While we all know giving up everything to please a man is a Very Bad Thing, perhaps it's true that there's power in sacrifice. And maybe there are ways of dedicating oneself to a man's needs which require no loss of self at all, and score a girl a big ol' payoff in the bargain. That's somewhat at the heart of the service provided by the handmaidens who are heroines of Megan Hart's new Order of Solace historical fantasy/romance series.
The Handmaidens of the Order of Solace experience a kind of religious calling. Each time a handmaiden uses her particular skills and attributes to provide a patron with spiritual "solace," many believe she helps a family of deities return to the mortal realm from a kind of heaven. A handmaiden is trained to serve her patron in whatever way most pleases the man or woman, but she isn't a courtesan. Because of certain tenets of the Order which teach a handmaid that it's selfish to think of her needs first, the handmaiden's wishes are not considered, though each handmaiden sets unique boundaries in terms of physical, emotional and sexual interaction.
Though this scenario might sound like a nightmare of women submitting to "heal" men, it's actually one of the most distinctive, edgy, entertaining and erotic set-ups to come 'round the romance stacks in some time. A kind of mash up of everything we love about historical fiction and the contemporary self-determination we long for in our heroines, Hart's handmaiden's tales are surprising in their inventiveness and vigor. Handmaidens submit only to their choice to serve their religion by employing their training to accomplish their goal; we learn their motivations are deeply seated and eventually afford each handmaiden satisfaction on some level and, ultimately, the choice to accept love.
Since the Order of Solace novels are created by Megan Hart, expect deft writing, fever-pitched sensuality and laser-sharp creativity. The anthology "Pleasure and Purpose " tells three handmaiden's tales of leading a conflicted trio of life-long friends toward succor by very different paths, and with handmaiden and patron offering varying enthusiasm in following or succumbing. "No Greater Pleasure ," a stand-alone novel, creates a broader, more intense, yet still romantic world in which handmaid and patron strive to temper their needs on many levels as the patron's wife's emotional illness wrecks havoc on their lives.
In what ways do you think a heroine serving a hero might gain her power? What are some of your favorite Megan Hart reads?