Lovers and Beloveds: An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom Book One
A while back an email popped up in my inbox requesting I read Lovers and Beloveds for review. I did my usual routine of checking the book out, looking at it's reviews, reading the back page copy, and bits and pieces of text. It looked good. My initial impression was steampunk erotic fantasy. It sounded right up my alley.
Then another interesting factoid hit my radar; it was groupfunded, a major plus. If that term means nothing to you, prepare to learn. Groupfunding (more on this in a later article on Kickstarter.com) is a technique where you get a bunch of people to give you money to pay for you to do your project. Call it modern day patronage. On a practical level that means this book was good enough, in the bits and pieces released by the author, to get total strangers to give her money to hire an editor, artist, etc. While total money generated is not a definitive ruler for a book's quality, I've waded through a lot of self-published fiction that no one in their right mind would buy, let alone decide to patronize. I was thrilled to get into this book.
It turns out my initial impressions of Lovers and Beloveds was off, but not in a bad way. It is a coming of age tale wrapped around a story of sexual domination (a story within the story writing technique is used to good effect in this book) exploring how the one story furthers the other. It's a tale of a young man preparing for his eventual kinghood and the paths he may take to get there.
It is set in a fantasy land with an 1890's-1910ish technology level. But the technology is just in the background. To call it steampunk would be similar to calling Sherlock Holmes steampunk, sure it's the right era, but to do so misses the point of steampunk.
It is erotica: coming of age, realpolitik, intelligently crafted with layers and story lines beyond the sex, and wrapped up in the sexual politics of what it means to be a man or a woman erotica. As such, if you don't happen to enjoy reading explicit sex or sexual violence, just put the book down and head for the next one on your list. Assuming such reading does not bother you, go get a copy, you'll be well rewarded.
Lovers and Beloveds uses erotic sex as a vehicle to explore the paths of power and the relationships of dominance and privilege. All things a boy needs to learn to become a man who will be a king. The sex is well written, very hot, and it's easy to see why the main character, Temmin, finds himself aroused and dismayed by that arousal when seeing the main character of the inner story raped.
I think calling this book fantasy might be a bit misleading. There is magic in this world, but it's use is minimal. My guess is that in later books in the series it will become important, (perhaps there will be a magical coming of age in the next book?) but for the opening book it's just sort of there. Really, this reads more like historical fiction than fantasy. Take out the few brief magic bits, and this could very easily be set in a fictionalized 1890's Colonial India or Hong Kong.
Temmin reads as a genuine young man. He's spoiled but trying to be a good person. He can be self-absorbed and whiny, but he's an eighteen-year-old who just had his world turned upside down. He's earned his whininess, and there's something wrong with a person who isn't self absorbed when his entire reality shifts. Basically, the fact that he is annoying on occasion is entirely in character and should the annoying bits be removed, he wouldn't read true.
The writing is tight. Scenes flow from one to the next with no major issues. If there were grammar errors, I didn't notice them. Dialog and voice may not be exceptional, but they were more than competent and worked with the characters. I never found myself thinking, "There's no way Temmin (or any other character) would say that!" There are bits where as a reader I found myself wondering why we were meeting certain characters and plot lines, but the quality of the rest of the story and knowing this is book one of a series makes me think they are the seeds of future plot points. The story within the story may have been a bit longer than strictly necessary, but that's my own personal taste (I tend to skim epic battle scenes), and for all I know in the next book the bits I thought were long may be vitally important.
I look forward to seeing how Temmin will mature into his future.
Lovers and Beloveds is available on Amazon as a physical book for $14.95, a good price for a book that length, and it's a steal on Kindle download for $2.99. You can get it at Smashwords for most other eReader formats. MeiLin Miranda has offered me a free copy to give away, so if you want a shot at it for free, leave a comment, and I'll hold a drawing to see who wins it.