Series: PHAETON BLACK, PARANORMAL INVESTIGATOR
Plot Type: 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 11/13/12 to include a review of the second book in the series: The Moonstone and Miss Jones. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of book 1:
BOOK 2: The Moonstone and Miss Jones
The plot revolves around the retrieval of the egg-shaped artifact given to Phaeton by an Egyptian goddess near the end of the previous book. Near the beginning of the 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 Reaper—a 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 London—100 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 of 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 cliffhanger—this 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.
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 flashlight—not invented until 1899).
The series hero is twenty-five-year-old Phaeton Black, one of the rare humans who can see all of the fiends and 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.
BOOK 1: The Seduction of Phaeton Black
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 has 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 clues—and 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 manner—very 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 love—right 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 character—too 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.