Book Review: Lovers and Beloveds
As you may remember, one of my goals this round was to post more book reviews… since that was, ostensibly why I started this blog. As I faced the final countdown to the end of my MBA capstone project, all the backlog of my frustration with being kept from my beloved fictional worlds boiled over into a few days of binge reading… when I really should have been focused on other things. Nonetheless: I’m officially done with the MBA, AND I now have time to write about what I’ve read. In this case, a high fantasy novel written by MeiLin Miranda–the woman who’s helped Blurb Doctor some of my own work. Since I discovered she set the first in her series perma-free, and she never requested a review, the fact that I have worked with her may or may not make you think I’m biased about what I’ve read–by way of disclaimer, anyway. In my case, it gave me much greater patience with the first few chapters of the book, when I found it disconcertingly easy to put the book down.
However, the payoff was more than worth it. I kept wondering to myself if this book could be classified as New Adult, since it deals primarily with the stickiness of the coming of age of the heir to the throne of Tremont. Prince Temmin is rightly described by one of his father’s advisers as “callow” early on, which, I suspect, was part of my difficulty in connecting with the first part of the tale. He’s naive to the point of stupidity as the story starts, and even though his arc is satisfying in the end, it’s difficult for me to feel much sympathy for one who is stubbornly caught in the victim-of-circumstance mode, while at the same time not questioning the society that has forced him into that mold.
As an example, it’s his flirty sister at his coming-of-age ball who points out:
“Tem, look around,” she whispered as he offered her a proud arm and they proceeded through the genuflecting crowd. “Notice anything?”
“What am I supposed to be noticing?” he whispered back.
“The young men! Look at them. They’re all trimming their beards to look like you–moustaches and sideburns and no chin whiskers!”
He wonders a few times that his older sister, widely regarded as the most intelligent of the siblings, is not herself a candidate for the throne, and comments that she would be better suited to the job. The interesting thing about the way all this is layered in is the unthinking sexism and unconscious power structure it illustrates as backdrop to the greater and deeper theme of empowerment versus disempowerment.
That motif was what hooked me–and disproved the “young” element of the story. The book evolves into full-fledged eroticism of all stripes and a frank and honest look at all the different reasons people can and do have sex. Playing on some of the real-world “debate” about homosexuality, the conversation about why men would choose to be with men or women with women was a useful counterpoint on the one hand, but a strange perspective that sex with the same sex could still leave you virginal.
The other thread, the almost-immortal Teacher who uses a magical book to instruct the heir on the hidden history of his kingdom–and in particular, the story of one of its previous queens–was a unique use of the frame story technique, that (for me) had the subtext of illustrating how powerful well-written stories are in their formation of our intellectual and emotional selves.
Finally, the cast of characters is compelling–and large. The book closes by bringing back to the fore a minor character from the early chapters, and seems to presage another personage facing similar trials to Temmin’s. However, in this case, it also left me vaguely frustrated that the story would end with her rather than the protagonist. I do give the author the leeway of kicking off a series of books in this volume, but wasn’t pleased to feel left at loose ends.
Overall, I would recommend this to those who enjoy high fantasy that focuses on political machinations and coming-of-age tales–but from a very adult (really, almost erotica) perspective. The couple of weaknesses I saw were more than compensated for by the compelling world-building, intriguing magic, and complex individuals relating to what it means to be an adult making one’s way through a layered world. I will be reading Son in Sorrow when I get the chance, which is perhaps the strongest indication of how much I enjoyed my foray into the Greater Kingdom.