I've recently been reading the erotic Sleeping Beauty trilogy by A.N. Roquelore (Anne Rice, actually). It's been on my radar for a few years but honestly hadn't captured my interest. My decision to finally read the books came more out of a sense they'd be a good opportunity to learn something.
Mind you, I read a lot of books - including Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey - for this reason. I'm of the opinion authors can learn something worthwhile from a book, even if the book itself is atrocious...and believe me, some of the books I've "learned from" are definitely atrocious. But in fact, I think the terrible books quite often teach the best lessons, if in a cautionary manner.
But back to the Beauty trilogy. If you don't know, these books explore an alternate epilogue to the traditional Sleeping Beauty myth: a world in which, after the Prince awakens her, Beauty is swept into a new life as a sexual slave, and introduced to a world of bondage, discipline, wildly indulgent sexuality, and decadence. In an author's foreword included in my audiobook editions, Anne Rice describes her intent to make every page one filled with heat, sensuality, and arousal. If readers are going to dog-ear the steamiest parts to return to later, her wish was that every page of the Beauty trilogy would be tagged.
Are they any good? It's a bit hard for me to decide. I have my personal opinions about the actual content, both good and bad, but it's hard to determine my overall approval or disapproval of the trilogy. Certainly I think Rice plays a little fast and loose sometimes with the concept of consent, and since it is such a sticking point for me in other books I have to mention it here as well. The BDSM itself ranges from colorful and genuinely interesting - I enjoy the inclusion of pony play, if merely for the peek at the practice itself - to, quite honestly, boring and repetitive. To be entirely honest, when it comes to pure reading for pleasure, I could isolate a chapter or two that truly appeal - the "soldier's night" gangbang scene in book 2 comes to mind - but I didn't find enough in the books to justify the whole trilogy just for the fun of it.
Doing a little investigation into the reception the trilogy has received, it looks like readers are mostly split down the middle. There's a clear divide between those who love the books and those who loathe them. I skimmed some of the reviews, paying particular mind to those who hated them, and found lots of criticism on the intensity and graphic nature of the sex acts and sexual description. One definite theme among negative reviews seems to be that the books go too far, and this makes them disturbing.
There's also that oh-so-common assertion that Anne Rice herself is revealed as disturbing, "if this is what she's into".
It really ought to go without saying that a writer is not what she writes. While an author of BDSM certainly may be a member of the lifestyle or at least share a level of interest in it, it's never safe to assume the fantasies of the book are the author's own fantasies, laid out for the world to interpret and judge. That's just poor practice, as a reader. Secondly, though, it doesn't necessarily matter whether the author "is into" the lifestyle about which they're writing (as long as they've done their homework to accurately portray anything they may not know from experience). Often enough, in all genres, authors write not only from experience but from interest or curiosity. Writing can be an instrument of learning, for author and reader.
With this in mind, the Sleeping Beauty trilogy strikes me as an experiment in self-indulgence. In a way, it's almost a means of creative masturbation. I don't venture to say whether or not Anne Rice is a practitioner of BDSM or to what level she practices, or whether the acts described in her Beauty books are those she herself finds of interest. My interpretation of the books--and their intensity--is that Rice, as an author, embarked upon a creative curiosity to explore her idea out to the wildest limits.
By casting off a sense of limitation--sitting down to the keyboard and committing to write even the wildest ideas that come to mind--writers give themselves permission to really self-indulge, to explore the "what-ifs". It may take the story into risky places, for sure; sometimes I'll explore a thread of story I have no intention of submitting or publishing, just to see what comes up. My short story Bad Dreams--an erotic "tentacle" themed story--was written in just this fashion. Beginning with a simple "what-if", it ended up a very enjoyable part of my Blood and Fire series. I wrote it for the self-indulgent satisfaction of seeing where a tentacle tale would lead, though, and without really intending it to go anywhere past my own imagining.
An acquaintance once called this type of writing "masturbatory", and while I'm not sure I feel this particular acquaintance really knows anything about writing, I think in this case he hit the nail on the head. It is a bit like masturbation, and like masturbation, it serves multiple purposes for pleasure, education, and growth. When I review the Beauty books as Anne Rice's self-indulgence exploration into unadulterated BDSM, I consider such exercise not only legitimate, but adventurous and bold. The books have enough negative reviews to prove the exercise has its risks, and certainly enough short-sighted readers have taken the books as evidence of the author's own fetishes. It's provocative. And, love the books or hate them, they represent an intriguing erotic experiment.
Ultimately, I wouldn't put the Sleeping Beauty trilogy on my list to re-read, but I do see a lot of value in the creative exercise I feel they represent. Authors should feel encouraged to indulge even their wildest "what-ifs", and do so bravely, if only to see what they can come up with. Who knows? It might be the next great bestseller.