Book Article

Sexy Novels: Who's on Top?

Which series is racier — ''50 Shades of Grey'' or ''Reflected in You''?

E.L. James first revealed Fifty Shades of Grey to the world by self-publishing it in 2011. A year later, Sylvia Day launched her own erotic trilogy when she self-published Bared to You. This is not to suggest Day was ripping James off. Day was a prolific romance writer — and clearly knew about sex already. But now the novelists are intertwined. At press time, James' trilogy about Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey held the top three spots on the New York Times trade-paperback fiction best-seller list. Bared to You, about Eva Tramell and Gideon Cross, was fourth. With Reflected in You about to hit stores, we compare and contrast.

Who's the better writer?
E.L. James: ''Writing'' has little to do with it. For better — okay, and sometimes worse — James writes as if she's hot and bothered and using a crayon: '''Oh yes!' he groans as he slams into me.''

Sylvia Day: Day's prose is more polished. Sex scenes just seem to scroll out of her printer by the yard: ''I felt the raging beat of his heart against my chest...''

Whose characters had worse childhoods?
E.L. James: Christian's obsession with bondage is rooted in abuse. Anastasia's uneventful life, however, doesn't quite explain her compulsion to exclaim ''Holy cow!'' during hot bonking.

Sylvia Day: Eva, an entry-level ad-agency gal, and Gideon, a billionaire, are well matched in not just their horniness but also their haunted pasts: Both are recovering victims of sexual trauma.

Whose characters have cooler hobbies?
E.L. James: Christian has an impressive knack for physics-defying bondage scenarios, especially for a man who doesn't like to be touched. Anastasia is, to put it mildly, a good student and a pleasure to have in class.

Sylvia Day: Gideon has an impressive knack for physiology-defying repeat performances. Eva is forthright about her sexual desires — a feminist upgrade on Anastasia's submissiveness in Fifty Shades of Grey.

Which couple has staying power?
E.L. James: James doesn't describe who her characters are when they aren't ripping each other's clothes off. Still, with a clearly defined dynamic of Christian leading and Anastasia following, the future looks promising. Dull, but promising.

Sylvia Day: Day doesn't tell us if her characters have the shared interests, life goals, and values to sustain companionship when the passion withers. Hence, for equal-opportunity emotional divas Eva and Gideon, separation and psychotherapy may be indicated.

And the winner is ... E.L. James! She's got a way with sex, if not words.

Originally posted Sep 28, 2012 Published in issue #1227 Oct 05, 2012 Order article reprints
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