In fin de siècle Paris, Cece Dulac is the talk of the town. Hoping to start a new life in the vibrant city, she takes to the stage as an exotic dancer, drawing in the crowds and raking in big money for the Comte de Sevigny.
But when the mesmerist Rossignol invites her to take part in one of his famous seances, Cece leaps at the opportunity for more. Buoyed by best friend Rosie, their first performance is powerful and erotically charged.
But when the lights go up and the audience disperses, something… no, someone remains. And Cece may not be able to control her.
Bringing erotic horror to turn of the century Paris, Antonia Rachel Ward‘s Marionette may be short but it certainly isn’t sweet. Dripping in Gothic ephemera, it blends debauchery, decadence, and desire with a compelling tale of possession – both paranormal and all too earthly.
There are a few content warnings for the sex scenes – the possession aspect of the plot doesn’t always leave much room for enthusiastic consent – and the resolution feels a little too fairy-tale, but there’s certainly something darkly delicious about Ward’s handling of the genre’s tropes when it comes to women, wickedness, and sexuality. Traditional Gothic horror has long since drawn lines between the three, and while the villain of the piece might happily tick all those boxes, Cece herself is both sexually active and morally sound – imagine that!
If there’s one major flaw, it’s love interest George Dashwood – though that’s more down to Marionette‘s brevity rather than anything else. The plot essentially hinges on love-at-first-sight for old George, and while there’s tantalising glimpses of what might have been had we had the page count, he’s just not quite as interesting as Cece, Rossingal, or even besties Rosie and Bastian.
Short, spooky, and spicy, Marionette hits more than it misses. A solid little slice of erotic horror that benefits hugely from its setting.
Antonia Rachel Ward’s Marionette is out now, published by Brigids Gate Press.
Copy provided by publisher through NetGalley for review purposes.