NSFW Book Review: Best Bondage Erotica of the Year edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel

Title: Best Bondage Erotica of the Year

Author: Rachel Kramer Bussel

Publisher: Cleis Press

Publication Date: March 10, 2020

Genres: Erotica

Shelves: Female-fronted, Female-authored, Female-dominant

There are some anthologies I pick up because I’m excited about the theme, and others because there are a few authors I can count on, and a select few that I feel drawn to because I trust the editor. Best Bondage Erotica of the Year checks all those boxes. The bondage theme speaks to me, there were a handful of authors I recognized, and Rachel Kramer Bussel is one of those editors I trust – implicitly – to assemble a solid collection of stories.

The anthology opens with a pair of well-paired stories, one having some fun with a contemporary meme and the other with a century-old medical legend. In Chained, Ria Restrepo introduces us to a home improvement store employee who is fascinated by the weight and feel of chain, opening a world of self-bondage, discovery, and exploration. With Impropriety, Winter Blair tackles the idea of vibrators having been used to cure hysteria in Victorian times, but with a feminist twist that reclaims a woman’s sexuality rather than treating it as a disorder.

Protocol by Angora Shade was one of three wildly imaginative stories in the collection, mixing space puns and gentle female dominance with weightless sex, while Richard Bacula’s Beach Blanket Ballet puts being buried in the sand in a whole new context, making something intensely erotic of what we generally think of as innocent fun. From the skies above to the sands below, these were both a lot of fun.

Kneel by Kate Allure was one of my favorites, an intimate, emotional, psychological story that is as much about the erotic power exchange and the need for submission as it is about bondage. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Coldwell has some fun with the neighborhood sex party idea in BYOB, engaging friendly D/s couples in a little erotic exhibitionism.

Freefall is one story I really want to call out, another favorite of mine – although it certainly wasn’t at first. Valerie Alexander opens with a series of encounters that seem sleazy, rough, crude, and potentially even abusive, taking us to seedy sex stores, trashy carnivals, and dingy clubs, but cleverly spins things in such a way that we come away feeling relieved (yet still very dirty), and reminded not to judge other people’s kinks.

Delicate Matters by Leandra Vane was a fun story of relieving stress with priceless museum props and costumes, using the fear of damage to further submission, while Stronghold by Leif Often was a bit of an odd story about feuding neighbors, secret desires, and make-up sex that left me with a lot of questions, but still amused. Necessary Roughness turns that suburban comfort inward, with Rachel Kramer Bussel herself sharing an intimate, loving story about the contrast between personal and professional roles, the loving side of domination, and the bliss of being freed from responsibility. Like Kneel, this one really spoke to me, really got inside my head, echoing the personal appeal of such relationships for me.

Safe Sex was another of those wildly imaginative tales, about which I am afraid to say much lest I give the concept away, but Violet R. Jones does fantastic things with intimacy, tenderness, and restraint – and all for a rather shocking reason. The Student Seat by Sommer Marsden was a simple, low-tech story of bondage and belts that I thought captured the D/s dynamic very well, while Tiffany Reisz closes the collection on another imaginative note, blurring cosplay and medieval role play to erotic effect in The Beguiling of Merlin.

Ultimately, what I think makes Best Bondage Erotica of the Year such a powerful, satisfying read is the diversity of the characters and themes, taking us from the intimacy of domestic dominance to the hedonism of public exhibitionism, and balancing traditional implements of bondage with re-purposed everyday items. More importantly, with the exception of Freefall, where degradation is part of the kink, these are all sex-positive, kink-positive stories where we are free to explore without fear of shame, judgment, or humiliation. Once again, Rachel Kramer Bussel proves her eye for fiction, with another winning anthology.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ 1/2

My sincere thanks to the author for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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