Wednesday, August 8, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: The Siren by Tiffany Reisz

The Siren (The Original Sinners #1)
Tiffany Reisz

Release Date: July 24th, 2012
Publisher: MIRA (Harlequin)
Page Count: 427
Source: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Little Bird Publicity in exchange for an honest and unbiased review, as part of the virtual book tour (thank you!!)

It's a man's world, but she's the one on top.

Notorious Nora Sutherlin is famous for her delicious works of erotica, each one more popular with readers than the last. But her latest manuscript is different—more serious, more personal—and she's sure it'll be her breakout book... if it ever sees the light of day.

Zachary Easton holds Nora's fate in his well-manicured hands. The demanding British editor agrees to handle the book on one condition: he wants complete control. Nora must rewrite the entire novel to his exacting standards—in six weeks—or it's no deal.

Nora's grueling writing sessions with Zach are draining... and shockingly arousing. And a dangerous former lover has her wondering which is more torturous—staying away from him... or returning to his bed?

Nora thought she knew everything about being pushed to your limits. But in a world where passion is pain, nothing is ever that simple.

Okay. So this review is going to be very incoherent, and very very long (reminiscent of my senior 4000-word extended essay woohoo), but please bear with me. Yes, I have that much to say about The Siren, and yes, it makes me that big of a bumbling mess. But I'll tell you a secret: all the best books do.

I suppose I should warn you: This book isn't what you're expecting. If you are a fan of romance novels, you will not like The Siren. If you enjoy erotica, smut with explicitly arousing pornographic detail, and no romance in between, you too will be disappointed because The Siren is neither. The blurb and cover indicate otherwise, I know. I picked up this one thinking it was just another Harlequin but with a kinkier theme. I assumed it was a variant of the regular romance novels we know and love/hate, with a cute but trite twist on the heroine who is an erotica author (as opposed to, say, a sexy librarian, single mother, English student, tourist, or whatever other props romance novelists are inclined to use), and another one on the hero, who's a handsome but provocative Brit. Swoon. Sounds like a romance, right? Nice try, but no. To say there is a hero and heroine to begin with, is a ridiculous statement. To the traditional literature fans who demand two protagonists in a love story: you will be sorely dissatisfied; there are none. 

So then, you are brought to ask, why DO I fucking love this book so much. In so many words (or, relatively none at all), it's because The Siren is complex. It's not a book you read and forget about the next day. It's incredibly intelligent in both structure and style: a perfect combination of present-day havoc and brief, flitting memories, with a deep, effortless tone that must be superglue—I couldn't keep my hands off! The pages literally turned themselves. I devoured the whole thing way before I wanted to—before I could even realize.

Remember Carrie's Story? Well, Nora's story isn't too dissimilar, except that it's more emotionally rendering, more scarring. The Siren could be considered its more tasteful yet more convoluted, brutal, destructive, and torturous aftermath. And of course, starring our more human and unforgettable characters. Zach, I feel, is the one I can explain most easily, so I'll talk about him first. Eight years ago, he met the woman of his dreams, albeit, through a ferocious, sexually-charged tumble he swears he never deserved, and he married her. But thirteen months ago, his life began falling apart when she told him to leave. So he hops on a plane to New York to forget about her and focus on his career. A Cambridge professor, he's a much sought-after figure at Royal House Publishing; soon, within the time span of thirteen months, he gains notoriety as being the house's toughest, but best editor, as well as the infamous label, London Fog, because of his cold, shady demeanor.

Nora's plagued by a slightly more elaborate situation, one that's certainly more dangerous and... obscene. She too, is estranged from the man, Søren, who, in many ways, owns her soul, but for Nora, it's by choice. Well, not entirely choice. Mostly it's under the influence of her self-respect, what little of it she has left, as well as of the disapproval of the only person in her entire life she's ever come close to loving. She's been steadily depriving herself of Søren, whom she loves in a twisted, fierce, and selfish way, for five years now, and she's been doing well distracting herself with her soaring career. Not her erotica novelist career—though that's been successful too—but her secret career, the one only the most elite people of the underground world know of. When this circumstance of hers collides with Zach's, his transparency reflects in the most intimate of ways, her own depravity, and sweeps her peaceful, relatively safe life into ruin.

What I just worship, is how well Reisz portrays the tragedies of real-life relationships, including the failure to recognize a lasting love's demons because of the need to deal with first, those of our own. Even though The Siren is highly indulgent in setting, the feelings we see and grow upon, are so, so real. The characters are so complex and so fleshed-out, that I feel the utter aching they are each inflicted with and sharply inhale the searing breaths each of them take. Further, the author's eloquence and novelty shock me. Just in general, everything she comes up with, everything she pens, is astonishing. There are not many authors who are this skilled. So Reisz, I commend.

The Siren is sexier than sex itself, but not because of its explicit scenes. I can't pinpoint this one as erotica because the scenes, while frequent and red-hot, are not the pivot of the novel. They certainly make it a naughtier read, but they aren't what solely constitute it. This isn't another Harlequin, not another aforementioned penny dreadful. You must know what I mean: boy meets girl, boy wants girl, girl finds a reason not to like boy, boy does something to win girl's heart, girl wants boy, sex, marriage, happy ending, boom. The end. Nope. None of that. The Siren has a story other than the expected romantic elements. As a whole, you could view The Siren as a love story, a very tragic, very arresting love story, but it could never be a romance. Romances are meant to make you feel good. The Siren will make you feel so empty, you will want to tear up the book's spine, but so affected, you will then want to make love to its ripped-out pages. I guess that's what separates erotica or erotic romance from erotic literary fiction; this is the kind of material readers will debate about and speculate on for the years to come, rather than binge on in one sitting and fail to ever recall again.

It gets better (or, I argue with myself, worse), though; you think I'm done with my review, hooo boy you're wrong. The best (and most painful) part about The Siren is that it's not about Zach's relationship with Nora. He is a mere passerby in her life, an extremely troubled one at that, one who is vanquishing his own monsters. That isn't to say his involvement with her is insignificant, because the way in which she helps him overcome his angsts will be indistinguishable from the method in which he will help her stave off her own. But once Zach proceeds, she will never be able to influence him again, and vice versa. The Siren is not a romance. Once the two briefly-acquainted lovers have saved each other in ways only they will ever have known, they will move apart, move along, and move on, in order to face (and hopefully fight) the bigger catastrophes they each have managed to push aside for the book's time being. This is one of The Siren's most tragic messages of all: life goes on.

I'm kind of a whore for purgatory when it comes to fiction. The more tragic, the more I grow attached. The Siren, to summarize, is brutal, twisted. It isn't a nice, pleasant story. Charming, wicked, savage, oh yes. But it's not a good story. It's gnawing, it's agonizing. It is hideous and immoral, but I am proud to say, I enjoyed every sentence of it; without one word out of place, The Siren is a true tour de forceMasochists, this one's for you.

The Siren is NOT for everyone, I'll be among many to confess. If you like wholesome stories, stay away. If you like morals, well-being, and happy endings, stay away. If you like missionary position, please—just stay the fuck away. I warn my readers: The Siren prances around topics like statutory rape, sexual violence (BDSM), polyamory, casual sex, sodomy, a wickedly clever pottymouth, and sins under the Catholic church... and well, to civility. Yes, it's an intense, brutal, blasphemous read, both in its harsh sadomasochistic scenes and emotional turmoil, BUT it absolutely will steal your breath away. I disclose not everyone will find The Siren palatable, but guarantee that no reader will finish it without having been thoroughly and salaciously impacted, and that much must be enough to make you want to at least give it a try.

Now, let's have a stupendous and thought-provoking one-way discussion about Nora Sutherlin, the female lead. While I refuse to name a definitive hero and heroine in this book, Nora is, no doubt, our frontwoman. She's as complicated as the plotline itself, and I couldn't love her any more for it. She is, essentially, the ideal female fatale. She is wry, cheeky, sexy, hilarious. Guys want her, girls want to be her... hell, to be honest, girls want her even more. But she also possesses fragility that isn't as deeply embedded into her skin as one would expect. Zach discovers it quite directly, actually. Nora is a masochist in only the most disturbing of ways, a masochist who not only enjoys the strike of the cane and the welts purpling her body, but also the pain arisen from heartbreak and perversion, that stems mainly from self-disgust. And the way to vindicate such vile sins? Well, a lashing or two; that ought to be punishment enough. Nora is a highly flawed character, a walking contradiction, and by all means, not a righteous one. Yet despite her brashness, charm, and impropriety, she is in desperate need of tenderness and care. She is strong, a renown Dominatrix, merciless, dangerous... but she is at the same time, the weakest character, the most miserably vulnerable, in that the worst of pain is always inflicted on her—not by others, not by Søren—but by herself. She is brought to life through Reisz's mastery of words, which almost make her a fantasy of a woman, and even with her mistakes, her awful hideous, selfish ambitions—she is a character I love, and loved even to the end. 

The supporting characters each have roles as great as Nora's, but I feel there isn't enough relevant information in this book to really say much about them. The Siren is anticipated to be a part of an eight-book series (Tiffany, babe, I loVE YOU), so I suspect the ensuing novels will focus on them more. To be quick (though by now you know I'm not a girl of brevity): there's Søren, a terrifying, overarching character. Not much revealed about him, but he's Nora's ex, the one who holds the reigns, the one she swears herself away from. But they're soul mates. Swearing away can only do so much. I'm so intrigued by their incomprehensibly warm and forbidden D/s relationship, and look forward to seeing more of it in The Angel. We've got Wes, Nora's baby-faced roommate, biggest fan, and most powerful authority (second to Søren, of course); he's mine, I love him, don't you lay a finger on him, I swear he's mine ok. Then there's the sexy Griffin, a coworker and former fling of Nora's, and of course, the mysterious, criminal Mr. Kingsley Edge, Nora's... let's call him her employer. Intrigued and confused? You must be.

I promise I'm wrapping this review up. Rather than summarize all katrillion plus ninety-six words above, I'll leave you with this: The Siren is a book that distinguishes hurting from harming, and reveals a broken character's most tragic purging of sins. The Siren proves that we can have fun and be sinfully sexy, naughty, and rogue, but in the end, we are all only just human. The Siren conveys the sheer importance of the craft of writing: bringing people back to life, resurrection with words; and does a little bit of reviving itself. The Siren reveals a grievous lesson: that in the end, if we're lucky, we all return to the people we love, and if we're not, we are destroyed by their persisting memory; and tells us a corrupt secret: that the only way to be cured of a broken heart is to break one back.

My fingers literally trembled as I turned the remaining pages of this one. I am outraged to have to wait until September for the sequel's release. Tiffany, you fucking sadist! You better not disappoint me.

Stephanie Loves: Yeah, so this is kind of against my religion, but I'm going to pick three quotes I revere, a little because I cannot be bothered to narrow down to just one (I already whittled my selection from six!), but mostly because this review needs to be graced by brilliance, pure brilliance, rather than solely that mad rambling you just read above: "She seemed to be trying to stare down the city. He had a feeling the city would blink first.and "'...sacrifice can only get you so far ... although two people can love each other deeply, sometimes love alone doesn't cut it. We can only sacrifice so much of ourselves in a relationship before there's nothing left to love or be loved.'" and "[Her book] felt like a melodrama to her. But then again most relationships falling apart often genuinely degenerated into melodrama. There was no dignity in grief, a truth she knew all too well.These quotes all show that Reisz is not only accomplished in the portrayal of flirting, love, and naughty sex, but also in relationships, in being human, and that makes her observances all the more beautifully and startlingly real.

Radical Rating: 10 hearts: I'm speechless; this book is an extraordinarily amazingly wonderfully fantastically marvelous masterpiece. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥