Engines of Desire: Tales of Love and Other Horrors by Livia Llewellyn is a collection of ten short fantastical and erotic horror stories that seems inspired by a feverish nightmare where O, in a fit of hatred and rage at René and Sir Stephen, turns their BDSM tactics into torture. It is a fine book written with such personal and illustrative prose that you often feel as if you’re viewing the action through the harried eyes of the narrator. It is dark, engaging, and stirring in all the right ways.
There are no happy endings here. No one grows up or learns a morality lesson or becomes a better person through hardship. Bad things happen because bad things happen. Reading more than a few stories at a time left me feeling drained, as if I just sat through Antichrist again. They are harrowing and unrelentingly bleak. As much as these stories appear to be erotic, in fact, they aren’t really about sex at all. They are about the fear of sex, of what it causes and what it inspires. The heroines are either consumed by their sexual desires to the detriment and destruction of all others, are pitted against the fruits of their sexual labors, or are forced to confront the savage nature of those their sexual energy attracts.
Occasionally it felt like I was reading a few chapters from the middle of a book rather than a self-contained short story. What happens to Ensley, Jet and Sidabras, and June? What of the apocalypses, wars, and revolutions? Yet the absence of answers and information wasn’t as problematic as it could’ve been. Fingers crossed she expands a few of these stories into full-fledged novels.
Llewellyn also tends to use horrific imagery as a patch between plot holes, as if she got so lost in the violence she was creating that she couldn’t see the forest for the girl-eating trees, but I still enjoyed them. A few I found myself drawn to, returning again and again to that terrifying thing in that quiet suburban basement and the murderous acid trip in the wastelands of Washington state.
There are two kinds of reactions to horror. The first is the most common. Your heart begins to race, you breath quickens into short gasps, and stress and anxiety build until you are consumed with utter panic. Then there’s the other, darker kind where your heartbeat becomes a low, deep, echoing boom, your breath becomes faint and shallow until it stops altogether, and time slows, giving you time to fully experience ever slice of pain, pleasure, agony, and despair imaginable. Engines of Desire is the latter. It is a frothing vortex of lust-fueled horror that shackles itself to the reader and won’t let go until the final page is turned.
Alex Brown is a digital archivist by passion, reference librarian by profession, writer by moonlight, and all around geek who watches entirely too much TV. She is prone to collecting out-of-print copies of books by Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen, and Douglas Adams, probably knows far too much about pop culture than is healthy, and thinks her rats Hywel and Odd are the cutest things ever to exist in the whole of eternity. You can follow her on Twitter if you dare...