Since writing more of my own fiction, I find it difficult to read for pleasure anymore. I’m constantly analyzing books like a writer, studying their literary qualities and what I can learn from them for my own writing, and I’m often hyper-critical. As a result it is rare these days for me to fall head over heels for a book anymore. I miss those innocent, halcyon days.
Enter “The Orchid and The Lion” by Gabriel Hargrave. I am absolutely, positively smitten with this book. I devoured it from beginning to end. I loved everything about it, even the present tense narration, which is one of those literary elements that people love to hate (for some reason I’ve never understood. If it serves the story, and it’s edited well, why not?). This book is a writer’s pleasure read. What’s more, I rarely read erotica. I certainly don’t seek it out. I’ve even had it on my list of taboo genres for years; you know, stuff you just don’t care to read, you don’t enjoy it, you don’t get it.
I didn’t seek out this self-published book but I’ve enjoyed interactions with the author on Twitter. I find a lot of my favorite self-published books on Twitter; not because I think tweets are fiction, or representative of anyone’s writing; but you learn a lot about an author’s sensibilities, what details they notice and think are important to include in their documentation of their day, how they see the world. From the excerpts I read I knew it would be my kind of book. Literary erotica set in space. Queer sex workers. Political intrigue. Reading this book felt like every chapter was a treasure. I even enjoyed the sex. Believe me, there’s a lot of it, and it’s explicit. Usually that’s something I glaze over, and often find cornily done, but in this case, I loved it.
“The Orchid” is the stage name for Dorian Vidales, the most fabulous femme gay man working at a brothel on a space station. Back on Earth, Purity Laws have restricted the freedom of LGBTQ and marginalized people to express themselves as they are, so people escaped to this space station and built the world they wanted to live in. Dorian isn’t looking for a relationship; he is married to his job and boyfriends inevitably become jealous and want him to give it up. One day Dorian meets Laith Ritter, a gorgeous, bratty trans man who becomes “The Lion,” the newest sex worker at the brothel. Dorian’s assigned to train Laith in the ways of being a sub. But Dorian never expected to fall for him so hard. Neither did I.
This book is just beautiful from front to back. I loved the power of the present tense; it dropped you with immediacy into the worlds of Laith and Dorian. So often self-published books are full of typos and grammatical inconsistencies, but there was absolutely no tense switching in this book; it was seamless. Usually people don’t like present tense, I feel, because it is usually poorly done. Not so here.
But it was the characters I really fell in love with. I enjoyed the sex scenes because I loved the respectful, inclusive and loving depictions of queer love. I obviously need to read more queer erotica, but like I said, I’m extremely picky. I don’t like being this way but it is what it is. I suppose if I were to have any criticism of this book I would say sometimes it was so respectful that I wanted Dorian to, ahem, abuse Laith a bit more without asking permission first, although I know that is a stereotypical perception of BDSM relationships. He was just so dang courteous. Eventually that settled into the comfort of knowing someone well and the awkwardness fell away.
All in all, this hidden gem of a book was a hot, kinky, gorgeous celebration of queer love, sex work and people who just want to be accepted for who they are, with a dash of literary veneer. Highly recommend.