Lorelei Keyes and Adele Hughes are content, if not entirely happy, running a sham seance business in the English tourist town of Matlock Bath. Lorelei’s business savvy and Adele’s gift for mimicry provide for their needs, but the customers are not the only ones deceived. When a mysterious newcomer, Viola, uncovers a secret, the couple finds their quiet life upended. Viola pulls them onto a transatlantic crossing bound for Adele’s homeland of New York, and the turbulent seas without are nothing compared to the treachery within. Lorelei and Adele face the end of their romance for certain, and may stand to lose much more than that if they cannot discern Viola’s true intentions and rediscover what drew them to one another in the first place.
I went into Lies That Bind well aware that there is such a thing as “erotic horror,” but without much of a sense as to what that might entail. If anything, I imagined a gothic setting for a series of naughty vignettes, and it was hard for me to imagine more disturbing horror tropes set beside (or commingled with) scenes meant to elicit arousal. They struck me as somehow too different in their narrative purposes to really gel.
To all of these concerns, April Yates and Rae Knowles simply scoff and say, “Watch this.”
One strategy that makes Lies That Bind work is that the horror elements (occult societies, body horror, the horror of family, etc.) take a while to announce themselves. And yet, the eroticism of the narrative is itseself always skirting the edges of horror, so it’s not as jarring as one might expect when it finally arrives.
One would do very well to heed the content warnings here, because the sex within this book is not just rough, it is often explicitly violent and abusive, and for every orgasm, there are myriad split lips, broken ribs, and injuries of a much, much more disturbing nature.
I’ll be honest and say that I would not have stuck with the book had it simply been a string of these simultaneously sexy and disturbing scenes, and Lies That Bind not only threads the erotic elements into a compelling narrative, but make it essential to its unfolding.
We are introduced to Lorelei and Adele, who are living something close to an idyllic life in England. Yes, they don’t have much money, and they are forced to perform hokey medium acts to pay the rent, but they’re doing okay. Their larger issue is a lack of communication, a fact that the novel’s antagonist, Viola, leaps upon.
Viola genuinely steals the show here, a fact that troubles me to no end, because she. is. awful. Striding into our protagonists’ lives, she destroys everything, and soon, we are engaged in a trans-Atlantic cruise to New York, during which she continues to cause more and more trouble. Along the way, we realize that we are involved in some sort of dark mystery, that Adele possesses mysterious occult powers, and that hardly anyone is who they appear to be.
It’s quite a feat to pull off, and yet, it all seems to work. For all of the nastiness along the way, we’re still rooting for our star-crossed lovers, and we’re still hissing every time Violet comes on stage, and finally, all of the novel’s elements fall into place in a shockingly satisfying denouement.
A little ways into Lies That Bind, I asked myself, “Who is this book for?” Who wants their S&M this dark and mixed with bloody horror, and by the end, I had to sheepishly admit that maybe, just maybe, I was part of that imagined audience. and now I must enter quiet reflection.
Lies That Bind is available for preorder now and releases on Feb 20th.