Shadow, the Morgaine saga.

    There’s a lot of crap in this genre and it’s hard to find the diamonds. I started reading Laurell K. Hamilton’s first book, and I could barely make it to the end. I can’t stand flat writing and flat prose.

  12. Daniel Martin
    Daniel Martin September 8, 2008 at 11:02 am |

    Bujold’s “Sharing Knife” series should definitely be mentioned here. Bujold is a long established sci-fi author who has recently branched out a bit into fantasy, and that series exhibits the prime directive of paranormal smut strongly: “People with magical powers will use them to make their sex hotter than anything you’ll ever have” (This is closely related to the two prime directives of sci-fi smut: “sex in zero-g is hotter than any sex you’ll ever have” and “sex with aliens is hotter than any sex you’ll ever have”) This series is a bit different from Bujold’s other work, which has tended towards military sci-fi with few female main characters. The Sharing Knife has two main characters, a man and a woman, and although there’s a good case to be made that it’s more his story than hers, the female lead is her own person and gets properly pissed off when other characters assume she’s just eye candy. (It’s all told using third-person, with a narrator that isn’t omniscient but does narrate the thoughts in the heads of the two lead characters)

    I also feel I should point out C.E. Murphy’s work for the “fantasy setting with strong female protagonists” aspect, though most of it doesn’t really qualify as sufficiently smut-like, except perhaps “The Queen’s Bastard”. (She has several different series going at the moment, and I haven’t yet read any in the “Heart of Stone” series, so maybe that’s got smut in it too)

  13. [dave]
    [dave] September 8, 2008 at 11:25 am |

    Latoya can we talk about how excited I am you read this shit?

    I agree on Jacqueline Carey, and you have pretty much the same opinion of Kelley Armstrong as I do. Elena is definitely my favorite character as well. I’ll try the Minion books again…I loved the idea of it and then was really disappointed at how wordy it was.

    Recommendations …

    Liz Williams’ Singapore 3 series… really absorbing. The first is Detective Inspector Chen #1 – Snake Agent. The Eastern influence makes for more than just a “flavor text” facelift, it really adds to the genre. Plus the covers are absolutely beautiful. Less sex but not unsexy.

    Martin Millar wrote a book called Lonely Werewolf Girl that does some interesting things with the genre too. Werewolves, fashion designers, fire demon queens with kneeslapping naive malice.

    Anita Blake books … I cosign with the folks who remark on their downward spiral, but the first bunch are great. I started with Obsidian Butterfly and then went to the beginning. Also, her faerie books are way smuttier than the others, but it gets really really gross how often she’s talking about what colour the faerie guys hair is, or the three colours making up their magic faerie irises. The first book is great though, just don’t read the others.

    Robin McKinley, “Sunshine” is a stand alone vampire book that reads like a more “literary” piece but still delivers on the guilty pleasures.

    Octavia Butler “Fledgling” was going to be the first in a series before the author sadly passed away, gets into vampire stuff w/added context of race/sexuality.

    Storm Constantine’s “Burying the Shadow” has a PoC middle-aged woman protagonist, deals with a fantasy angels/vampires concept. Her other works deal with similar material (the Grigori trilogy), sci fi hermaphrodites (wraethru trilogy) and gothic dark fantasy (Magravandias triliogy).

    I’d also recc’d Clive Barker, China Meiville, Neil Gaimon, Catherynne Valente …

  14. Jamie B.
    Jamie B. September 8, 2008 at 12:06 pm |

    Ahh! I’m so excited to see other feminists reading and loving the Kushiel books! I have been deeply in love with the whole series for about six years now. I’m about to start a project of writing an in-depth review of Kushiel’s Dart that I want to submit to The Hathor Legacy.

    I haven’t re-read any of the books since my “feminist awakening” just over a year ago, so this post is giving me the courage to get on with it – I won’t be totally disappointed.

    Knowing that you liked that series is great, because it indicated that I might enjoy the other books you posted. And since I’ve been really really struggling to find books that my feminist-brain can tolerate, this will be great. I might be able to actually enjoy a novel, now.

    Thank you!

  15. Hazel Stone
    Hazel Stone September 8, 2008 at 12:22 pm |

    Doesn’t anyone like actual feminist scifi? Shari Tepper isn’t exactly Proust, but she doesn’t maim English the way some of the authors of this pulp do. And her stories are riveting. If you want something escapist how about her, or Nalo Hopkinson or c

    Seriously, a website called FEMINISTE is recommending the Kushiel series?

  16. shah8
    shah8 September 8, 2008 at 12:23 pm |

    [dave]…

    I love John Foster’s book covers. He also does comic books!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Foster_(artist)

    oddly enough, the wiki does not mention his cover on the rather spectacular novel of Arabian Nights vintage by Catherynne M. Valente called The Orphan’s Tales In the Night Garden. Not a paranormal romance, and while superficially easy, the book has nested plots, and one really should not eat this one too fast. Too good for that.

  17. shah8
    shah8 September 8, 2008 at 12:25 pm |

    Nalo Hopkinson is
    a) Carribean mythos nested in sci-fi elements
    b) Not a truly easy read. Escapist, but not truly junk food type book.

  18. [dave]
    [dave] September 8, 2008 at 1:09 pm |

    @Hazel: not a very helpful contribution. Latoya discussed the book’s premise in regards to sexuality quite succinctly, which definitely makes sense within a feminist framework. But yeah, note the subject matter being explicitly smutty. Although I agree that Sheri S. Teper is pretty often spectacular, although she tends towards reinventing the same plot in her books these days, albeit with new and well-imagined aliens.

    @Latoya and other folks: Just remembered the Parrish Plessis books … the author’s site is here: http://www.mariannedepierres.com. They’re post-apocalyptic action sci-fi with smutty interludes, some alt-sexuality. They’re kind of like the scifi equivalent to really good paranormal romance.

  19. [dave]
    [dave] September 8, 2008 at 1:12 pm |

    @shah8: just saw your comment. yeah i enjoyed his cover for in the night garden as well. will check out his comics. just finished reading the sequel to that book, also quite good. i was pleased that she tied together her lose ends though, would love to see something she writes in a straightforward narrative.

  20. Mhorag
    Mhorag September 8, 2008 at 1:36 pm |

    If you get the chance, check out Nancy Collins’ Sonja Blue novels. I bought the collection of the first three (Sunglasses after Dark, In the Blood, and Paint It Black). This was my first experience with female vampires that weren’t either just window-dressing ala Hammer films or Dracula in drag.

    Excellent books!

  21. ouyangdan
    ouyangdan September 8, 2008 at 2:15 pm |

    Oh WOW. I love the Kushiel’s books. My only complaint is that I am having trouble shifting POV in the fourth book, where it is no longer Phedre’s narration, but Imriel’s instead. It was awkward for me…but so far it is good too. They were my answer to the same problem you had (only for me, after plowing through all eight Harry Potter books repeatedly I needed fantasy that was a tad more adult). My husband, of all people recommended these to me. I was hooked from page one.
    Their take on sexuality was what made it particularly appealing. All variations of human sexuality are the same. None has a higher rank than others, and love as thou wilt means exactly that. Also, that rape is not only the worst crime, but heresy was an incredible idea for me.

    I am going to have to check out these other authors you mentioned. Thanks!

    (also, sorry if this double posts, I am getting an error message)

  22. luzzleanne
    luzzleanne September 8, 2008 at 2:20 pm |

    I’m slightly sad that the closest thing I can think of to contribute is Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth, and I’m not even sure that particularly counts as smut because, while there are a lot of sex scenes they’re all rather vague. That said I’d still reccomend it; it’s a nicely intricate historical fantasy and is very well researched both in the historical sense and the literary sense. It does have some annoying tendencies like introducing every evil/unlikeable woman via a sex scene, but the heroine is far from an asexual princess and the author had a somewhat feminist motivation for writing it (she wanted to do a female version of the Aurthurian grail legends). It ends up being no worse for sexism than most of the fantasy genre.

    Sorry I don’t have more to contribute. I jumped a little in excitement when I saw the topic, so I wish I did. If/when you end up writing those posts on manga/non-smutty fantasy, I will totally be there!

  23. Rosemary Grace
    Rosemary Grace September 8, 2008 at 2:33 pm |

    The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon, though it’s definitely VERY hetero-normative, and unfortunately the first gay character to appear is also a sadistic freak (though I always read it as him being sadistic freak who happens to also be more attracted to men – he clearly gets off on pain).

    Main reasons I love this series are the female characters have depth and complexity, the male protagonist survives an horrific sexual assault with a great character-developing healing arc, and later in the series a female rape survivor is very well written, in ways that spoke to my own experiences.

  24. Jeff
    Jeff September 8, 2008 at 4:04 pm |

    Octavia Butler “Fledgling” was going to be the first in a series before the author sadly passed away, gets into vampire stuff w/added context of race/sexuality.

    That explains a lot. (That book has a lot of VERY disturbing smut, in that the main character has a lot of sex, but looks like a ten-year-old black girl. It’s explained that she’s much older, but the visual — she’s TEN!! — really hampers the enjoyment of the smut.)

    My girlfriend has asked why none of Butler’s books have been made into movies. It’s a good question, but Fledgling is never going to be amovie. Period.

    (I thought the book broke down when it went from action to court-room drama, but still a great book.)

    — —————————

    Not much smut, but a great read: Kit Whitfield’s “Bareback” (UK) / “Benighted” (US). She’ll have her second book (with merpeople) published next year.

    I’m told that the books that are the basis for the HBO series “True Blood” are very good. I haven’t read them, so can’t vouch one way or another.

    ———————

    I adore LeGuin and Tanith Lee (until she started writing childrens’ books), and love Tepper’s early work.

  25. yazikus
    yazikus September 8, 2008 at 6:11 pm |

    I often credit Tanith Lee’s Biting the Sun/Drinking Sapphire Wine with my feminist awakening.
    Makes me feel warm and fuzzy.
    I am right now reading the Kushiel books again, I usually read books I like more than once, and after a long day of computers and numbers, I love dropping out of this world into Terre D’Ange.
    I quite enjoy historical fantasy as well, the Daughter of the Forest trilogy and the Wolfskin books by Julliette Marillier were good ones, I like series for my escapism because one book just goes too fast.
    I get teased relentlessly by my partner and friends for what I call my “trashy novel room” in the basement.

  26. stankerbell
    stankerbell September 8, 2008 at 6:49 pm |

    Since everyone’s already hit on many of my favorite authors, I just want to add to the list w/ Lords of Rainbow by Vera Nazarian (sp?). Loooooved it. She’s great a world building, some parts were a little slow but I thought it was a beautifully written book. And Melusine by Sarah Monette it’s dark fantasy and very well written in a haunting way.

  27. Angelia Sparrow
    Angelia Sparrow September 8, 2008 at 7:25 pm |

    @Hazel The call was for urban fantasy, not SF. Were we talking feminist SF, I’d be recc’ing Joanna Russ, Tanith Lee, Ursala K. LeGuine, Leigh Bracket and James Tiptree Jr.

    Urban fantasy is a different beast altogether, and tends to be generally feminist in that the protagonist is female, tough, smart and makes her own way. If you’re reading from Ellora’s Cave or Loose Id or Samhain press (all women owned/operated companies) they tend to have happy endings as well (unlike Anita Blake).

  28. BeckyZoole
    BeckyZoole September 8, 2008 at 9:51 pm |

    Hey, Angelia, good to meet another Elizabeth Donald fan! She’s just come out with a new book in the series, called Abaddon. You just can’t beat vampire smut with gutsy female detectives. Mmmmmm.

    I’ve heard very good things about Kate Douglas’s Wolf Tales, and it’s going on my to-read list.

  29. piratequeen
    piratequeen September 8, 2008 at 11:54 pm |

    A major theme of Phèdre’s life – and the nexus of her power – is dominance through submission. As an anguisette, she is often tasked to bend to the will of her patrons, to take the pain they inflict and desire ever more.

    Sounds to me like same shit, different day: misogynistic porntastic crap presented as empowerfulment. Sorry, I don’t see what’s remotely feminist about participating in one’s own oppression.

  30. denelian
    denelian September 9, 2008 at 5:50 am |

    Hazel Stone… the character written by Heinlein?

    don’t get me wrong, i freaking WORSHIP Robert Anson Heinlein, but so far as i can tell i am the only feminist who likes him.

    and… seriously… whats wrong with the Kushiel books? they describe a world where – at least in the country the characters come from – feminism has WON.

    also, Latoya, i forgot to mention Tanya Huff – if you ever saw the TV serious “BloodTies”, the books are by her. the first 5 have a female ex-cop KICK ASS lead, the second three have a gay guy who discovers he’s a mage and grows up. wonderful, wonderful!

  31. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers September 9, 2008 at 9:48 am |

    Piratequeen, perhaps the Kushiel series was explained badly. let me put it a different way.

    The main character is a masochistic prostitute who, *because* of her unique sexuality, is placed in a position to become a Big Damn Hero and save the realm, twice (and save an innocent child, the third time.) The story makes it clear that her extreme masochism is not a choice — she was born that way. She cannot choose whether or not pain turns her on — it just does. In the book, this marks her as the chosen one of the God of justice and punishment, Kushiel (hence the name of the series.) She was sold into prostitution at an early age, but this is not looked at by any of the people in *her* society as worse or more demeaning than any other indentured servitude, and she’s not allowed to start having sex until she’s 16, at which point she begins earning back her freedom. Once she is free, she chooses to continue to be a prostitute, because in her society THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH IT. It’s considered a holy calling, in fact, although certainly not for everyone.

    The book isn’t about “Look at me, I’m so empowered because I’m a whore!” It takes a character who was born a masochist and raised to be a prostitute, and makes her a HERO. Seriously. Her skills as a super-spy, as a prostitute, as a negotiator and as a just generally decent person, together with her almost superhuman ability to endure any amount of pain, allow her to be a female James Bond who repeatedly saves the day, not by having lots of weapons and blowing shit up, but by getting people to trust her and love her… and, if they are basically decent people, she uses this position to persuade them to do what’s right, and if they are evil people, she uses this position to kill them or set them up to be killed by her sidekick, a classic Kung Fu/Three Musketeers action hero who is chaste, noble, totally a Paladin in the Dungeons and Dragons sense, and, let me repeat, IS HER SIDEKICK. Where else have you seen a story where the action hero is the sidekick of a masochistic prostitute?

    The book does not present being a prostitute as something fun and exciting that every woman should aspire to, though it *does* present it as something that greatly appeals to Phedre, especially after she and her sidekick fall in love, because he can’t be rough with her in bed, and while she’s quite capable of enjoying normal sex, her masochism gives her needs he can’t fulfill. I didn’t see it as “misogynistic porntastic empowerfulment” crap at all; I saw it as taking a character archetype who in most fiction exists *solely* to support the hero’s story, and sometimes to be tsked at by the author, sometimes even to be raped or murdered to make the point that being a prostitute or liking rough sex is bad, mmkay?, and making her the HERO.

  32. Em
    Em September 9, 2008 at 2:24 pm |

    Frankly, the best thing about the Kushiel series is that they so strongly make the point that enjoying pain /= necessarily being submissive /= being being a doormat. And, conversely, enjoying causing pain /= being sexually dominant /= being an asshole (or at least not wanting to be – arguably Imri is an ass throughout most of Justice).

    In sum, neither in these books or in real life is getting turned on by pain a) a conscious choice and b) inherently oppressive.

    As for smutty paranormal smut with strong female characters, yay for some awesome recs. Arguably Charlane Harris’s Southern Vampire series might qualify – at least the first couple of books. While the stories continue to be interesting, the quality of both the smut and the independence of the female protagonist go downhill. But there are definitely some nice shivery scenes in the first book especially.

  33. thebluelotus
    thebluelotus September 9, 2008 at 4:26 pm |

    I have to recommend He, She and It by Marge Piercy, which I just finished and absolutely love. It’s sci-fi of the not too distant future speculative type, and while it is very thoughtful and compelling, dealing with the nature of love and personhood (especially relating to artificial intelligences) I think it deserves a mention here too because it does contain a trope mentioned by Daniel Martin at comment #13– though in this case it’s “sex with cyborgs is better than any sex you will ever have.” But that part does have its own purpose, and just made it even more enjoyable. And it’s definitely written from a feminist perspective– I actually saw it on a previous feminist sci-fi post and am now wondering why I haven’t heard much about Piercy before.

  34. Danelle Dragonetti
    Danelle Dragonetti September 12, 2008 at 2:52 pm |

    Gawd.. Favorite Paranormal Smut Novel.. How about my life! I’m a practicing Witch (forget Wiccan – too bunny fluff) Vampyre who teaches Magick and has a great time in the local Goth clubs hunting both men and women for fun and profit. Care to join me?

  35. livininphilly
    livininphilly September 25, 2008 at 1:04 pm |

    Why am I just reading this post? I am a huge, huge fan of sci-fi & fantasy. I’ve recently been reading a lot of sci-fi by African American writers, particularly women, b/c I was tired of only being able to reference Octavia E. Butler (altho I personally think she was a modern day seer & looooove her work). As a life long sci-fi reader when I discovered Octavia and the fact that women of color could be main characters I was hooked.
    I agree with what was said about fledgling. I think it would’ve been a kick ass series and I too was thrown off initially by the fact that she is described as looking like a 10-yr-old girl. I wish that that series would’ve gotten the chance to be developed before we lost her.
    I didn’t read through every single comment (so sue me) but I’m not sure if anyone mentioned Tananarive Due. Her African Immortal series is very good. In the first the main characters are split b/c a man and woman (husband & wife) and in the 2nd it’s mostly from the wife’s pov while the third is split even more. I have a feeling that the next one will be almost entirely from the daughter’s pov. I recommend this series b/c the premise +spoiler alert+ is that there is a secret sect of Ethiopian men who are immortals and when one of them falls in love he makes a decision that literally brings about the second coming in the form a little black girl. Not overly religious but it is there. I must admit that the wife is a character that I really could do without b/c she is always fucking scared of something but it’s interest and I am currently addicted.
    Sheree R. Thomas is an African American woman that put together a couple of anthologies of african american sci-fi short stories. Some are smut and some are not. I’ve been using her books to introduce me to new writers.
    As far as the Kushiel series, I freaking loved Kushiel’s dart but haven’t picked up any others since I first read it. I read it when it first came out and I had to wait for the next to appear. I have been trying to get L.A. Banks at the library but I cannot ever find Minion it’s always checked out!
    Mercedes Lackey is one of my fave authors of all time. Not all of the books in the Valdemar series are written w/ female leads but some are. In fact Kerowyn’s Tale (a series of 3) are written w/ a lesbian as the main character. Her sexuality is not fully explored but she definitely has a partner that she fights beside and loves dearly and they definitely have a sexual relationship.
    Ok that’s it for now. But I can seriously speak for hours on this topic!

  36. Alisa
    Alisa October 5, 2008 at 3:13 am |

    i agree with you about my own work. please know that i am on strike from writing characters without any fucking sense. my next book, The Husband Habit, actually has a protagonist i’d like to hang out with. i hope you’ll give me another chance. next year.

    alisa valdes-rodriguez

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