Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Review: The Virgin by Tiffany Reisz

Cover of The Virgin, featuring a woman's silk-draped posterior and upper thighs. The entire cover is tinted purple against a black background.
THE VIRGIN is the third book in Tiffany Reisz’s White Years sequence and the seventh Original Sinners novel overall. Like the previous books in the subseries, it’s a prequel wrapped in a present day framing story; and like all the rest, you’ll enjoy it most if you’ve already read everything that came before it.

That’s your mission, friends. Find yourself a copy of THE SIREN. Read it. Move along to THE ANGEL. Proceed in publication order from there, with occasional breaks to read the various short stories set in this captivating world. And once you're primed and ready, you can start THE VIRGIN.

Yeah, yeah; I know it seems like I’m asking a lot, expecting you to read six other books so you can read this one, but trust me: it’s worth it. You’re gonna have a hell of a good time. Just see if you don't.

So, yes. This book. THE VIRGIN begins in 2015, the night before a wedding often described as "Nora’s." Everyone needs a break from the stress of event-planning (and partner-satisfying), so Nora, Søren, and Kingsley hole up together and trade stories of the year they all spent apart after Nora left Søren. Which is to say, Nora describes the most exciting parts of her time in her mother’s convent (which: nun sex and writerly shenanigans), Kingsley tells the other two how he met Juliette (which: beach-moping and hot-lady-wooing), and Søren listens.

It’s a structure designed to hook the reader right off the bat. Of course we want to know whose wedding it is (I guessed right! Hurray!). Of course we want to know what went on with Nora and Kingsley during the year nobody ever talks about. Of course we’re gonna dive straight in and come up for air as seldom as possible.

The story proper is packed with Reisz’s trademark blend of hot-ass sexy times and emotional payoff. Everyone has lots of kinky, enjoyable sex. Everyone fosters deep connections with people, some of whom they sleep with and some of whom they don’t. I live for this, y’all. Give me a book packed with kinky bisexuals who feel a lot of things and I’m a happy girl indeed.

Also--and if you're new to the Original Sinners, I promise this isn't a weird contradiction--this instalment is much more religious than the last, since we’re back with Elle (the name of Nora’s youth) and Elle is as religious as she is kinky. On top of her natural inclination towards religion, she's holed up on a convent with no one to talk to except nuns--and one nun in particular is willing to engage with Elle on both religious issues and a physical level.

I loved Kyrie so much, y'all. Elle’s baby nun of a lover is a recent college graduate, new to the order and still a couple years away from her final vows. Kyrie is bright and earnest and totally up front about both her lesbianism and her determination to become a full fledged nun. Her vocation is important to her, as is her sexuality, and she doesn’t see them as contradictory urges. She’s transparently fond of Elle, too--I always love it when people are transparent about the things that make them happy--and she makes an effort in whatever she tries. When her efforts misfire, she still emerges undaunted and willing to try again from another angle.

She and Elle talk about all sorts of stuff, and it’s wonderful. They tackle their lived experiences (with Elle reluctant to say much about what drove her to the convent, for obvious reasons), their personal relationships with God, and Elle’s potential future as a writer. Because this isn’t just the story of how Elle had a torrid affair with a notice nun; it’s also the story of how Elle realized she could really, truly be a writer. And we all know how that turns out for her.

(Unless we haven’t read THE SIREN yet. Remember how we were gonna do that? Yeah.)

It’s so easy to see why Elle climbs into bed with Kyrie. So easy. But lovely and organic as it is, it's bittersweet right from the get-go because we know what they share won’t last. THE VIRGIN is a prequel, and we’ve never heard a peep about Kyrie before this. Reisz is too good to go throwing retcons around willy-nilly, so there’s clearly a reason for that. We know the end is coming, but how? Why? What sunders them so completely that the Nora we know and love hasn’t even mentioned Kyrie to her closest friends until now?

Even knowing Elle couldn’t keep Kyrie without some major narrative cheating in the mix, I almost hoped Nora would reveal she'd just kept her ongoing friendship with Kyrie a secret all these years. I'd be willing to put up with a cheat or two so their friendship could remain intact, even if their sexual relationship had to fall by the wayside. I loved it that much.

Sigh. Such heartache. Such woe. (With, I might add, a solidly in-character resolution that fits well with the book as a whole. It's good woe, y'all.)

In contrast, Kingsley’s story has a known happy ending. We’ve seen him and Juliette together all throughout the previous books. Hell, he’s on hand to say his piece in the framing story because he’s hiding from her lest she utterly exhaust him with her sexual demands.

Kingsley has a hard life.

In his case, too, we’re led to wonder how and why, but here we know we’re headed for a positive outcome. The question then becomes how King and Juliette will overcome what seem to be insurmountable obstacles. Juliette is effectively owned by a man who has a terrible hold over her and whom she can no longer tell herself she loves. She’s also suicidal, partly because of her situation and partly because suicide feels like the only thing she can do for the mother who so desperately needs medical care and the funds to pay for it, which she'll receive from Juliette's life insurance policy. It’s not a nice situation at all, and the reader hopes the way out will be both fair and uplifting.

(Sorta-spoiler: it is.)

Awful circumstances aside, it’s wonderful to finally see Juliette front and centre. She’s the only major character who’s remained largely shrouded by this point in the series. We know her as Nora’s close friend and King’s lover, but we’ve only seen glimpses of who she is to herself. I loved seeing her on her own terms, in a terrible place but determined to move forward anyways. Even if she sometimes finds she makes the most progress by standing still and considering things for a while.

Running through both these intersecting storylines, we have a fair bit about Elle and King’s relationship; who they are in conjunction with one another and how strongly they inform one another's attitudes even when they’re apart. Their often uncertain, ever-shifting connection is one of my favourite things about the series.

Both stories’ endings are perhaps a touch abrupt, but it’s a prequel so I’m willing to shrug and move on from it. We all know where the characters go from here, so maybe the best way to end things off is just to let ‘em roll along. THE VIRGIN’s finale brings every piece in place for the beginning of THE SIREN, with Elle reinvented as Nora the fledgling Dominatrix and writer. It’s a nice backwards capstone for the first book and a great addition to the series.

You want to read it, but remember: read THE SIREN first.

Links

While I always advocate your local library as the absolute best source for books, I recognize this may not be an option for everyone where every book is concerned. If you're in search of another way to read THE VIRGIN, you can try:

  • Koboicon (e-book; for purchase; coupons work)
  • The Book Depository (paperback; for purchase; free shipping worldwide)
  • Amazon (paperback & Kindle; for purchase)

I receive a small percentage of the purchase price if you buy the book through one of the links above.

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