I’m in the privileged position of not having to promote a project unless I truly believe in it, so when I do promote a novel or series, it’s because I’d be shoving it into people’s hands if I was still worked in a library or bookstore.
Over the past few months, I’ve been lucky enough to read large, addictive chunks of Maddie Aflame!, Lana Fox‘s (a-maze-ing) new work for Go Deeper Press, so I can say with total honesty that I’m a fan. While you may not get Vulcan-level objectivity from me, you can bet that everything I say comes from a place of genuine excitement and admiration.
This post is the first in a short series on Lana Fox’s new series, Maddie Aflame! The first book comes out in October, so in the weeks leading up to its release, I’m going to look at some of the ideas and themes Ms. Fox explores in this genre-bending story of a young woman with a dangerous gift.
In an attempt to avoid spoilers, I’m just going to toss some high points at you:
- Gorgeously complicated, sexy as fuck characters that break gender stereotypes, sexual stereotypes and all of your grandma’s ideas about what a loving, stable relationship looks like.
- A massively oppressive society that values sexual homogeneity more than the safety of its citizens.
- Lots of sexy times (in lots of sexy ways).
- A mansion that swallows people. No joke.
All of that was enough to pique my interest (especially the mansion. It’s rad), but there’s a lot more to it than sex and hungry houses.
In Maddie Aflame! Lana Fox created a story that draws from the political and cultural realities permeating LBGTQ lives (as well as the cis / straight lives of the people who love and support the LGBTQ community) today. While the story is a sexy, fast-paced adventure through a dystopic, alternate world, the themes that underpin the series reflect serious issues like sexual fluidity, “otherness”, and the struggle to find strength in what the world considers a weakness.
What I especially love about Maddie Aflame!, is that it features something that’s been largely lacking in erotic literature—queer-centered, empowering, inclusive portrayals of characters in their late teens and early twenties. Young adulthood is a challenge, even more so for people who may not conform to societal norms. The fact that Lana Fox tackles those issues here, and did it without sacrificing the book’s compulsive readable-ness is, quite frankly, fucking impressive.
Like I said, I’m a fan.
So, now that you have a spoiler-free sense of the series, I’d like to tackle one of its central themes—queer marginalization and the sense of community that emerges from oppression.
When we meet Maddie, she is fairly alone in a hostile world. She suffers from a dangerous medical condition, her mother’s passed away and her father is gay in a rampantly homophobic society. In this series, LGBTQ people experience everything from institutional and legislative marginalization to violence in the streets. And then they start disappearing.
But inside this social pressure cooker thrive small pockets of community—found families that span every aspect of the LGBTQ spectrum. When Maddie goes on a date with Aud, a girl she’s in a class with, she stumbles into one of these found families and enters into a romantic relationship with Aud and her partner, Raj, that is one of the most supportive and inclusive I’ve ever seen in erotica.
And that’s when everything starts to happen, and Maddie takes her first steps towards freeing both herself from the oppression of her condition, and her society from homophobic repression.
So, here’s what I love about this set-up. The world Maddie lives in is practically defined by queer marginalization. In fact, the overall threat in the series is the eradication and assimilation of LGBTQ citizens. But just as in real life, the marginalized group responds in a beautiful way. Just as with the Stonewall Riots and the early days of AIDS, community becomes a coping strategy and as a strength.
Marginalization has another effect as well. While oppression is (obviously) meant to weaken a group, small acts of defiance signal a strength that allows emotional and sexual bonds to form—bonds like Maddie’s with her found family of lovers and friends. The fluidity of her relationships with Aud, Raj and their friend, Pike, give Maddie a safe place from which to embark on a rescue mission (see, the people-swallowing house) and explore her body’s ability to generate fire, a condition she’s always seen as a disease.
In a world where magic swallows deviants whole, Lana Fox created the ultimate response—a loving group of people who are committed to each other’s well-being and safety. As in real life, those bonds celebrate the strength inherent to the marginalized community, while underscoring how important it is to take part in and support it.
Next week, I’ll be looking at sexual fluidity and how it informs people and relationships in Maddie Aflame!
Maddie Aflame! Book One: The Swallowing Mansion is now available!