When we last joined our hero Paul in his book-cover odyssey, he was in a dystopian future in which he was slowly learning to express his smoldering inner self in two key ways: skimpy clothing and discreet bondage. Both of these key ways might have felt a bit risky for a young man who, despite an exhibitionist streak a mile wide, is essentially a shy person – but jobs beckoned, and nothing in the Undergear catalog calls for its models to be roped to one of the swaying palm trees or gritty fire escapes in the background of their shots (one suspects the magazine’s sales would quintuple if they did). Fulfillment had to be sought elsewhere.
Then in 2007 author Joey W. Hill came along, and Paul got the chance of a lifetime. Not only could the whole skimpy clothing/light bondage motif get a sexy purple spotlight turned upon it, but there could be the added safety-precaution of relative anonymity. On the cover of Hills scorchingly erotic novel The Vampire Queen’s Servant, we see the broad, muscular, naked back of a man; a woman’s nails are raking appreciatively up his trapezius, and his tense, fisted hands are cuffed at the small of his back. The man’s face is turned entirely away from us – only those who are already very familiar with Paul’s appearance (perhaps even in similar poses? Who can say?) would be able to identify him.
But surely his identity is not a surprise to those of us who’ve been Under the Covers with Paul Marron so long? The compact musculature, the stiff, bristly brown hair, the defiant demeanor – only our Paul could smolder so effectively without even looking at us!
He smolders throughout the book, too. In Hill’s addictive story, he’s Jacob, part-time carney and one-time vampire hunter, who voluntarily becomes the sexual thrall of Lady Elyssa, the vampire queen of the book’s title. Lady Elyssa is a thousand years old, and like everybody who hits that magic number, she needs a constant supply of beefy sex slaves – a handsome, defiant young man who’ll obey her every whim, cater to her rather feisty sexual appetite, and submit to any kind of bondage she happens to think up. And in exchange, said slave gets a drastically prolonged lifespan and an eternally-young bedmate. It’s like Renfield, only without the bugs – and with a whole coffin-full of kinks.
Naturally, Paul is willing to make the trade, although at first he can scarcely imagine the full degree of helplessness Lady Elyssa will force him to endure – nor really experience it either, since at first he persists in performing nightly escapes from his chains/cuffs/shackles. These escapes confound Lady Elyssa, and Hill is very skilled at conveying that her confusion comes at least as much from her own reluctance to punish her errant manservant for this cheeky behavior as it does from wondering how the heck he does it.
The bondage Paul accepts here is total – he’s suspended, chained, stretched, immobilized, and toyed with. Actually, since Hill isn’t coy I shouldn’t be either: Paul is rogered by Lady Elyssa, rogered repeatedly, rogered good and proper, and he does plenty of rogering in return. If Hill had written this book in 1907 instead of 2010, she’d have been jailed, tried in a kangaroo court, and burned at the stake on Boston Common. Even in our more depraved-enlightened times, reading The Vampire Queen’s Servant is virtually guaranteed to produce extremely pleasant palpitations in pretty much any part of you that’s inclined to palpitating. Passages like this one are among the tamer ones:
He’d never been forced to submission by a woman, never gotten aroused by it as she’d made him respond. At least to himself, he was forced to admit the thing imprisoning his cock made him hard mainly because she’d wanted to put it on him. It made him think of how she’d described the pleasure of slowly binding a servant, letting him feel his gradual descent into helplessness. The clasp of the cock harness kept the image of her hands there. The fascinated desire in her eyes ran through his mind, over and over.
The oddest thing about the book is that in the midst of all these exotic accessories and gyroscopic body parts, there’s an actual story, and Hill is, I suspect, such a geek that at times the story almost threatens to actually distract the reader from the presence of Paul grimly struggling against ropes and chains only a few paragraphs away – something I, at least, wouldn’t have thought possible. Lady Elyssa is very old and very powerful, ruler of a distant vampire bloodline, and she’s in a constant power-struggle with the Vampire Council, where she’s not an official member but rather a kind of unaligned rival power. Hill has worked out the details of her imaginary world precisely (or else she’s spent time at a certain retail bookstore-chain whose power structure is rather eerily echoed here):
The vampire world was divided into Regions, groupings of territories won through battle or influence during the formation of the current vampire society, before the Council had been appointed. The heads of those Regions were known as Master vampires. A vampire who accumulated enough wealth and influence might be awarded an overlord title and a territory inside the Region by the Council, preferably with the consent of the Region Master. Vampires lacking the power or experience to be an overlord applied to reside in a territory. The overlord then put then in charge of different business interests. In return the vampires gave the overlord a percentage for his protection and backing. The overlords served the Region Master.
Odd but true: if Hill didn’t have a rather depraved set of ants in her pants, she could easily write some very good vampire novels. Even considering the shackles and chains, she’s done just that.
And what of Paul, I hear you all asking? Is this the great awakening that will lead him to find his true book-cover destiny? Is this the beginning of the Age of Paul that must be the culmination of any series such as this?
Oddly, no. Having leaped to embrace the twofold path to fulfilling his destiny, it’s possible that Paul felt he’d gone too far, too fast (or perhaps the unspoken implications of the cover of one of Hill’s sequels – in which not only is Paul now clearly recognizable but he’s sharing space with another man – were too risque). What followed The Vampire Queen’s Servant, as we’ll see, was a spasm of conservatism – and a jump in genres – that must have left many a Paul fan quite confused. We’ll begin sorting it all out, next time.