Author: Key Barrett
Publisher: Key Barrett
Publication Date: September 5, 2017
Genres: Historical Erotica
Shelves: Female-dominant, Female-led
There is a quote early in The Harpy that perfectly summarizes the erotic (and, more importantly, romantic) journey through which we follow young Clifton Henry:
A man is beneath a woman, it’s only natural he work his way up to her treasure.
This is the story of a man seeking his place in a relationship, finding it, questioning it, and ultimately seeking to understand it, accept it, and win it all over again. Key Barrett uses the historical backdrop of the Jazz Age to explore a female-led relationship in a time before kinks and fetishes were neither so commonplace no so openly discussed. Barrett makes powerful use of the innocence and naivete of a simpler time to not only accentuate the power exchange but to explore the emotions and psychology behind it.
Rose McQueen is a magnificent creation, a woman who had it all and yet cast it aside for love and power – two things that, for her, are intimately intertwined. She is what the era calls Bizarre, a woman of lust and passion who not only embraces her dominant role in a relationship, but who enjoys the trappings of bondage and submission. As the star of secret stag films, she may be farther from the public eye than as the star of The Harpy, but she enjoys an illicit sort of fame that fulfills her (and pays very well in the process).
Much of the novel’s allure comes from the mystery surrounding Rose. As friends, costars, and studio bosses keep warning Clifton away from her, leading him (and the reader) to question so much about her, we share his doubts and fears. As we’re told at one point in the story:
Trust was the wrong word for what he was feeling. Willing to risk it was a more accurate assessment.
And that’s what this all comes down to – trust and risk. The Harpy is about the risks that we take to be happy, to be successful, to be loved. It is also about the trust required for any relationship, especially one with a female-led power exchange, to truly work. It’s a frustrating relationship, full of struggle and doubt, and that Jazz Age backdrop lends it even greater significance, lending the entire tale a sort of class that further exploits the shock value of 90+ year-old femdom pornography.
I won’t go into detail about all the ways in which Clifton submits to Rose because they need to be experienced within the era and the setting to convey their true power – and to achieve full shock value. What I’d like to address instead is something I alluded to earlier, and that is just how powerfully Barrett conveys the dominant/submissive experience. For instance, I don’t know that I have ever read a better depiction of the ‘black pool’ of subspace than is found here. It’s just so perfect, so intense, it immediately brought me back to the first time I dropped into that pool. Barrett not only gets it, he is able to convey it in a way that I suspect will be just as accessible to vanilla readers.
Lost in pleasure. I’m afraid of this. I’m afraid of me. I want this.
In terms of narrative and storytelling, you could excise the erotic elements and still have an incredibly powerful historical romance with all the tension and thrills of the era – although that would take away half the fun! Barrett knows how to craft convincing characters, and he knows how to tell a story. He draws the reader into the Jazz Age, invites us into Hollywood, and leaves us almost shocked every time we close the book and return to the present. There are a number of twists and turns, secrets and revelations, upon which The Harpy depends, and if you come away from this sharing my soul-deep appreciation for the retrieval of a certain leather harness from a closet . . . well, then I would be proud to call you friend.
Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀
My sincere thanks to the author for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.