A Private Collection, Caroline Jane Wetherby takes her story and her storytelling efforts to a whole other level. As much as I enjoyed her first story in the Caroline's Company series, I simply was not prepared for the magnificent ways in which she advanced the core themes and expanded the story threads previously only hinted at.
If you'll allow me to gush for a moment, let's talk about those core themes of love and gender. I honestly cannot remember the last time I read a novel (erotic or otherwise) that took such a sweet, tender, and wholesome approach to a BDSM-themed lifestyle. Although Wetherby explores everything from old-fashioned collars to cutting-edge bio-feedback tails, and shows such wonderful imagination in how she establishes her elaborate role-playing scenes, she never loses sight of the women at the heart of it all. This is not an environment full of degradation and humiliation, but one of mutual pleasure and empowerment.
Similarly, I love the fact that Wetherby embraces, accepts, and empowers so many different expressions one one's self. There are no labels in Caroline's home regarding gender or sexuality. There are no sissies, shemales, transvestites, or transsexuals here - just women who are at a different stage of their personal evolution. There is also no labeling as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, just the rules that sex should always give enjoyment to more than one person, and that it's best for three people to be involved. Cassie in particular really gets a chance to blossom here, and is already shaping up to be one of my favorite literary heroines.
The first third of A Private Collection is a very down-to-earth sort of romantic fiction, with the girls enjoying really growing into their selves and their roles. Remove the kink factor - and Wetherby can be exceptionally kinky - and it could be mistaken for nothing more than a feel-good drama. There's a point, however, where she begins hinting at a bit of darkness with a few very brief scenes that slowly begin coming together in the second half of the story. When the darker plot fully emerges, revealing the fate of a few characters only talked about to this point, the story really climbs to a new level. As she deliberately contrasts the love and affection of Caroline's household with the cruelty and the sorrow of the human slave trade, Wetherby reveals even deeper layers of strength and solidarity in the girls.
This is a wonderfully written novel that is both extraordinarily moving and incredibly arousing. Caroline's world is the kind of home that we all aspire to, a place to feel safe, loved, accepted, and empowered. Wetherby goes to great pains to remind us that the rest of the world is not so friendly, but she also provides hope that goodness can and will prevail.