I don’t normally combine my reviews, but the moment I finished Seithe (also published under a Strike under the name Gemma Rice), I absolutely knew I wanted to dive into Darkroom and work with the two at once. With Exploits being my only exposure to Poppet, I really didn’t know what to expect from either of these reads, but Seithe was such a dramatically different story that I was immediately curious to see in which direction Darkroom might go.
While I’m not sure I could pick a favourite between the three – they all do different things very well – Seithe is probably the book I would suggest as her most accessible. That’s not to say that it’s tame or predictable or mainstream, just that it plays closest to your expectations . . . although I don't suggest getting too comfortable with those expectations.
Seithe is a slice of supernatural erotica, with a creative twist on the usual ‘gothic’ myths. Phoebe is the kind of character you can relate to as a reader, and that’s what makes Seithe himself so very seductive. From their first public meeting in the gorgeously goth nightclub (which, incidentally, I would love to visit), she falls under his spell, transforming herself to meet his standards, and leading her to private games of torturous pleasure in his lair. It's all to easy to see ourselves in her place, and to willingly follow her into darkness
Darkroom, on the other hand, is an outright tale of horror, complete with a viciously sadistic (and religiously disturbed) villain. Victor believes himself to be an instrument of divine Vengeance, living for the torture and murder of women. Something about Shauna, however, calls to him. No longer content with dominating her physically through torture, he also craves the emotional dominance that comes with being her saviour . . . from himself. Here, rather than wanting to see ourselves in Shauna's place, it's much easier to sympathise with her - from a safe distance, of course.
Like Exploits, all three books deal with power relationships, but in different ways. In Exploits, it was cruel and unhealthy, but still close enough to ‘normal’ to seem realistic. In Seithe, the obsession here goes both ways (creating an artificial sense of equality), and the supernatural element makes it seem so much more acceptable. In Darkroom, we’re back to a one-sided relationship, but one that goes beyond cruel and unhealthy into sadistic and dangerous.
As victims/protagonists, Phoebe and Shauna have a lot in common. Both are damaged women, desperately in need of something indescribable. They’re not weak women, and certainly not your typical damsel in distress, but are definitely susceptible to being on the submissive end of the power relationship. As for the villains, one is a supernatural force of nature, while the other is a very human expression of insanity. Beyond a shared need to dominate, their motives and their methods are as different as night and day.
Personally, I found Seithe to have a much more attractive ending, perhaps because it’s not one I expected Poppet to write. On the other hand, while I didn’t particularly like the ending to Darkroom, I can’t help but appreciate how quietly disturbing it was.
If you’ve yet to experience Poppet’s unique style, her flair for language, and her psychological mastery, I urge you to give her a read. She’ll challenge you as much as she entertains you, and she’ll never make you feel safe within the story, but she’ll ensure you come out the other side. Whether or not you come out unscathed, unchanged, is entirely up to you.