If you noticed anything about S/M fiction in over the last year or so, then you know that it's been impossible to get your hands on any of the Marketplace books. When Masquerade Books released the third book in the series, The Trainer, it quickly went through two printings before vanishing from sight. Why? Because Masquerade Books vanished from sight. Yes, no matter how many Masquerade Books you may see on your local Borders bookshelves, they are actually no longer in business.
Fear not. Mystic Rose Books has picked up where Masquerade Books left off, continuing Laura Antoniou's celebrated Marketplace series with the release of The Academy: Tales of the Marketplace. Set in Japan, Antoniou's newest novel places trainer Chris Parker in the heat of the Marketplace's annual gathering where he must present a proposal that could threaten a schism within its ranks. Parker's deft maneuvering amid the politics of the Marketplace becomes a lesson in savvy thinking and honorable actions for the reader.
And that's only part of the novel's rich content. Again, we're treated to Michael LaGuardia and his ongoing struggle to become a trainer. We witness more of the Marketplace in all its variety with pony and dog trainers, in its world-wide diversity which ranges from the upper crust of English society to the wild, wild west of Canada's northwest to the formality and stern expectations of Japanese mores. Plus, we learn even more about the elusive Chris Parker's identity (a Must Do for Parker fans). And, yes, there's the occasional orgy and hot sex too.
However, the one-hand pages are few. Antoniou intentionally puts the sex on simmer so she can turn up the heat on the world-building and she applies the same skill that SF/F writers use in their craft to her book. The result? The Marketplace has never been more fully rendered, and Antoniou's novels are pretty much the only pieces of S/M fiction that explore the inner workings of its world more than it explores sex and sexuality. (And I'd like to think the S/M reading world is big enough to accommodate and celebrate her brand of fiction.)
Just as innovative as Antoniou's world-building focus is her invention and use of her "novelogy" template. She invited authors Karen Taylor, david stein, M. Christian, Cecelia Tan, and Michael Hernandez to contribute a series of short stories to The Academy's pages. Each story weaves itself into the overall novel and furthers the lore of the Marketplace. On the whole, the stories explore everything from the first moments of submission to spotters gone wrong to husband hunting via the Marketplace.
Best of all, as you grow use to the stories' presence in the novel, you find that their interludes begin to take on a Canterbury Tales feel to them. You begin to enjoy their place and presence and look forward to one character or another interrupting the novel to tell you a story. I found the novelogy a warm and wonderful thing and I became as rapt as a child during kindergarten story time.
Perhaps the only real criticism I have with The Academy is Michael LaGuardia's role in the novel. Between The Trainer and The Academy, I invested a lot of energy in Michael (even when I didn't like him), and when Anderson reveals LaGuardia's most likely outcome to Parker and then to see it played out in a few swift pages, it all felt very abrupt and dismaying. Even if Michael's route was preordained, it was worthy of a novel in and of itself, given the amount of time readers have spent with him.
The Academy has smaller quirks as well, too. It's obvious that Antoniou wrote the novel some time ago, what with references to Hong Kong's impending (and now passed) return to mainland China and to the emerging (and now dominant) "World WideWeb." On the one hand, those passages do capture S/M sentiments circa 1996 and, in time, these portrayals will become charming. On the other hand, it does mark just how long Antoniou has waited for this novel to see print and reminds me just how disruptive Masquerade's demise has been for established authors.
Laura's getting back on track, though. Mystic Rose Books will release the first three Marketplace books in coming months, plus Laura's fifth Marketplace book, The Reunion, will follow soon after. She's even at work on a sixth novel, The Inheritor. Given the rich tapestry that Antoniou wove in her newest novel and given the pent-up demand for Marketplace books, the new novels can't see print soon enough. Which is a wonderful position to be in.