Saturday 17 November 2018

The woman who gave Dan Brown a good whipping

Siobhán Hegarty on the new queen of erotic fiction – and why her latest book is better than 'Fifty Shades'

Sylvia Day toppled Dan Brown from the top of the British bestsellers list.
Sylvia Day toppled Dan Brown from the top of the British bestsellers list.
Author Dan Brown

Siobhan Hegarty

Yes, yes and yes again – the publishing phenomenon that is women's erotic fiction was panting with excitement last week after it spectacularly toppled Dan Brown's Inferno from the top of the UK bestsellers list after just three weeks. Usually Dan would be there for months.

Released on June 4, Japanese-American author Sylvia Day's third novel in her Crossfire series, Entwined with You, has become one of the fastest selling paperback novels since official sales records began, outselling even the EL James Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.

It was at number 1 last week in the UK and it's likely to be at, or very near, the top of the Irish chart this week as well.

To put the sales of Day's Crossfire novels in context, in one week last year, the second book in the series, Reflected in You, outsold the COMBINED sales that week of Iain Banks, Ian McEwan, Philippa Gregory, Marian Keyes, Sebastian Faulks, Philip Pullman, Cathy Kelly, Tom Clancy, Henning Mankell, Yann Martell, Alexander McCall Smith, Harlan Coben, Linwood Barclay, Victoria Hislop, PD James, Pierre Dukan, Stieg Larsson, Ian Rankin, Zadie Smith, Karin Slaughter, Paulo Coelho and Salman Rushdie.

It's an astonishing achievement – and now the runaway success of Entwined with You is being seen as a clear signal that women's erotica is here to stay. And it seems clear that Sylvia Day is the US answer to the UK's EL James.

The 'mommy porn' phenomenon originated online – EL James's Fifty Shades series began on the internet as Twilight-based fan fiction before she gained a seven-figure deal with mainstream publishing house Arrow.

The popularity of the books on e-readers has successfully translated into sky-rocketing sales of printed books – one of the most fascinating developments in the world of publishing for decades.

Crucially, it is being interpreted as a huge vote of confidence in the future of actual paper-and-ink tomes.

So who is better at tying herself in a knot for our entertainment, Day or James? Entwined with You begins as the luscious blonde heroine and her tall, dark lover pick up the pieces after a short but painful break-up, which was initiated by him.

Eva was utterly devastated and is understandably wary when they get back together, until Gideon reveals the lengths he will go to for his lover; he committed one of the most serious crimes it is possible to commit in order to keep her safe, after dangerous demons from her past threatened her safety.

He was forced to finish their steamy affair to throw the police off the scent, but failed to keep away from the insatiable Eva for longer than a couple of weeks.

Once back together, the couple continue their obsession with each other, but the horror of their pasts, along with the additional pressure of keeping their relationship clandestine, spells trouble in paradise.

They are both broken people, with Eva describing Gideon thus: "As beautiful and flawless on the outside as he was damaged and tormented on the inside . . . we would become the mirrors that reflected each other's most private wounds."

Gideon was sexually abused by a man in his youth and suffers from 'atypical sexual parasomnia' – leading him to molest his partner in his sleep. Eva has her own demons, having been raped by her step-brother for years, and she is only too well aware that her lover's sleeping disorder has the ability to destroy them.

Throw Gideon's obsessive need to totally control Eva into the mix and you have one of the most madly dysfunctional, but oddly engaging, relationships ever portrayed in popular fiction.

The sex scenes are as steamy as ever, in this, the third book of a projected five-part series, and Day never spares us the details in relation to exactly what is going where. There is one particular in-depth description of a 'date night' between the lovers that is so over the top that the protagonists become caricatures of themselves.

Day takes romantic love by the scruff of the neck and injects it with a Class-A drug for added intensity, but in Entwined with You also produces a love story that is ultimately sophisticated, engaging, clever and sweet.

The one obvious element that EL James and Sylvia Day have in common is the sheer 'deliciousness' of their male protagonists. Throughout both series, it is the male characters who are the sex objects – which could explain in part the hold these books have over heterosexual female readers.

Some 'feminists' (whatever they are in 2013) took issue with EL James's Fifty Shades series, seeing it as misogynistic, but the opposite is the case. Actually, the heroines in both series are genuinely funny, feisty, independent ladies.

Sylvia Day is the obvious successor of EL James, but writes considerably better. Day's books also boast the four-letter word – 'plot' – something the Fifty Shades trilogy is weak on.

The Crossfire series is many shades darker, funnier and hotter and is everything Fifty Shades could have been, but wasn't.

Dan Brown recently spoke about how he hangs upside down to cure his writer's block. But after getting a whipping in book sales, it is positions of a different kind that he may now want to ponder. In this case, it is most definitely a woman writer who has come out on top.

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