Monday, January 26, 2009

Bordello Dolls by Ellen Ashe

TITLE: Bordello Dolls
AUTHOR: Ellen Ashe
PUBLISHER: Total-e-bound
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 11k)
GENRE: Paranormal horror erotic romance
COST: ₤1.69

Scarlet Boujois, visionary, feels smothered by the demands others place on her abilities. She looks for peace whenever she can, and when she takes a stroll before a heavy summer storm, she stumbles across a small antique shop. Its owner, the enigmatic Nicolai Van Adler, proves unreadable, and far too seductive to resist. Scarlet falls under his spell, but even though someone warns her of a ghostly bordello and its evil owner – a man who bears the same name as her new lover – all she wants is to find him again…

Ellen Ashe is one of those authors I want to love, which is why I always look at her new releases with interest. She’s one of the more original authors out there, both in style and ideas, and when so many of the books I read can bleed together or be forgotten completely within a few weeks, originality is good. She has a remarkable talent for creating atmospheric works. This short story is definitely not an exception.

Though I didn’t fall head over heels for this, I can most assuredly say it’s my favorite of the three stories I’ve read of hers so far. Her prose is sumptuous, with a definite Baroque quality to it, especially as she describes the bordello and its denizens. It fits the subject matter perfectly; the entire opening of Scarlet’s thoughts on storms as she heads out for a walk before one is creative, rich, and a joy to read. A lot of this skill is prevalent throughout the story, but while the editing on this is tighter than it has been in earlier works, there are enough sloppy mistakes to weaken her prose. Nicolai’s last name, for instance, takes on two different spellings throughout; sometimes, it’s Van Adler, and others, it’s Van Alder. There are a few tense shifts, spelling mistakes, and assorted other minor problems as well. I know a lot of people won’t even notice them, but frankly, considering how lavish her prose can be, for this reader the mistakes detract from being able to enjoy it. Because that is by far her best talent in writing.

The story is not your typical romance. Ashe likes to take a look at the macabre, and in this case, the hero is creepy and malevolent, a pimp for his prostitutes even as he seeks out his mate. Scarlet is sucked under his spell; the entire story is much like Dracula as Scarlet embodies both Lucy and Mina, and the bordello dolls mirror the female vampires Dracula keeps at his castle. There is definite menace there, but the construct of the romance remains true, as long as you look at it from the hero and heroine’s perspective. They love each other, they want to be together, anybody that opposes that is the villain. Even if the villain is not someone who would normally be considered evil in the everyday world.

Even knowing all that, I can’t say that the romance really works for me as strongly as the rest of the story does. I find the focus on atmosphere and setting ends up shortchanging both leads’ characterization. Scarlet’s motivations are skimmed over – the sex is good, and she can’t stop thinking about Nikolai, therefore she must seek him out. There’s the bonus that she can’t read his soul, but that’s never fully explored. Scarlet ends up coming across like a puppet for the first half of the story as a result. Nikolai fares a little better, but because his history is shadowed so much, I ended up having a lot more questions about him than answers. Both become guides leading me through the story, instead of real people I get sucked into believing.

Because of the author’s voice and originality, though, this is a story that lingers long after it’s over. I don’t love Ellen Ashe yet, but if she keeps improving as she has been, and sticks with these dark tales that she so clearly adores, I have high hopes that I will.


8/10 – Sumptuous prose, though some sloppy editorial mistakes hold it back


6/10 – Some dark promise there, but there are too many questions cheated of answers in this short format to make him truly satisfying


5/10 – Her motivations are kept superficial because of the format

Entertainment value

8/10 – A story that lingers, long after it’s done

World building

9/10 – Original and lavish



No comments: