Charlotte: Prowling For Enchantment

“I’m a vampire. It’s very boring.”

Thus Ryder, one of the love interests in the CYOA Charlotte, Prowling for Enchantment (Take Control) (also available for iOs). Personally I think it a little risky lamp-shading the tedium of your own characters, but Charlotte doesn’t have much fear on that front. Or how about this:

The bubbling sexuality eating at her flashed into steam.

This is one of those metaphors that’s not so much mixed as fatally mangled at the blender factory. How can a liquid both bubble and eat? Are we talking about a flash-boiled acid here? Or, speaking of hot things you don’t want to be dipped into:

Lava tickled the tender skin between her thighs.

Such a tease, lava. Or

She needed a drink. Of skin.

You just don’t really want to think about that too hard.

The prose is not good — not keenly observed, not stylish or lyrical, not surprising — but it has a glossy professional assurance. And, indeed, the author, who works under the name Mima, has apparently published a whole series of non-interactive paranormal erotic romances.

The premise is that the protagonist has gone on a cruise, not realizing that (a) the cruise is a singles cruise for fantastical beings and (b) she has paranormal powers herself. At once she is being fought over by a vampire and a werewolf (where have I heard this before?). The first choice, therefore, is about which of the two she’s going to spend the night with. From there, many of the additional choices are about whether she is going to use her power, as it turns out she can command people to do her bidding. You would think she would have noticed this before the age of 29, but apparently the power is activated by proximity to bodies of water, and she was raised to avoid them all her life.

Some of the paths have a fair amount of plot; others are almost entirely porn, the kind of porn consisting largely of boggling euphemisms. (“The pleasure roared past like the blue line metro had missed its stop.”)

As CYOA, it’s structurally unusual. The passages between choices are long — the app calls these chapters, and it’s not wrong to do so — and there can be only three or four choices in a complete play-through. This makes the choices seem more surprising when they appear, because there’s so much that Charlotte decides to do of her own accord that getting agency back is a little startling. It is also a bit of a drag on replay (at least, I thought so), because there’s necessarily such a lot of previously-seen text to reread before one gets to any new branches.

It does offer a fairly polished interface, though, and the credit text on the iOs version is interesting: it invites published authors or professional writers to contact Branching Path Books to get their adventures out there.

The tactic of approaching static-fiction authors with an established fan base and getting them to write various types of interactive fiction has been discussed before, but I don’t know of a lot of cases (post-80s, anyway) where it’s happened. Mima isn’t exactly Stephen King, but there are those 19 published erotic romances; and the result is a CYOA that feels fairly different from the average example of the genre, both because of its subject matter (mostly the “silken bar” the vampire has in his pants) and its structure (choice points are rare and feel arbitrarily placed, with the emphasis of the experience still mostly being on the author’s story vision).

11 thoughts on “Charlotte: Prowling For Enchantment

  1. On the bright side, your slating review made me laugh like a silver metro line that was charging into the magenta tunnel of pleasure. Thanks!

  2. “With a giddy laugh she jumped into the crater where her lover’s arms of molten stone were already waiting to catch and caress her. Flames kissed her cheeks. Lava tickled the tender skin between her thighs. As her ardent sighs mixed with his sulfurous panting, Charlotte and Vulcan finally consummated their love.”

    If I am ever reduced to writing soft-core geology-porn for a living, that will be final paragraph of my bestseller “Earthly Delights”.

    Decades later, a perceptive critic will notice how the scene shrewdly mimics and subverts Homunculus’s suicidal love for the sea nymph Galatea in Faust. Der Tragödie zweiter Teil, and a PhD thesis will be written on gender and geology in early 21st century fiction.

    • I would so read that.

      Also, now that you mention it, I dimly recall a story from… what was it? Maybe Fantasy & Science Fiction? …a number of years ago that involved the female protagonist in some kind of very slow-motion coupling with a giant stone statue. I think she may have been turned to stone as well. Something for the appendix of this PhD thesis.

      • I suspect that it may have been from the genre-fantasy AIF Gifts of Phallius 2: The Key to Eternity.

  3. Interesting. (As an artifact, if not as a story; the prose sounds laughable.) The format sounds more like a Japanese “visual novel” game, which tend to feature lots of text and few choices, although VNs are usually illustrated. I guess the company is trying to reach out to paranormal romance fans who maybe aren’t familiar with interactive fiction?

    • There are some sympathies, I think, but CYOA-type VNs tend to involve heavy state-tracking and branches that merge back into a central plot. I haven’t looked closely at Charlotte yet, but my impression is that it doesn’t involve any state-tracking or merging. (It’s too short for those techniques to be much use, for one thing.)

      To me it looks more similar to other Western CYOA books written by experienced freelance writers with no background in game design. VN authors seem to generally have a good working knowledge of the medium; Mima very clearly doesn’t.

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