Author: Davina Lee
Content Warnings: Cancer
Genre: Sapphic Erotic Romance
RATING out of 10 violets, with 1 being the least and 10 being the most pain
5/10 appropriately painful violets.
This review contains spoilers.
Pepper’s Penance landed in my lap this past winter when I’d reached out to Twitter’s writing community looking for books on musicians. Davina Lee had promised me a happy(ish) Sapphic love story, and so I was more than willing to take the plunge.
And I’m so glad I did.
Although this blog is dedicated to rating pain levels in queer media so that you don’t have to endure unnecessary tragedy/suffering, you might’ve figured out that I do like my fiction (queer or not) with a healthy dose of pain. This novel, for me, sits at the perfect spot between fluffy painlessness and excruciating pain. There is a healthy dose of doubt that exists within music store owner Ashley Zimmer and pianist Pepper Alverez’s relationship, which makes for a delicious will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic. But Pepper’s deeper past with love and tragic loss (and the possibility that this tragic past will prevent her and Ashley from ending up together) adds a really sincere and achy dimension to the story. So many erotic romances I’ve read seem to be constructed around the sole purpose of setting up for the Big Bang, if you will, but Ashley and Pepper are uniquely charming and deeply complex characters that I ached for once I finished this book (a rather quick read).
Obviously, I expected my favorite parts to be the spicy bits. That is why we read erotic romance, right? But what closely rivaled these scenes were the ones in which Pepper opens up about her complicated past relationship with an older woman, who dies of cancer and leaves Pepper everything she owns. It destroyed me in ways I wasn’t expecting it to. While this book does engaged with the bury your gays trope, it doesn’t leave Pepper entirely destitute and forever alone. Cue Ashley’s entrance into her life.
Although pain figures quite heavily in the second half of the story, it is done so in a way that protects the lovers we care about most. In a way, Lee’s engagement with the bury your gays trope and Sapphic pain seeks to reconcile what we have come to expect out of queer love stories with what is possible now that we are able to write and shape media for ourselves and people like us.
As a repeat fan of Davina Lee’s work, I cannot recommend her more highly.
If you’d like a taste of some of Davina Lee’s other work, check out her website, Wax Philosophic, for free erotica.