The most perverted mistress…
The most devoted slaves…
La Contessa is a powerfully intense read, full of torment and pain, and yet still a pleasure to read. S. Nano has a flair for the genre that actually surpasses it, telling a story that works as well as a piece of historical fiction as it does erotica, driven by characters with whom we all too easily become attached.
Roberto, Julia, and Becky are the trio at the core of the story, but only in so much as their lives revolve around that of La Contessa herself. In a city as decadent as eighteenth-century Venice, the wealthy dominatrix is a masterful manipulator, equally adept at stringing up her slaves as she is at pulling the strings of the aristocracy. It takes a while for her wider-ranging plots to make themselves apparent, but the way Nano plays on the politics and social themes of the time is magnificent.
It is Julia who brings Roberto into La Contessa's service, and we know from the start that their romance is going to cause problems, but it's the how and the way that drive much of the story's romantic drama - especially once Becky is introduced as an erotic pawn, used to test the lovers and tempt their jealousies to spill over. Again, it's all about manipulation, and sometimes it's the strings that aren't pulled (yet) that are more dangerous than the ones clenched tight.
Speaking of strings, this story has some of the most innovative and historically accurate scenes of bondage and restraint imaginable, with the most memorable involving an olive press . . . but I'll leave the rest of that to your imagination. The implements of pain themselves are fairly commonplace, but it's in their use that Nano proves his erotic mastery. This is not just a story about pain, but about pain having a purpose. There's a comment made by La Contessa late in the book that I think really defines it:
“To be a true sadist, you must have the artistry of a painter, the perception of a mind reader and,” she lets out a wicked little laugh, “a cruel and twisted imagination. It is not brutal but subtle and refined. It takes a special person to possess it and a particular quality to receive it. Are you that girl Becky?”While the story lacks the over-the-top humor that made Mistress of the Air one of my favorite reads of last year, there is still enough subtle humor to keep the overall tone balanced. For instance, Lucretia and Viola, the two transvestites who keep showing up at the most unexpected moments, slowly revealing their greater purpose in La Contessa's schemes, are brilliantly executed to amuse and confound. Their duality and duplicity are largely illustrative of the story as a whole, and a reminder that this is a book consisting of multiple layers, some flagrantly on display, and others hidden and hinted at.
Kindle Edition, 306 pages
Published January 25th 2018 by Excessica