I’m always sad when it’s time to say goodbye to a book series that I love. Today’s review of Tiffany Reisz’s The Mistress is bittersweet for this reason. While it’s the fourth and final book in her Original Sinners series (read my reviews of books 1, 2, & 3) it’s far from the last time we’ll see these characters. You see, Reisz is planning on publishing a further four books on these characters, just in the prequel form. The Priest, The King, The White Queen, and The Red Queen are all slated for release sometime towards the end of 2013. So while this seems like a goodbye….it’s really, a see you later. Joining me in reviewing The Mistress is super bestest reading friend Kelly from Reading With Analysis!
There’s punishment-and then there’s vengeance.
Nora Sutherlin is being held, bound and naked. Under different circumstances, she would enjoy the situation immensely, but her captor isn’t interested in play. Or pity.
As the reality of her impending peril unfolds, Nora becomes Scheherazade, buying each hour of her life with stories-sensual tales of Søren, Kingsley and Wesley, each of whom has tempted and tested and tortured her in his own way. This, Nora realizes, is her life: nothing so simple, so vanilla, as a mere love triangle for her. It’s a knot in a silken cord, a tangled mass of longings of the body and the heart and the mind. And it may unravel at any moment.
But in Nora’s world, no one is ever truly powerless-a cadre of her friends, protectors and lovers stands ready to do anything to save her, even when the only certainty seems to be sacrifice and heartbreak….
PLEASE NOTE: WE’RE HEADED INTO MAJOR SPOILER TERRITORY. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.
Kim: So I guess the beginning is always a good place to start. With the cliffhanger Reisz ended The Prince with, I was anxious as hell starting this book. (I don’t do well with cliffhangers…..can you tell?) That anxiety only increased as I read the first five chapters, which just packed wallop after wallop. Reisz’s masterful writing skills were exquisitely showcased as each character and the role they would fill began unraveling, piece by piece. Giving each character a chess piece that matched them? Genius. It truly did feel as though I was reading/watching a chess master setting up what would turn out to be an epic match.
Kelly: And how. My favorite thing about the beginning was the chess reference, because it clued me in to the level of attention I was going to need to devote to this book while reading it. This wasn’t a story I could just sit back and watch, so to speak; I needed to engage more of my brain to notice the details, catch the references, and enjoy the book on a deeper level. That said, the pacing at the beginning was problematic for me. With each character’s introduction to the drama, overlapping pieces of the backstory were shared again and again. I remarked in my review on The Angel that the beginning was a little slow to build, a little oddly idyllic, considering, and I felt a repeat of that at the beginning of The Mistress. I, and probably most other readers, approached this book with some level of anxiety or anticipation — I mean, come on — but the early chapters are methodical, a little repetitive, and a bit slow, and the result was a trifle unpleasant to experience. Until I got about halfway through the book, I felt like I was on the freeway, late for work, and stuck in a traffic jam. I really wanted to get there, but I could only go as fast as the book would let me, and it was frustrating and stressful.
Kim: I can definitely understand the pacing issues. It did feel as though there was A LOT of repetition (not just in the beginning, but in the entire book overall.) I get that books in a series need to go back and reference scenes/characters/plot elements from previous books. That’s fine. But when you’re more than a quarter of the way into the book, the repetition needs to be coming to a close. If I wanted to read the same things over and over I could have just picked up the earlier books and reread them. Even beyond the first quarter of the book there were pacing issues. At one point everything was happening so quickly I had to stop, back it up, and reread chapters. This was then followed by chapters of time that felt either super slow or way revved up again.
Pacing aside, Reisz’s writing still shines. She’s got a unique way of making you re-evaluate everything you thought you knew. And the loyalties you thought you had? She blows that shit out of the water. It’s no secret that I’ve disliked Søren from the start. He’s (in my eyes) been this cold character that I never warmed to. I was a Wes girl from the start until Kingsley stole my damn heart in The Prince (King had slowly been worming his way into my heart from the start, but it was Prince that did me in.) Anyway – back to Søren. ::deep breath:: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but after reading The Mistress……..I like Søren. In fact…I deeply respect him.
Kelly: Yeah, Søren became my favorite character. I warmed up to him a lot earlier than Kim — The Angel started me down that road, and I absolutely fell for him during The Prince (and discovered a whole world of hate for Wes, but more on that later). In The Mistress he shines. I suppose it makes sense. In The Siren, we see Søren through Nora’s memory, but it’s kind of tainted through her association with Wes, and through Zach’s eyes, but Zach totally does not understand Søren and what he’s about. I suspect that more than a few readers ended up holding on to a bias against Søren without even realizing they were doing it. In The Mistress, Søren shows his true colors, and they’re far different from what you’re taught to expect in The Siren. In a way, it’s one of the fun things about Reisz’s writing… just because something appears a certain way doesn’t mean it actually is that way. Readers do well not to form value judgments based on what they’re shown. There’s always more to the story.
Kim: And that’s probably why Reisz’s writing is so damn good. You think you know, but you have no idea. Yet upon finishing Mistress it ALL makes sense. It’s been there for us from the start, you just had to pick up all the clues along the way.
One other thing I really enjoyed about The Mistress is the way she brought back all of her characters. It felt like a reunion tour for all of the men that were part of Nora’s life. Yet for as many male characters that entered the story it was still about Nora and how she’s impacted and changed (good and bad) each one of them. I think I was most excited for Daniel’s return (if you haven’t read Seven Day Loan I highly recommend it.)
Kelly: Is it awful if I admit that I didn’t like Seven Day Loan? Well, to be fair, I think I’d like it if I read it again, but I didn’t like it when I read it, because I was carrying around so much dislike for Søren.
Kim: I loved it because I disliked him so much! Daniel gave Søren a run for his money, and I LOVED that.
Kelly: Yeah, but she doesn’t stay with Daniel, so I just felt like I’d been jerked around emotionally for nothing.
Kim: I think it gave us insight into the beginning of “Nora.” We see her discovering that maybe the rest of her life doesn’t have to be tied to Søren.
Kelly: I LOVED that Søren referenced that time in The Mistress and had the balls to feel bad about it. If he were real, I would have high-fived him for that.
Kim: He should have felt bad about that shit. I’d have high-fived him for finally having some common sense too.
Moving on to something we DON’T agree with – the ending.
Kelly: Yep… I loved it.. Kim…. not so much.
Kim: Understatement of the century. 🙂
Kelly: So I got to the end, read the last sentence, and then I clapped my hands like a little girl and laughed and laughed and laughed. It was so damn funny. I’d been expecting something god-awful, because I got all these texts from Kim (who finished the book before I did) about the end and how it was crazy, and — while I totally understand what she was talking about — the end didn’t bother me at all. In fact, I loved it. I expected Reisz to get us in the end, and she did.
Kim: So newsflash – I’m an extremely monogamous person. I’ve been open throughout this whole series with the way characters have slept with each other, then with other partners, sharing partners, etc. However, the end of Mistress just pushed me too hard. Let’s back up for a second.
Nora and Søren are held at gunpoint by Kingsley’s INSANE sister who (SURPRISE) isn’t dead like they all thought. Søren has gone into this situation with the intent of sacrificing himself to keep Nora and Kingsley safe. The two people he loves more than anything in the entire world. (See why I like him now?) Anyway – throughout this scene Søren and Nora reveal the very deepest parts of their souls to the other.
We’re going to fast forward now to the conclusion. Everyone is safe. Together. Alive. We find Nora feeling the physical effects of her entrapment to Søren’s dismay. He’s horny and chooses to take his frustrations out on the pavement….running. Grace (Zach’s wife) is still feeling the effects of her conversations with Søren from the night before (she walked to his sacrifice with him.) Nora decides to let Grace have Søren for a night, if she can have Zach for a week later on. All is agreed upon and while Grace is with Søren, Nora goes to Kingsley (I should also mention that Wes and Nora have broken up at this point, and he’s sleeping with Søren’s niece Laila.)
Now here is where my frustration lies.
A.) Grace is happily married to Zach. They’ve worked through their issues and are desperately trying to start a family. Zach gives Grace permission to go to the Eighth Circle and have her own erotic experience (as he did during their separation.) Alright – I’m with you there – an eye for an eye. But to give Nora a week with Zach? Maybe I’m too close-minded to understand it, but I’m not sharing my husband with anyone, for anything.
B.) Sticking with Grace for a second. Søren sleeps with her. We’ve learned since becoming a priest he’s only shared his body with Nora and Kingsley. That makes a statement to me. For him to suddenly share his body with Grace because she walked him to what he thought would be his sacrifice…..I don’t know. I “get” that he’s rewarding her, but I don’t see her being rewarded with something of that magnitude.
Kelly: I’m just going to butt in here, because that’s what I do. It’s true that Søren doesn’t share his body of
ten, but I wonder if that’s because so few people earn a place on that very short list rather than that he’s interested in keeping the list super short. Do you know what I mean? It didn’t bother me that he shared himself with Grace, because she earned it. Her walking with him to his sacrifice is huge. It’s like the women following behind Christ as he heads to Golgotha. It’s kind of sacrifice in itself… those women — and Grace — don’t try to stop the sacrifice from taking place, but they recognize it, understand it, appreciate it, and then provide much-needed comfort so that the one to be sacrificed can endure it. If I read it correctly (and if my theology is right), Søren might not have gotten to the house if Grace hadn’t gone with him, or it would have been a hell of a lot more difficult for him to go alone. In addition to that journey, Grace gives Søren her faith, trusting implicitly that Nora was right when she called him the best of men. She doesn’t place qualifiers on what he can do with her, she just gives him herself, knowing what it means. For that kind of… the only word I can think of is faithfulness, Grace gets a mighty reward, and there’s really only one thing she wants (and sex with Søren is kind of a means to an end, if you know what I mean.)
Kim: I probably have such a huge problem understanding the magnitude of the statement because I’m not a believer in faith. Sure I believe in helping your fellow man and spreading kindness, but grand gestures of blind faith are lost on me. Maybe this makes me a lost soul, but I live my life trying to spread kindness and love. If it makes me a bad person for not having faith, so be it. But back to the point, the whole doing it for faith and receiving faith — I just don’t get it.
Kelly: Most of what I thought was so amazing about this book (about the whole series, really) is the way that it incorporates all these Biblical references and elements into a story that is otherwise about a bunch of kinky people. I love the unexpectedness, the funky juxtaposition. But I wonder if folk who aren’t familiar with those references will enjoy the stories as much as I did (or maybe they’ll enjoy them as much, but for very different reasons?)
Kim: That’s a really good question. The more I talk with you about the book the more I see I’ve missed “deeper meanings.” It’s a good thing I’ve read this series with you. You’ve become my faith guru – haha.
Back in Mistress land….While Grace is with Søren, Nora skips off to be with Kingsley. I can understand this coupling. Together they have the weight of Søren’s love, and in some way it’s always been the three of them in that relationship. I LOVED the final scene of the three of them together. So perfect. After everything Kingsley has gone through (prior books and this one) it was fantastic to see him finally get the recognition and love he deserved and craved. His status as my favorite sinner was firmly cemented by the end.
Kelly: For the rest of it, the polyamory, for want of a better word, Reisz gives us a clue to the theology that supports these books and characters. During a conversation between Marie-Laure (Kingsley’s sister) and Nora, Nora says, “One person for your entire life? One? Ridiculous. Who needs that kind of pressure? Expecting someone to fulfill all your needs is blasphemy. You’re expecting a human to be God for you.” That quote resonated with me, and I agree with it (to a point). While I practice monogamy, I do think it’s foolish to expect one relationship, one person, to fill every gaping need I have. I’ve seen marriages fall apart because the individuals weren’t adequately supported. Anyway, for a bunch of kinky characters in a book written by a kinky lady, it makes sense to me (I wonder if this paragraph will make my husband nervous…)
Kim: That quote – I can understand how some people would feel that way. And I definitely agree with you that our life is filled with relationships that support us and fill our needs. No one person fills our needs, but in sexual relationship/marriage I’d hope one person can come close to it.
My next irritation was definitely the Laila/Wes storyline. I kid you not, the MINUTE we were introduced to Laila I knew her purpose. I’m over the fact that Wes and Nora aren’t together – they didn’t fit – but for him to move on to Laila 5 minutes after his breakup with Nora? The kid has been pining for her for forever. I don’t see him getting over it in 5 minutes. And he hadn’t even lost his virginity a month prior. Suddenly he’s sleeping with the next thing with legs to show him attention? Had they gotten together for the first time in the epilogue I would have been 100% fine with it. But to have Wes go from the role of panicked fiancée to Laila’s sex god? I had difficulty making that jump.
Kelly: I think that by the time Wes and Nora have their official breakup conversation, Wes has already moved on. He has this giant conversation with Søren wherein he learns to see Nora a little more clearly (and to realize that he’s kind of in love with an imaginary version of her), and then he has a similar reckoning with Kingsley. Then it becomes pretty damn obvious that Søren is a significantly better dude than Wes thought, that Nora is a significantly better woman than he thought, and also that Nora doesn’t really need him (at all). After all of that, he talks to Nora. And then he has comfortable vanilla sex with Laila. I dunno… it just didn’t feel that abrupt to me (also, he’s a 20-year-old boy/man…) I think if I had liked Wes better as a character, I would have been irritated when he got relegated to the background, but I didn’t, and it felt like justice.
I hated Wes so much in The Prince. I was like, this fucking kid… he’s so privileged and innocently arrogant that he thinks he can swoop in and save Nora. From what? From Søren? From herself? He doesn’t even try to understand her — just makes value judgments based on his own ignorance and privilege — and assumes that because he can give her a life that he doesn’t even realize she doesn’t want or need, he deserves her? No. Fuck that.
Kim: Kel and I could debate Wes for weeks. He’s definitely a character that people react to strongly.
In closing, were there things that bothered us about this book? Yes. But Reisz’s writing, characters, and masterful storytelling abilities make all the problems fade into the background. I think I can speak for both Kelly and I when I say Reisz has found fans for life in us.
Kelly: Exactly. Anywhere Reisz wants to take me as a reader, I want to go.
Kim’s Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Kelly’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars, pacing issues notwithstanding.
The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz
Paperback: 458 pages
Special thanks to Harlequin for our review copies via Netgalley!