Monday, April 15, 2013

Folly by Jassie Mackenzie

Emma Caine might as well change her address to Rock Bottom because that is where she's pitched up. No job—her employer went insolvent. No university degree—no one is hiring without an education. No money—her husband, Mark, is in an expensive care facility with irreversible brain damage. No support—financial or emotional from well-off in-laws and brother. About to lose her house, horses, and cats, Emma falls back on the skills learned as a phone sex operator. In her 20s, she learned that she had a knack for servicing men who "wanted to be dominated, punished, controlled" and became a specialist in telephone domination. But that isn't going to be enough to save Emma and she moves to the next level reinventing herself as Mistress Caine. There are enough items in her tack room to get her started as a dominatrix and she quickly sets up her dungeon in The Folly, a small cottage on her property in Johannesburg, South Africa. Emma soon has a growing client list but finds her resolve to maintain a professional distance from her subjects shaken when Simon Nell arrives for his session and it isn't the whip that is generating heat in the dungeon.

Folly is as far from my usual blog content as you can get so why did I order a copy from South Africa and why am I featuring it here. Jassy was one of the first South African crime writers I read and I'm familiar with her writing style and character development. I've been a fan from the first Jade de Jong book. There was no question that I would have to read Folly when I learned she was moving into alternative romance. I wasn't worried that I would be presented with little more than a series of loosely connected bad sex scenes.

So, what's the opinion of someone (60+ male) who doesn't read much romance fiction, much less romance with a  BDSM theme? Very Good.

Let's get one thing out of the way first. Do we call this "mommy porn", a term that appears to have originated with EL James' Fifty Shades of Grey? Jassy is OK with the term but she emphasises that the romance has to trump the erotic. In an ABC News feature, Angie Rowntree says about her web site's erotic videos " What our audience wants is to see a passionate love scene that is filled with chemistry and sensuality..." Folly works like that so I'm adding "mommy porn" to the labels for this post.

I like character driven stories and Jassy has a well rounded, well developed set of characters in Folly. Emma comes across as a real person with real needs and real conflicts. She's not a cardboard frustrated housewife or naive young person under the sway of an older pervy guy. When we first meet her, she has been beaten down by circumstances but not defeated. We get a hint early on (chapter 2) that there is going to more to Emma than is immediately obvious. An amusing daydream involving her officious lawyer lets us know that, given the opportunity, this isn't a woman you want to mess with. In a short 255 pages, Jassy does an excellent job taking Emma from a nearly broken woman to a woman in command.

Likewise with Simon Nel, the client who wants to become more than the receiving end of a riding crop for Emma. The spark between him and Emma provides both the tension and the hot sex. The relationship between Emma and Simon becomes more balanced as the story progresses which is an odd thing to say when we are talking about a dominatrix and someone who submits to one. He's a nice guy, one who complements rather than contrasts the main character. The motivations and tensions of Emma and Simon struck me as realistic with no suspension of belief required.

What about the punters who engage Emma's services and the services she provides them? Not being into BDSM myself, I don't have anything to go by but I'd say that Jassy provides a nice mix of types. Authors often get asked where they get their ideas and in this case Jassy and Emma have one thing in common, both worked phone sex lines specialising in domination. While Jassy didn't take it to the next level as Emma did, she is going to have insights into the type of man who needs a dominatrix and the sorts of domination they require.  This gives Folly a tone of authenticity that keeps you in the story and makes the dialog and action between Emma and her clients more enjoyable and interesting. "It isn't all "kiss my whip you impudent worm": there is humour. The scene with Emma and her first client had me laughing out loud which is awkward when your spouse asks you what is so funny. "Well, there is this guy and he's being whipped with a riding crop by a woman wearing riding boots and a black bustiere and ..."

The sex, it must be addressed, this is mommy porn after all.  The word "sodden" is often used and I'll leave it to your imagination how Emma and Simon get to that state. Because we are talking about erotica, there has to be a "mind-blowing" quality to the sex as pent up passions are explosively released. The tension of the story arises because Emma is fighting her urge to be with Simon while telling herself that she needs to maintain a professional distance. There is a progression in the sex scenes, the anticipation builds with the tension, as Emma deals with her inner conflicts.

I am enjoyed my first foray into alternative romance fiction. Folly has good characters in a good story without any "oh come on, no one would..." moments. If you like this romance sub-genre or want to read something in it that is actually well written or you're just curious what this kind of story is like, I recommend it highly.

On a personal note, I am claiming the first North American sighting of Folly as well as the first North American review.  Jassy's other books are available in the US and I hope Umuzi (an imprint of Random House Struik) decides to make Folly available as well.

Jassy Mackenzie is an author, horse person, and editor living in Kyalami, South African, a suburb of Johannesburg with her partner, horses, and cats. She is the author of the Jade de Jong crime thriller series (Random Violence, Stolen Lives, Worst Case/The Fallen, Pale Horses) and the stand-alone Cain and Able themed, My Brother's Keeper. She first dipped into the BDSM genre with the short story Tough Love which you can read here. I can personally recommend all of her books and short stories. Here is Jassy's website.