Saturday, May 21, 2011

Saturday Shorts: Wicked West by Victoria Dahl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are plenty of mediocre novellas, especially now that the market for ebook shorts has exploded. Of course, there are also good novellas and a few great ones. But, rarest of all are novellas that should be required reading for any author looking to cross that line from good to great. Victoria Dahl’s The Wicked West should be required reading for any writer looking to write the perfect erotic short story or novella.

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a short this much (which considering that I feature one each week and genuinely love the format says something). And I was a bit out of my comfort zone as far as the kink in the story, but I. Did. Not. Care. At all. Now, admittedly, my enjoyment was enhanced by the fact that I first read Dahl’s Talk Me Down where the main character, Molly Jennings, writes erotica under the pseudonym Holly Summers. In a stroke of marketing and creative genius, Dahl released this short as Holly Summers, as it’s supposed to be the novel Molly was working on. Don’t let the name game confuse you—the plot stands completely apart from Talk Me Down and is more than just a gimmick. Dahl manages to craft a unique voice that is at once herself, but also seems to stem from the sensibilities of Molly/Holly as a writer.

In this story, Lily, a shy English rose, has arrived in the Wild West to take over her late brother’s house. Sherriff Hale is a gruff, hardened Wyoming lawman who is inexplicably drawn to Lily. The Sherriff is brilliantly characterized because he reacts like an 1800s lawman to his own feelings and desires—he lacks the swagger of a modern guy unperturbed by liking a little kink. Instead the Sherriff is deeply conflicted by his darker desires and pushes Lily away.

Because a short story/novella has far less plot real estate to work with, authors must create believable conflict to drive the story, but also resolve it in a satisfying way rather quickly. Here, the internal conflict is gorgeously laid out with lots of lusty longing and self-recriminations, but the solution is believable as it requires a not-unlikely leap of faith on the part of the Sherriff and Lily.

Dahl also avoids the temptation to set the story within a single 24 or 48 hour period—something that many erotic novellas do, leading to less believable HEAs. Instead the story plays out over the course of weeks, with an external cattle rustling subplot moving time along, and the ultimate resolution takes place a few months later and beautifully shows the way that these two characters have brought out the best in each other. The love scenes are smoking hot, but laced with tons of emotion. I’ve read far more explicit stuff, but the heat factor here is off the charts. (Note there is some light BDSM elements here with a very dominant hero and a heroine who is a true submissive. There’s no backdoor action or other extreme stuff, so I think this might appeal to others who don’t typically venture this far into erotica). Dahl has true winner her, one that showcases her lively voice and her talent for delving deeply into characters’ emotions even as she turns the heat up past high.

1 comment:

  1. Oooh. Nice review. I'm going to have to check this one out. :)