Carnal Devices is short and to the point. A majority of the novella’s not quite 80 pages were dedicated to sex, but the author managed to squeeze in enough character development to intrigue me.
India is a prostitute at a brothel, but she’s still new and hasn’t taken to the profession yet. After a dissatisfied customer complains to the brothel’s owner, Madam Rowena brings Phineas Felter, a sexologist, to coach her. Phineas has long researched sexual behavior and the psychology of pleasure, and is also an inventor of “carnal devices,” which gives the story a vaguely steampunk feel. As India gains confidence in her own sexuality, she also brings Phineas to the point that he might engage in the one thing that he has never done: sex with another man.
India is an interesting character. She starts out being generally repulsed by sex, and thinking that a good prostitute is one that lays back and lets her client do what he wants. By the end, she is a confident, sensual woman. I don’t know if this is the beginning of a series featuring India or a stand-alone story, but it could work either way.
The sex scenes in this story are varied; India has a brief encounter with her madam, she plays with Phineas’s devices, she watches Phineas with another man, and then has a threesome. The author certainly keeps things interesting, and manages to do what few erotica authors can, in my opinion: write hot erotic sex scenes that don’t feel tawdry or crude.
I was a bit perplexed by the setting of the story. It’s more or less a steampunk Victorian London, but the author could have done more to root the story in the setting. There were a few unnecessary historical inconsistencies that would have made sense if it were definitely an alternative reality story, but stood out awkwardly – like name checking a King Augustus. It was more distracting than relevant.
There is no romance in this story, only a mutual respect and affection between India and Phineas. Still, if what you’re looking for is a quick erotica read with writing a few steps above the norm, Carnal Devices is a good place to start.