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Monday, June 18, 2012


Author:  Jillian Stone (pen name for Jill Stone)
Plot Type:  Highly Erotic SMR with a touch of Steampunk
Ratings:  V4; S5; H3
Publisher and Titles:  Brava
        The Seduction of Phaeton Black (3/2012)
        The Moonstone and Miss Jones (10/2012)
        The Miss Education of Dr. Exeter (6/2013)  

     This post was revised and updated on 8/26/13 to include a review of The Miss Education of Dr. Exeter, the third novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of books 1 and 2:    

            BOOK 3:  The Miss Education of Dr. Exeter            
     This time around, Stone has turned her spotlight away from Phaeton and America to shine it on Dr. Jason Alexander (Asa) Exeter, Baron de Roos, and his ward, Anatolia (Mia) Chadwick. I'll warn you now that Stone calls this "the most erotic novel in the series," and she lives up to that claim. At the end of book 2, both Mia and Exeter were shocked and awed when Mia suddenly shape-shifted into a black panther. Towards the end of this new book we learn just how Mia picked up her shape-shifting abilities, but at this point, her history is the least of her problems. Unfortunately, Mia can't control her inner cat, and she keeps shifting unexpectedly, at the most inopportune locations and times. When Exeter and his colleagues do some research on shape-shifting, they learn that in order to control her cat, Mia must have frequent sexual release. This set-up reminds me of Laurell K. Hamilton's sex-obsessed Anita Blake, who says in one of her recent novels, "I have to have sex before I can go fight crime."   

     Exeter is described as an "enigmatic half-blooded Persian prince and English baron," who is a medical doctor and a scientist. The relationship between Exeter and Mia has been simmering for quite awhile. She has always been in love with him, but Exeter is twelve years older than Mia and until recently, he viewed her as the child she was when they first met. Now, though, he volunteers to be her sex mentorto teach her all about achieving the "paroxysms" that will put the virginal Mia firmly in control of her cat. Inexplicably, Exeter begins with some light bondage and moves quickly to more explicit and kinky BDSM that includes a brief ménage-à-quatre experience. At one point, he even introduces her to drugs, offering her a hit of cocaine to calm her down when she begins to lose control in downtown Paris. In his dry, professorial manner, he explains that the drug is "Derived from an alkaloid obtained form the leaves of the coca plant, valuable as a local anaesthesiant, also used as a stimulant." (p. 161) The Exeter-Mia love affair is at the heart of the novel as Exeter takes care of Mia's control problems in every conceivable location, from train compartments, to underground tunnels, to a wild and crazy fetish party. 

     Historical note: At one point, Exeter suggests that Mia could visit a doctor to receive a new treatment for hysteria. This reference has its roots in true events: In the 19th century, "hysterical" women were frequently diagnosed as being in need of "release." The 2012 movie, Hysteria, tells the story of Joseph Mortimer Granville, the inventor of the electric vibrator (1883), which was the "modern medical tool" that doctors used to treat this gender-specific "hysteria."

     In the action part of the plot (yes, there is one), Exeter and his allies go to Paris to rescue Phaeton from the villainous Prospero, who has been holding him prisoner in an underground tunnel in the Paris Outremer (a parallel realm that mirrors  a futuristic world) for months. Prospero wants the magical Moonstone that was the center of attention in book 2, and he will do anything to get it away from Phaeton, including an attempt to kidnap America. During those months, poor, pregnant America has been living with Exeter and Mia, wondering if she will ever see her lover again. America is now nine months pregnant, and you can be sure that her baby's birth occurs in this book and that it happens under most unusual and dangerous circumstances.  

     The book ends in a soft cliff-hanger as Exeter and Phaeton begin to question whether some of their friends are telling them the truth about Prospero. Is he as evil as he has been portrayed, or is someone trying to frame him?

     What Stone does to make these books so fascinating and complex is to create compelling story lines filled with suspense, action, and lots of explicit sexual antics. Mia and Exeter don't come close to Phaeton and America in witty, snarky dialogue, but it's fun to watch the sedate and imperturbable Exeter gradually fall hard for Mia while desperately trying to maintain a detached, clinical interest in her shape-shifting dilemma.

     Click HERE to read an excerpt from The Miss Education of Dr. Exeter. You could read this book as a stand-alone, but I wouldn't recommend it because you'd probably be confused by the frequent references to key events and characters from previous books. If you'd like to get a taste for the series at a very reasonable price, the first book is currently priced at $1.99 for Kindle and Nook.       

     Let's call this series Sherlock Holmes with kinky sex and supernatural scoundrels. Set in Victorian London in 1889, this is a world in which supernatural creatures are unknown to most humans. That doesn't mean that they don't exist, though. In this world, various otherworldly creatures, from gods and goddesses to gargoyles and fiends, are visible to a few magically gifted humans

     This is an alternate late-Victorian London, with most of the usual history intact, but with the added spice of a few steampunk innovations. For example, one character pilots a steam-powered airship, and another carries a prototype of a battery-powered "torch" (aka flashlightnot invented until 1899).    

      The series hero is twenty-five-year-old Phaeton Black, one of the rare humans who can see all of the monsters that inhabit London. They have haunted him since his childhood and have caused him to lean heavily on opium and absinthe (aka the "green fairy") to deaden the effects of the supernatural world. Phaeton's next favorite occupation is womanizing. In fact, he lives in the basement flat of a brothel and frequently enjoys the favors of the girls upstairs. At Phaeton's side since he was a child is the small gargoyle he has named Edvar

     Phaeton worked as a consultant, or agent, for Scotland Yard on the Whitehall murder case in 1888, but he was fired when he insisted that a vampire or other supernatural monster was the culprit. As the series begins, Phaeton still has a few friends at the Yard, even though they don't really believe in his supernatural tall tales.        

     The series heroine, whom Phaeton meets in the early pages of book 1, is America Jones, daughter of a Vauda (a Cajun witch) and an English ship owner. As the series opens, America has recently lost her father, who died of heartbreak after his business partner swindled him out of all of his ships and his money. America was raised on her father's ships and has traveled all over the world. As they meet, neither America nor Phaeton believes in love. Both have experienced betrayal and have no trust in anyone but themselves.   

           BOOK 1: The Seduction of Phaeton Black           
     As the story begins, America is facing down the man who stole her father's ships after he and his men caught her in the act of burglarizing his office for evidence. When America manages to escape from them, she runs around a corner, right into Phaeton Black's arms. Her first words to Phaeton are these, "Any moment now, a number of pirates are going to round this corner. They wish to do me harm. I want you to convince them you are near to completing your satisfaction with a street doxy." (p. 15) Phaeton, not being one to turn down a challenge, takes America's words quite literally and tries to achieve both their satisfactionsright up against the nearest alley wall, providing an early, and graphic, foreshadowing of what is to come.

      The plot follows Phaeton and America through two story lines. First is the mystery of a series of murders in which each victim has two small punctures over the carotid artery. Second is America's problem with the pirates. In the pirating case, America and Phaeton team up with Phaeton's friend, Dexter Moore of Scotland Yard. Moore, like Phaeton, is attracted to America, but the sexual tension between America and Phaeton is much too hot and strong to allow any outside flirtations. In the case of the serial murders, Phaeton teams up with Dr. Exeter, a man with unexplained magical abilities whom Phaeton met under mysterious circumstances earlier in his life. Exeter is on the trail of an ancient Egyptian goddess who feeds on human blood like a vampire. Obviously, she is the one responsible for the murders, but catching her seems almost an impossibility. Also assisting on the murder case is Phaeton's friend, Julian/Jinn Ping, an hermaphroditic forensics specialist who helps Phaeton analyze cluesand who appears to be some kind of ancient and powerful entity 

     The two story lines are woven around the frequent, graphic sexual escapades of America and Phaeton. To give you an idea of the level of sexual action, early on in the story Phaeton gives America a copy of the Kama Sutra, and they begin to work their way through it, chapter by chapter, culminating in BDSM in the later scenes. Their sexual romps are described in a light and humorous mannervery different from the grimly kinky descriptions seen in some erotica. Phaeton delights in double entendres and clever repartee, and America responds in a like manner, so the scenes are filled with ribald wit and passionate amusement, along with lots of ardent fornication. Of course, both America and Phaeton keep denying to themselves (and to each other) that they are falling in loveright up until the very last scene, so there are a few of the requisite angst-filled interior monologues sprinkled through the story. Tacked on at the end of the book is a scene in which we learn about a tragic incident in Phaeton's past for which he harbors agonizing guilt. That scene comes out of nowhere, but it does provide some clues into Phaeton's behavior and his charactertoo bad the author didn't weave that bit of information into the story in a more graceful and natural manner. 

    Towards the end of the book (also in a "tacked-on" kind of way), we learn that both Phaeton and Exeter are members of The Gentlemen Shades, a secret society that Phaeton describes as a "band of Gothic mesmerists who fancy themselves warlocks." (p. 326) The Shades are an occultist group whose members, according to Phaeton are "peculiar hominoids and the odd, remnant peer of the realm." (p. 327) Phaeton's sponsor to the group is Ping.  

     This is a fresh and inventive series with well-developed charactersboth lead and supportingand just enough steampunk to make it interesting, but not so much as to overwhelm the plot with gadgetry. If you enjoy erotic paranormal romance, I think you'll love this series.   

     Click HERE to read chapter 1. Click HERE to read RT Book Reviews' "Morgan and Whitney Dish: The Seduction of Phaeton Black," in which the two reviewers try to decide whether Phaeton is a hero or an anti-hero.

          BOOK 2:  The Moonstone and Miss Jones          
     As the story opens, both Phaeton and America are on their way back to London, but on different ships. Phaeton was, as the old joke goes, shanghaied in Shanghai, and he has little or no memory of the past weeks. America is on her ship, Topaz, where she's dealing with her fears about Phaeton's fate and trepidations about her newly discovered pregnancy. By the time the two get back together, America has been attacked by a tentacle-headed monster and Phaeton has gone a few rounds with a family of succubi (some of whom continue to play supporting roles as the plot plays out).

     The plot revolves around the retrieval of the egg-shaped artifact given to Phaeton by an Egyptian goddess toward the end of the previous book. Near the beginning of this book, the egg, which has been safeguarded by Dr. Exeter, is stolen by a horde of spider-legged, radio-controlled, mechanical rodents. Here, Dr. Exeter explains the egg's importance to Phaeton: "Long ago, your gift was...hidden deep inside a Greek pithos....When Pandora broke the jar, its powers were released, but for one at the bottom of the vessel....Hope....What Qadesh gifted you with was a massive energy source." (p. 39) Apparently, that object, which America and Phaeton call the "moonstone," has tremendous powers that can be activated only by Phaeton. Naturally enough, lots of people want access to that power, and to achieve that, they must capture and control Phaeton. Since America is obviously Phaeton's weak point, the bad guys are also after her.
H. P. Lovecraft's

     One of the villains in this book is Lovecraft, an eccentric and brilliant nut-job modeled very loosely on H. P. Lovecraft, the iconic science fiction author. Instead of just writing about fantastic creatures and inventions, this Lovecraft, actually creates monsters that he can (usually) control. One of the most vicious is called a Reapera monstrous killing machine with a tentacled helmet equipped with radio controls. It's description is very similar to the real Lovecraft's cthulhu

     In addition to Phaeton and America, the good guys include Dr. Exeter and the mysterious Nightshades, who serve as bodyguards for America and Phaeton. Gaspar Sinclair also plays a part because he desperately needs the moonstone to keep himself from unraveling after too many trips into the Outremer, a parallel realm that mirrors  a futuristic London100 years into the future. Here, Gaspar describes the Outremer: "It exists in a sea of potent aether, more vision than dream. It is most likely an extra-dimensional plane of existence....a reality much like our own, only starkly different. And their world is unraveling....Think of our worlds as two sides of a single coin....If the powers that be in the Outremer don't restore equilibrium, their side of the coin becomes more and more unstable. As it is, I believe they have already begun to drag us into a dangerous dance." pp. 64-65) The mechanical rats have taken the moonstone to the Outremer, and the shadow government there wants to use the powers of the moonstone to cure the ills of their realm. All of the primary cast members take a few trips to the Outremer, where they find danger, distraction, and lots of sexy fun. Phaeton is particularly enamored with modern-day lingerie, and he has a grand time shopping at Victoria's Secret for thongs for America.  

     The plot has two thin secondary story lines. In the first, which is unresolved, one of Phaeton's succubus friends is literally sucking the life out of wealthy London businessmen. In the second, which is largely undeveloped, America decides to open Moonstone Investigations to provide jobs for herself and the Nightshades and keep London free of supernatural menace. Her motto is "No uncommon psychical disturbance refused."

     This book maintains the same sexual kinkiness as book 1, and it continues to provide a wealth of otherworldly monsters as distractions for the good guys. The ending is a cliff hanger that is preceded by an amorphous glimpse into Phaeton's future, but that quick look may or may not be accurate. The Epilogue poses another cliffhangerthis time for Dr. Exeter, as he makes an astonishing discovery about his ward, Mia. Although the first book has a tighter plot construction and better characterization, this one is also a good read, with America and Phaeton usually just a step ahead of the monsters. The humor generated by the bawdy repartee between America and Phaeton suffers in this book because they don't have as many scenes together as they did in book 1, and when they are alone, they're usually concentrating all of their efforts on mutual sexual gratification, so...not much conversation. This book doesn't have the energy of book 1 and falls a bit flat.

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