Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Spice & Vanilla by Katherine Wyvern (#crossdressing #genderqueer #erotica #romance #bdsm)

You only have to read the first two chapters of Spice & Vanilla to know that this is not your typical erotic romance. Within the space of just a few short pages, Katherine Wyvern introduces us to four characters (in three bodies), moving effortlessly from a melancholy meeting with a late-night busker, to the scene of a damaged woman who can barely drag herself out of bed, to an oddly romantic encounter of spanking and domination, set to a classical piano concerto.

I loved the fluidity of this, my second literary dance with Katherine, and the way she so deliberately establishes such contrasts - which, ironically, serve to blur the lines between characters. Scars are an important part of the story, both physical and emotional, serving as reminders of pain best forgotten, or as punishment so sweetly craved. It is gender, however, that she so deftly explores, interweaving themes of identity, expression, sexuality, and acceptance.

Although we, as readers, know that Raphael and Lucie are one and the same, it is not until the halfway mark that she chooses to reveal herself to Di, leading to an altogether different exploration of scars and pain. Having had his female side rejected by the woman he loves, and discarded as a sissy fetish by the man he loves, Raphael purges all evidence of Lucie from his life and slides into a deep depression. It hurt reading those scenes, with Hugh's dismissal hitting me the hardest. Casual readers may not understand the gender dynamics enough to really appreciate it, and others may bristle at how even those who love us can so wholly misunderstand, but Katherine manages to speak volumes about how we see, accept, and appreciate gender, without overwhelming it with any sort of narrative commentary.

I will say no more about the story itself, except to assure you that this is an erotic romance, and our hearts are intended to soar, not break, by the end. That tipping point of pain and rejection is crucial to moving the story forward, and actually serves to lead to an ever great, more significant exploration of gender and love. The characters here are absolutely wonderful, the use of music is delightful, and the slow reveal of secrets, memories, and pasts helps to give it all depth and resonance. As the title suggests, this is equal parts Spice & Vanilla, and those dual elements only work so well because Katherine understands, appreciates, and embraces them both.

Katherine is a gipsy soul who lived in Italy, Norway, Germany, France and Spain but mostly in some private universe of her own. She still lives a nomad's life between Dordogne and Catalonia, with a tipi as a home and her boots and a horse as only means of transport. She's worked as a printer, a welder and a gardener, and been writing since she can remember, mostly poetry, fantasy and erotica, sometimes mixed together in weird ways. Nowadays, when not busy with walking, horse-whispering or dream-weaving, she is usually painting, embroidering or working her backbone off in the pastures. 


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