Sunstone is the cure for all the awful BDSM erotica out there

Sunstone

Kinksters may well be the most diverse people you’ll ever find, each one with their unique combination of personal preferences in the wonderfully vast field of BDSM, yet there is one fact they will wholeheartedly agree on: 50 Shades of Grey is afwul. It is badly written, it features insane and unrealistic characters, it has a laughable plot, the sex scenes are boring and, contrary to its fame, it contains no BDSM to speak of. It is therefore just logical that, right after dissing Anastasia Steele’s antics, the next lamentation is often «But what about some good books about kink? Do they even exist?»

SunstoneThis is actually a pretty sore point. Even disregarding the unending slew of Fifty Shades-clones that keep popping up on a daily basis, the field of whips-and-bondage literature has always been disappointing at best. Never mind the purely pornographic stories and novelettes which abound online: finding an aptly-told tale set in the world of erotic domination is hard, and when you do the passion for kink is usually played as a metaphore for something bleak. Self-destruction, addiction, abuse, political despair, madness, suicide and with an alarming frequency the Jewish holocaust are hidden between the paragraphs to kill any sexyness you might otherwise enjoy too much.

This is why the same few titles appear in most suggested readings lists, but being “not so horrid as to make you want cauterize your genitals away with a soldering iron” is not exactly synonimous with being good. De Sade’s works are political allegories both uncomprehensible for anyone who didn’t study Eighteenth-century French history and so rife with violence to be disgusting for anyone sane; Sacher-Masoch’s picture sexual submission at its most desperate and depressing; Anne Rice’s erotica swings between sleep-inducing and ridiculous; Laura Antoniou’s Marketplace series won’t do anything for you unless you are into a very specific set of fetishes; John Norman’s Gor pretentious pulp fiction is an insult to intelligence… and the list pretty much ends there. All in all, a monumentally silly novel like Story of O ends up looking like a masterpiece by comparison, and yet 63 years after being first published it hardly jives with our current sensibility – especially when you factor in castle-dwelling layabout slavegirls and the oft-overlloked underage characters.

All of which brings us back to the initial question: does good BDSM fiction even exist? I am very happy to report that yes, indeed it does. But it isn’t exactly what you expected (nor it is my own – especially because it isn’t available in English yet). Please let me introduce you to Stjepan Šejić’s Sunstone, a graphic novel in five recently completed volumes that perfectly fits the bill.

Sunstone

This gorgeous work was originally published online as a free webcomic, then collected in paperback form. Pointing out  its obvious visual qualities is superfluous, but the really surprising merit of Sunstone lies in its writing – which I’ll get to in a minute.

The story revolves around Lisa, a budding kinky fiction author whose online literary efforts have been entirely based on fantasy so far… or at least until she meets Ally, freelance programmer/designer extraordinnaire and expert dominatrix with a room full of fetish outfits and BDSM toys but no submissive to play with. They are both young, smart, beautiful and geeky in their quite different ways – and they enter a kink-based relationship apparently destined to turn into a very serious commitment. But real life intrudes to wreck their happiness, in many ways both serious and otherwise.
Without spoiling the plot, it will end well for them and for many of the numerous secondary characters introduced over hundreds of consistently spectacular pages.

What is really great about Sunstone, though,  is that nothing feels contrived or unrealistic (helicopter crashes in the jungle and psychotic ninja ex-girlfriends, anyone?). Every character behaves, thinks and speaks just like real people do – most importantly in all those stupid blunders, insecurities and plain misplaced assumptions that punctuate everyone’s lives.
The protagonists are haunted by plausible past traumas, scared of commitments and afraid of making themselves too vulnerable, not to mention physically fragile, be it a head cold or – ahem – stupidly breaking their fingers during a dramatic gesture. You know, the kind of things that the monodimensionally idealized O, Mr. Benson and Christian Grey will never endure. Oh, and just like you and me, they sometimes get ticklish or goofy right in the middle of a sexy scene.

Sunstone

Because of course there are seriously hot (and, intriguingly, always not overly graphic) scenes, but differently from regular erotica they are both rather realistic and not so important after all. Not as much as the hysterical hangover mental monologues, anyway, or the flashbacks, or the honestly moving scheme behind the story resolution. Or the countless little touches that make Sunstone so relatable for anyone even marginally into BDSM – sometimes told with a graphic skill reminding you of movie editing.

I hoped to complete this review with an interview to the author, but his hectic schedule couldn’t allow that. This only means that I will make sure to take the opportunity when the next volumes of Šejić’s kinky saga come out, for he announced a series of other graphic novels exploring the lives of various supporting characters.
In the meantime, Lisa and Ally’s story will suffice to bring the genre of BDSM fiction some much-needed respect – and real pleasure to the readers.

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