Every once in a while you stumble across a book that makes your jaw drop. Literally.
During my stay in England, I browsed several UBSs in search of old Mills&Boon novels. In Alnwick, an old novel by Charlotte Lamb caught my eye: not only is it called VAMPIRE LOVER, but the cover also depicts a woman suckling a man’s throat — sucking his blood? A paranormal romance from 1994??? By Mills&Boon??? Needless to say, I was intrigued. Besides, this novel was Charlotte Lamb’s 100th romance (can you imagine? 100 books? Wow!), so of course I had to pick it up because I knew I had enjoyed Lamb’s books in the past. (Funnily enough, when I just checked my M&B bookshelf, I couldn’t find ANY novel written by her. *scratching my head* Now, this is strange.)
VAMPIRE LOVER turned out to be no paranormal romance after all, however, it still contains jaw-dropping elements. The title refers to the fact that the heroine, Clare, regards the hero, Denzil Black, as an emotional vampire, latching on to one woman after the other. When Clare’s little sister seems to fall prey to Denzil’s evil charms, Clare decides to take action. And boy, does she take action: she gives him a sleeping potion, then handcuffs him to his own bed, and proceeds to tie his feet up. When he wakes, they first have a big row (naturally, he’s somewhat annoyed at finding himself “trussed up like a chicken for the oven”), before she starts having sex with him — more or less against his will.
Clare, who detests the way Denzil seems to wield power over women, the whole experience is also about turning the tables on him and teaching him something about how women feel. Even though her whole plan of tying him to the bed and waiting until her little sister has safely left the country, is certainly over the top, one cannot help but feel that here she voices her author’s frustation about the situation of women:
“It’s an interesting experience, having a man entirely at my mercy. For most women it’s usually the other way round. There’s a lot of talk about equality, but men still have all the advantages — they’re bigger, tougher, and the social rules favour them. I can’t walk down a street at night, alone, without being afraid; I’d be wary of going back to a man’s flat after a date, or being alone with him anywhere unless I’d known him for years and trusted him.”
On the following pages, Clare relishes the (sexual) power she has over Denzil: she seduces him even though at first he clearly doesn’t want it to happen this way, with him all tied up and not being able to fully participate. She has sex with him, but as soon as she has reached orgasm, she stops and scrambles off him despite his having not yet finished. Orgasm seems to have robbed her of her sexual power, and she actually starts to behave as if she were ashamed — not about tying the poor guy up, but about arousing him and actively taking her pleasure.
Interestingly, in order to justify her behaviour to herself, she again loses herself in her vampire lover / demon lover fantasies: she might be in love with him, but it’s not a healthy love, instead she is “possessed” by him: “In the Middle Ages they had called it being possessed by the devil, and that description seemed apt for Denzil.” At the same time, the reader is already aware that she might be overreacting (just a little), that she is actually running away from her emotions, her sensuality and sexuality. Clare describes herself as “cool and sensible: a good businesswoman, level-headed and down-to-earth.” Being in love scares her half to death.
Thus during their next sexual encounter (and after she has learnt that A) he is not quite the heartless womanizer she thought him to be, and B) he’s dragging around his own share of torment and heartache), it is Denzil who takes the active part: he handcuffs her to his wrist, he takes the top position during sex, but at the same time, she realizes their lovemaking leaves him quite as helpless as herself: “As she slowly returned to life she heard the sounds Denzil was making, as helpless and agonised as her own . . .” In the end, it is Denzil who is able to voice his feelings for her and tell her he loves her, and it is Denzil who understands the power play which is going on between the two of them much better than Clare: while she is still afraid of the power he has over her, he understands that it is a two-way thing and willingly admits: “You have power over me, Clare. I’m yours, all of me. If that isn’t power, what is?”
In many ways this ending might be considered unusual, especially if you compare it with romances written today: you get the impression that a lot of the heroine’s issues are not yet quite resolved, that she doesn’t yet trust him fully, and that their relationship will require a lot more work and effort than is usually the case in modern romances.
VAMPIRE LOVER contains a lot of the elements which earned Lamb the reputation being a revolutionary in the field of romance. On the Harlequin website
you can find the following about her:
Charlotte was a true revolutionary in the field of romance writing. One of the first writers to explore the boundaries of sexual desire, her novels often reflected the forefront of the “sexual revolution” of the 1970s. Her books touched on then-taboo subjects such as child abuse and rape, and she created sexually confident—even dominant—heroines.
Charlotte Lamb wrote more than 160 novels under various pseudonyms. Apart from straight romances for Mills&Boon, she also wrote historical novels and romantic thrillers. She died in 2000.