The Rose by Tiffany Reisz
On the day of Lia’s university graduation party, her parents—wealthy art collectors with friends in high places—gift her a beautiful wine cup, a rare artifact decorated with roses. It’s a stunning gift, and one that August Bowman, a friend of her parents and a guest at Lia’s party, also has his eye on. The cup, August tells her, is known as the Rose kylix, and it’s no ordinary cup. It was used in the temple ceremonies of Eros, Greek god of erotic love, and has the power to bring the most intimate sexual fantasies to life.
But Lia is skeptical of August’s claims of the cup’s mythology and magic—after all, he’s a collector himself, and she suspects he just wants to get his hands on this impressive piece of art. So he dares her to try it for herself, and when Lia drinks from the Rose kylix she is suddenly immersed in an erotic myth so vivid it seems real—as though she’s living out the most sensual fantasy with August by her side…
Realizing the true power of this ancient and dangerous relic, Lia is even more wary of giving it up, though August insists it is only safe with him. He’s willing to pay the full value of the cup, but Lia has another type of trade in mind. One that finds them more tangled up in each other—and in fantasy—than either was prepared for.
Real talk: there’s nothing I love more than brainy erotica.
Because, at heart, I am a romance reader. Sure, I dabble in fantasy and history and contemporary literature, but if there isn’t at least a hint of a romantic subplot, you bet your ass I’ll probably knock a half star off the rating. Sure, I’ll chalk it up to some other “reason”, but that’s bullshit.
Don’t judge me.
The problem with my overwhelming love of romance is that I demand a lot from it. I’ve read so much of the genre that my pet peeves have morphed into giant, book eating monsters. If too many of them appear, they’ll tear the thing apart in my hands.
Ragebeast male leads? Fuck that noise. Dubious consent? I’m out! Insta-love? *vomits noisely*
But give me a consensual slow-burn and I’m happy. Add in a bunch of accurate history and I am delirious. That’s what The Rose does.
You can tell that Reisz did her research here. Or that she’s at least as big of a history nerd as I am. Because it’s not just the Greek myths that permeate these pages, but some well-placed, casual mentions of other historical facts. There’s a passage about Mary Shelley’s Mathilda that is especially poignant, delivered in such a crushing way that I had to set my kindle down for a second and say a little pray of thanks to the pantheon that I was born when I was.
History has not been kind to women.
For me, this book contains the best form of historical incorporation. Because really, when you add in this much history, you’re world building. Reisz laid it out in such an organic way that it never felt info-dumpy or forced. And while she acknowledged the cruelty endured by women in Ancient Greece, she found so many ways to subvert it. To have Lia and August re-write these tales while still acknowledging their darker origins.
The blurb for this book is so spot on. Lia is gifted what she’s told is a magical erotic cup, and she is believably reticent about its powers. Even when she and the male lead, August, take their first sips of wine from it and descend into the myth of Andromeda and Perseus, she chalks it up to something rational like hallucinogenic compound traces in the clay paired with hypnosis.
I really appreciated this aspect. So often in stories with paranormal elements something like this happens: “Oh, hey, I’m a vampire!” Followed by, “No shit? Cool!” Here, Lia portrayed the perfect amount of disbelief throughout the entire story.
And whoo boy, what a story it was. Through her and August, I got to relive not only Andromeda and Perseus, but a non-rapey Briseis and Achilles (and Patroclus – oh my!), a gender-swapped Psyche and Eros, a hilarious Dinoysus and Ariadne, Pan, Poseidon, Zeus, you name them, they make an appearance here.
This is my first book by Reisz, and from my friend’s reviews of her other works, I expected to be titillated. I did not expect to ugly-laugh my way through this. Between Lia’s highly inappropriate parents, to her and August’s whip-sharp back and forth dialogue, I spent the entirety of this book as amused as I was turned on.
Quite a feat, because this is hot AF.
But it’s so much more than time-traveling sex. In between the historical flashbacks, there’s another plot unfolding. One revolving around male power and the many ways in which men can hurt women. It was handled so well. The feminism, the progressive thinking on the part of the MCs and their friends and families, the (for once!) positive depiction of prostitution, the subversion of the patriarchy in a million small ways – I AM SO HERE FOR IT.
Even though I was given an ARC of this, I’m buying it when it comes out. Firstly, that cover is gawg. Secondly, I can easily see myself re-reading this over and over again.
If you enjoy braingasms as much as you do orgasms, add this one to your TBR immediately.
And to answer the author’s question in her acknowledgments:
YES, PLEASE. MORE OF THIS SERIES. I LIKED IT SO MUCH I ACTUALLY READ THE ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS FOR ONCE.