It’s Smut Vault time yet again, and this time, we’re delighted to bring you something new. When you consider romance, there might be a word that comes to mind: Harlequin. For better or worse, Harlequin is the gold standard of romance lit, and today’s novel shows that they’re still bringing the heat… 70 years later. That’s all well and good, but can Harlequin satisfy today’s young, hip erotica fans as well as the lusty old broads fantasizing about these stories on their beach chairs (not that there’s anything wrong with that)? Right this way, step through the double steel doors with us and see what the Babe Ruth of our genre has to offer.
The Rose by Tiffany Reisz is a romance novel that takes a moment to settle in, and that appears to be purely by design. What begins as a prim and proper European examination in high class manners soon evolves into an environment of sexual deviancy and other worldly vessels for an alternate reality.
From the top: the Gardening & Tennis Club of Wingthorn Hall is preparing for an elegant evening hostessed by the young and demure Ophelia Anne Fitzroy Godwick, who is thankfully referred to as Lia for the rest of the proceedings. Lia is celebrating her graduation along with her smart, sophisticated girlfriends. Attending as well are Lia’s family and some business associates, including a jaw-droppingly handsome gentleman who looks like trouble with a capital T. Oh by the way, there’s not much gardening or tennis involved in this club, mind you…as it’s more of an escort service. Lia’s father is a count, or an earl, or some sort of fancy rich guy, but most importantly he’s a sexual deviant…and so is Lia’s mother. Moreover, this is a family of sexual mavericks that stretch back across generations. In short: old money, old sex, this family is a portrait of smut and a perfect family for such an enticing romance novel. Anyway, Lia’s graduation party is going fairly well, and she’s received a lovely gift from her father, a brilliant wine cup or “kylix” marked with a beautiful rose. Greek and thousands of years old, this artifact must have cost a fortune, and Lia is beyond delighted to have this in her possession. Unfortunately, the handsome trouble maker is interested too, and steals Lia away to talk about her new gift.
The atmosphere in The Rose is expressed by its sheer amount of dialogue. The word that best describes it is, “talky.” If you’re a fan of older movies, consider any of the classics by Robert Altman, like Gosford Park with a 2019 edge. Whenever there’s more than one person in the room, it’s a constant back and forth that makes Gilmore Girls look like a librarian’s study hall. It’s witty and smart, but damn their jaws must be sore by the end of the night (niiiice). Some of the best dialogue is as you might expect, between Lia and the troublesome August Bowman. August is many things, but among them he is a collector of fine Greek artifacts. He warns that her gift is no ordinary kylix, but the mythical “Rose Kylix” that would be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands. One drink out the Kylix and all the drinker’s sexual fantasies will come true, down to the smallest detail. August is going to get that Kylix, but it doesn’t mean he can’t fulfill Lia’s every desire as well…
Through the use of the Kylix comes The Rose’s unique characteristic. Most romance novels come from two points of view, The Rose comes from two different realities. Keeping it simple and avoiding spoilers: the sexual partners discuss a fantasy, typically something from mythology, and then that fantasy is explored in its most graphic detail. I’m not the resident expert on mythology at TehBen, however I believe the sexual fantasies are fairly good homages to their source material. Good homages, but quite verbose as well. This being a Harlequin novel requires each sex scene’s text to be roughly the length of a vengeful spouse’s divorce deposition…so have yourself a nice long bath drawn before investing yourself. Still, there’s a great mixture of fantasies throughout the novel: hero/savior, consenting-non-consent, three-ways, and even a few twists towards the end. This interpretation of sexual mechanics using a fantasy land was a welcome change from the typical “girl gives in way too easy to a guy she just met” to new experiences. It’s odd to say this when the main plot points of this novel come from discussing a magic sex cup, but hey, I’m just keeping things realistic.
Verdict: The Rose by Tiffany Reisz lives up to the Harlequin Romance standard producing an enjoyable novel and fun characters. With a few twists and turns keeping things from growing stale combined with a the raw power of a diesel locomotive’s sex drive, both romance and erotica readers will leave satisfied. So long as you like your characters sharp witted and verbose (so very, very, verbose) have a sip from your favorite Kylix and prepare to traverse a world of sex, mythology, and the very concept of fate itself.