August 25, 2013

Review: Nothing Ventured by Salome Verdad

Nothing Ventured: A twisted tale of high tech and high heels. Well, I got the twisted bit, and the high heels (boots actually, which aren't quite the same thing), but I missed out on the high tech and the ventured reference was also a bit lost. How to describe this book better than the title does is actually quite difficult - the sheer amount of WTF is almost overwhelming.

The story starts with Amanda drugging and date raping Ed - she insists on him licking her boots, threatens him that she will make sure the venture capital company she works for doesn't fund his tech start up (I think that's the ref in the title, but since it's really beside the point of the story, I was never clear what the significance of it was) and then has sex with him all night (literally). He is enamored of her and tries to contact her - she ignores him. Then she calls him and meets him to a lesbian bar - to keep her options open. She tells him that she drugged him with GHB. She also gave him viagra, though she doesn't tell him this at the time. And after a token protest he forgives her, takes her back to his place and lets her tie him up. This is all by chapter 2.

Really. It's normally heroines that I critisize for being TSTL, but what a dumb ass he is. Amanda has shown herself to be totally untrustworthy, is a self confessed psychopath and has just humiliated him by flirting with other women when she came to meet him. Also SHE DRUGGED HIM. So, I have two essential problems with this set up. 1) Her drugging him is totally unacceptable. 2) The way that she thinks she needs to train him to like being submissive by drugging him suggests that a man wouldn't 'normally' be receptive to it. This is just utter balderdash and only serves to make submissive men feel that they are wrong/not normal/blah. Grrrrrr.

So, one of the other big problems for me was the portrayal of lesbians in this story. Or dykes as Verdad so charmingly (and derogatorily) puts it. They're portrayed as unpleasant, perverted and evil. Amanda has a whole back-story about how she was put upon by the lesbian girls at public boarding school and this is why she's wants bad kinky sex now. The subtext is that if those girls had just had some boys to give them cock, they wouldn't have become lesbians, wouldn't have started with all that bad kinky stuff and wouldn't have driven Amanda to do utterly stupid things like drug men because she wants to be a top, but can't with her lesbian girlfriend. Using marginalized groups (gays, transvestites, kinky, etc.) is a really offensive way of creating villains imo.

So Amanda regularly thinks about her ex when having sex with Ed. When topping, she's thinking about wanting to bottom. I'm confused about why she's so hung up on her ex girlfriend. She also says that she only enjoys things when the man is unwilling, being forced. But.... how does she know if she's so inexperienced? She goes on and on about having succeeded as a top (now that she has Ed), and proven her lesbian ex wrong, and put to rest her demons. At the same time, she's supposed to have had four boyfriends who passed her licking her boots test, and numerous other men who she drugged and who didn't pass. And apparently she's gorgeous, so you wouldn't think she'd lack play mates if she wanted them. So frankly, I'm confused as to how she's such an inexperienced top. It just didn't hang together.

The biggest problem with the writing (as opposed to the plot) was that it was all tell not show. We're told that Ed makes Amanda laugh. We never see it. He doesn't make one witty comment in the whole novella. We're told that Amanda flirts with other women, but we never are shown what she does or how Ed notices and what it makes them feel. We're told that they have a great time together, but we never see them do anything but have negotiations about what sex to have. Because of this, as a reader it's difficult to believe in any of it and still harder to care. Just saying 'and then they had great sex' does not make it sexy experience for the reader.

The switching between first and third person voice wound me up as well. There was frequently "she thought" and then several sentences of first person (not italicized) which made me slightly pov sick (like sea sick, you know?).

Now, I know I was going to go cold turkey on spoilers, but I think that this merits them. Apologies. Look away now if you don't want to know.

Near the end of the story one of Amanda's lesbian ex dommes, along with a whole load of lesbian friends, kidnap Amanda to make a snuff porn film of her and Ed. An academic researcher (also a lesbian, in tweed and glasses) steps over the barrier from researching snuff porn to wanting to make it and her lesbian friends agree to help and be in the film. (Really? Really?) Also, why would you film yourself killing someone then put it on the internet? Wouldn't that make you rather easy to identify? Perhaps the implication is that lesbians are like - yay prison!

Amanda is kidnapped on camera (sort of - skype anyhow) while Ed watches from Vegas (don't ask). Shona also steals the key to his chastity device, says that she'll give it back to him if he comes to see her and that she will hurt Amanda if he doesn't agree. So instead of going and buying some bolt cutters, taking off his chastity device (that he is supposedly so annoyed about), and going to the police, what do you think Ed does? Oh yes, he decides that without any plan, any backup or any ability to look after himself, he's going to go and rescue Amanda. (Face palm.) I think it's that he turns up still in the chastity device that really gets me. FFS, a chastity device is about trust, it's not actually that difficult to get out of if you don't care about breaking the lock. This whole situation isn't helped by the fact that while Ed is away, he is suddenly fantasizing about dominating women - any women, not just Amanda, though her too. And obviously we've heard earlier that Amanda isn't a twue domme, because she still wants to bottom, thinks topping is too hard work and is thinking about Shona constantly.

Anyhow, Ed goes and is asked if he will hurt and rape Amanda for this film (he isn't told it's a snuff film at this point). Despite him having fantasized about topping and fucking Amanda, he virtuously refuses. (I wish these characters would decide what the hell they want.) So the evil lesbians overpower him and torture him with a cattle prod. The fluffy kitten lesbian hears about the snuff porn plan and helps Ed and Amanda escape. Before doing so, they somehow conveniently have gasoline and stuff to set the place on fire. Because that's not a dangerous thing to do when you still might get trapped/lost in the building. And arson with people in the building is totally okay if you've been told by a lesbian kitten that they were planning to kill you.

Amanda's old MG is conveniently outside, when they miraculously find their way easily out of the burning building. And Ed somehow knows how to hotwire a car, while Amanda has dissolved into incompetence and tears (she is a woman after all). Ed drives them away and then there is a car and motorbike chase scene, where Ed runs over one of the lesbian bikers - he even considers reversing back over her to make sure she's dead. Give that man an ethical award for remembering that when you're running away, the key is to run away, not stop and try and kill the people who want to kill you (and also film you). Amanda and the fluffy lesbian kitten are away crying and being pathetic somewhere. So Ed saves the day by running over the lesbians, and the book closes with Ed telling Amanda that they can continue to have a relationship, so long as they only have vanilla sex ever again.

So there you go. They're finished with the evil lesbians and promise never to have bad sex ever again. Great message. I found all of this so cartoonish as was totally unbelievable. Bat-shit crazy, and not in a good way.

***End Spoilers***

I'm at a loss to explain how silly I found most of this book. And it wasn't even sexy - all the sexual bits were rather perfunctory. Tab A, slot B. This toy, then that toy, then another toy (literally, Amanda even says "another toy" at one point). And you know, twisted is about it. This novella isn't femdom positive, it isn't female (agency) positive and neither is it kink positive. Given that I don't care for the portrayal of any of the things I love in this book, I can't possibly give it a good grade.

If you like your femdom crazy flavor, then you might enjoy this. Personally, I think there are better mad-cap novellas out there and this one had me blinking in bemusement and rolling my eyes in irritation. Call me old fashioned, but I really do prefer safe sane and consensual. D.

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