Review: The Siren by Tiffany Reisz

Filed in 3 Stars , featured , Review , The Danger Lover , Tiffany Reisz Posted on August 2, 2012 @ 11:00 am 6 comments

The Siren by Tiffany Reisz

Format Read: E-book purchased by reviewer
Length: 432 Pages
Genre: Erotic Fiction, BDSM
Release Date: July 24, 2012
Publisher: Mira
Formats Available: Paperback, Kindle, Nook
Purchasing Info: Authorʼs Website | Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Book Depository US | IndieBound | Kindle | Nook.

Book Blurb:

The Siren is a modern-day retelling of My Fair Lady with uptight English literary fiction editor Zachary Easton as an unwilling Professor Higgins and well-known wild child Nora Sutherlin as his erotica-writing Eliza Doolittle. Zach only has six weeks left at Royal House New York before he heads to Los Angeles to take over as Chief Managing Editor at Royal West. When his boss orders him to help Nora Sutherlin rewrite her latest novel, Zach agrees to work with her only if he is given complete control over the fate of her book. If Nora doesn’t rewrite it to his satisfaction in six weeks, Royal won’t publish it.

Zach calls Nora a “guttersnipe writer” but she’s not your typical guttersnipe. Her personal life is as torrid as her prose and unbeknownst to Zach, her books aren’t her only source of income. Nora is determined to prove Zach wrong, to prove she’s a real writer worthy of his respect. But her good intentions are complicated by her volatile relationship with her virginal nineteen-year-old roommate Wesley and her inability to completely leave her dangerous former lover Søren in the past. Desperate to win Zach’s good opinion of her, Nora keeps her “other job” a secret from him fearing that if he finds out she’s the Underground’s most famous dominatrix he won’t be able to see her as anything other than a sex worker.

The clock is ticking. Nora has six weeks and five hundred pages to rewrite. Will she be able to keep her focus and prove she’s a professional writer? Or will she pick the business of pleasure over the business of writing? As the work on her book progresses, Zach and Nora forge a tenuous truce that turns into friendship and intense attraction. Still grieving his broken marriage, Zach is slow to trust Nora. When he discovers the secrets she’s been keeping from him, will Zach be able to forgive her and sign her contract? Or will he send her back to the gutter where he found her?

My Thoughts

I had to think about The Siren for a long time before trying to commit my thoughts to page. I’ve tried to invest more time in reading BDSM themed novels that implement Dominance and Submission (D/s) disciplines in recent years then I did previously. I read the Sleeping Beauty Chronicles  in the 80’s, although I didn’t finish the trilogy, much later did return to it and finished reading the books. While I found the stories disturbing I was able to compartmentalize it in my mind as fantasy and respect the author’s work. I’ve also read a couple of Joey Hill’s vampire novels that employ a full spectrum of BDSM disciplines including S/M but again, these were vampires so, while unsettling, it was a paranormal world so I was able to keep it in context.

The Siren is a contemporary work, and the author writes vivid, raw descriptive prose making the realism very potent. I have to be honest and say I found this book to be like a psychological minefield and just when I thought I’d safely stepped out of it I’d turn the page and another bomb would detonate. The thing is I did read the book over the course of one day and couldn’t not finish even though its content provoked a myriad of emotions including heartache, disgust and anger. In my view, that is the sign of a gifted and intelligent writer, one who can evoke significant emotion by embedding her well-drawn characters into a plot that keeps a reader engaged. It helped to read Tiffany Reisz’ responses in her interview posted here this morning regarding her work. Her characters, for the most part, are certainly complex and damaged.

The story has a number of narrative threads involving Nora Sutherland and the men in her life. As the synopsis describes she lives a covert existence as an in demand and very well compensated Dominatrix who also writes erotica. Nora is not taken seriously by the literary community as her work is considered trash. Enter Zachary Easton, a British editor who is considered one of the top talents in the business. Zach was enticed to come and work for a New York publishing house when his marriage disintegrated but the couple haven’t divorced. It’s evident from the beginning that Zach still loves his wife and is grieving, missing her terribly. He has accepted a promotion and in six weeks will leave for Los Angeles. Zach then gets bulldozed into working with Nora, a writer whom he initially holds in contempt–but there is a proviso: the book doesn’t go to press until he signs off on it. Ergo, Zach heads to Connecticut “to meet some loony smut writer who somehow convinced one of the most respected lions in publishing that she deserved one of the best editors in literary fiction.”

Nora isn’t at all what Zach expected, the petite beauty lives in a Tudor cottage situated in a quiet suburb with her 19 year old ‘intern’ Wesley. I quite enjoyed the parts of the story that revolve around Zach and Nora’s relationship, their banter and how her writing progresses under his tutelage. As the realization dawns  that she is talented writer, capable of producing a stellar piece of work, Zach begins to respect her and from the beginning he is attracted to her sexually. I also really liked Wesley, who I saw as mature beyond his years and the one person in Nora’s bizarre life who provides common sense and stability. Their relationship is platonic, he is infatuated with her and Nora loves him but she doesn’t want to disrupt their friendship. Wes hates her ‘other life’ and Søren, her ex.

Throughout the novel Nora shares her memories that manifest through her writing which she deletes when her musings involve her past relationship with Søren. She cannot disclose their history because exposure would lead to a myriad of problems for him. One could argue, that exposure is the best thing that could happen for the world given this guy’s violent predilections. Anyway, Søren is a sexual sadist who trained Nora from the age of 18 to be his submissive slave. Her recollections reveal startling cruelty and are not for the faint of heart. Nora endured merciless whippings, canings and other torture, and she was made to crawl around on the floor at Søren’s feet while collared and leashed like a dog. As well, he forced her to perform sexual favors in front of an audience and shared her with another dominant in an underground BDSM club called Circle 8 where Søren is considered the Master. The scenes are violent and realistic. Nora reflects on the pain, the degradation, how she could hear the lash or cane whipping through the air before it bit into her flesh. She laments that all of this was okay because after all, she had a safe-word and Søren, being the wonderful man that he is, would stop the torment immediately if she used it. Theirs was a bond of love and trust. Hmmmm…..

Even before Søren is actually introduced in the story I felt loathing and contempt for him. This is a respected authority figure that met an impressionable 16-year-old Nora who immediately became infatuated with the handsome, charismatic 30-year-old Søren. Instead of behaving like a responsible adult and allowing her infatuation to wane, 2 years later he indoctrinated her into his underground world of depravity. I felt Søren abused and corrupted her. Nora left Søren 5 years prior to the opening of the story but struggles to cope or function with any sort of normalcy in her life. It’s no wonder, she was enslaved to her Master for at least a decade prior walking out or crawling as she puts it.

The thing is, in Søren, Reisz crafts a magnetic and brilliant orator, a master of debate who presents convincing pseudo-philosophical arguments to justify his perversions and violent sadistic traits. His oratory skills are in evidence when we first meet him at Circle 8. Søren makes his entrance with his sycophants groveling on the floor around him kissing his feet. He instills fear in those who frequent the club which has a hierarchy that I found similar to the Catholic church. At Circle 8 Søren is the Pope, and a dangerous one. Nora brings Zach to the club, or ‘hell’ as she refers to it, not expecting her ex to make an appearance. Zach soon learns he is not going win an argument with Søren. Their exchange is interesting, the debauchery in evidence at the club is an eye opener for an appalled Zach as he is escorted around for a ‘tour’.

There are numerous themes explored in this book including religion, particularly Catholicism. Nora was raised a Catholic and therefore the church’s teachings are deeply rooted in her psyche. I thought that maybe, even though she no longer attends church, her acceptance of Søren’s punishments could perhaps have been about penance and seeking absolution for her perceived sins? However, given her enslavement to a sadist it would seem that absolution will never be forthcoming as her slavemaster would never give it. As I read on I realized that Zach’s observation that Nora is mad was likely accurate. But if she is mad it is due to Søren’s impact and control of her life.

The author spares readers many of the gritty details showing Nora in her Dominatrix role excluding one f/f scene, but that is handled well. As you can tell I was deeply disturbed by this story for a number of reasons. I felt it was a sad tale about violent abuse and codependency. Nora constantly makes excuses for Søren’s predilections and brutality, claiming he is  good, decent and trustworthy even though he refers to a human being as “a pet” or gives a suicidal minor to Nora as a “gift” to be sexually initiated because Søren identifies this kid with father issues as a submissive. She laments that his treatment of her and the life style is okay because some loves only come out after dark. If the dark involves beating your partner to the point of requiring Emergency medical assessment and treatment then, I’m sorry, it’s not okay, its inexcusable brutal physical abuse, it is harmful. I’m not going to even attempt to address the psychological issues raised in this story.

The Siren is provocative and frightening. Recognizing it is a work of fiction, one does have to keep the philosophical arguments regarding sadomasochism espoused in the book in context. However I don’t have to agree that brutality and degradation is okay as long as it’s consensual. IMO it’s not acceptable. I don’t feel this book is for everyone, you have to be willing to step way outside the box to take Nora’s journey with her. I will say the conclusion of The Siren broke my heart. Will I read The Angel, the next novel in Reisz’s The Original Sinners series? …No.

I give The Siren 3 Stars

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

About Lea

Lea is an animal loving, tree hugging vegetarian who lives in Toronto, Canada with her family, which includes three dogs. She is a prolific reader and has been blogging and reviewing since 2008. Lea is a contributor at the USA Today HEA Blog and an active member at Goodreads.

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Join the Discussion
  • blodeuedd August 2, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    Hm, everyone seems to be loving this one and now

    • Lea August 3, 2012 at 3:49 pm

      Thanks for your comment B! I’m sure this book provokes different thought &/or concerns for everyone. 🙂

  • Bells August 3, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    Lea this was the best and most thought provoking review that I have read of The Siren so far. I had a lot of the same feelings regarding the characters and can understand why you felt the way you did. It’s definitely a book that one has to be read and form their own opinion about it. Well done!

    • Lea August 3, 2012 at 3:51 pm

      Thanks so much Bells and I agree completely. It’s not a book to be taken lightly and I’m sure will provoke varied opinions from everyone who chooses to read it. 🙂

  • Sarah (The Brazen Bookworm) August 4, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    Psychological minefield, indeed. It took me a while to fully understand my feelings about this book (truly, I’m still reeling from it!) and I understand the difficulty that comes with reviewing the novel. Ultimately, I took it as a positive reading experience (not sure I can really say I *like* it) but I could easily have gone either way.

    I appreciate your perspective on this book, and also your openness about what you liked/didn’t liked. Regardless, it’s not an easy book to read, and I also felt it couldn’t just be dismissed simply because one’s not a fan of BDSM. I completely understand not wanting to continue with the series – I think I will, but not any time soon. Book one was a stressful read…I need a recovery period first.

    • Lea August 5, 2012 at 11:46 am

      Hi Sarah:

      Thank you for your note. I totally understand and appreciate your perspective with regard to this read as well, as I mentioned, my issues were not with the writer and looking purely from the aspect of the writing it’s excellent. I’ve been so interested to read all the different viewpoints regarding the read and certainly respect those who wish to continue on with the series. It’s not that I don’t like BDSM as a genre, I have and continue to read other authors. 😉

      Thank you again for offering your thoughts and expressing that it was a difficult read for you too. I really appreciate it. 🙂

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