Review: Lovers and Beloveds: An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom (Book One)

I can’t remember where I heard about this book. All I know is that people were comparing it to Kushiel’s Legacy, and, as you know, saying that something is “like Kushiel’s Legacy” will practically guarantee that I will give it a read.

So I checked on Kobo and noticed that this book was on sale in ebook format for $2, so I said “What the Hel? I’ll give it a try.”

For those of you who like to judge books by their cover, here’s a visual:

It’s ARTISTIC NUDITY!

Before I go any further, I’d just like to say that I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but as there are some bits in this book that might definitely be triggery for some readers, I hope you will forgive me if I do spoil it a bit, just for the sake of giving everyone a fair warning.

Our main character is young Prince Temmin, who has just reached adulthood and is attempting to navigate the political and sexual intrigues in his father’s court. His world is turned upside down, however, when he falls for a brother and sister who are the human hosts for the god and goddess of love and desire–known as the Lovers. It is said throughout the land that “when Nerr [the male half of the Lovers] gets the heir” (ie. when a virgin member of the royal family joins the Lovers’ Temple) the common people will experience prosperity while the noble houses decline. So Temmin’s involvement with the two people who embody the Lovers–called, funnily enough the Embodiments–is understandably a source of tension between himself and the rest of the court.

However, Temmin’s present struggles are only part of the equation. The king assigns him a tutor–Teacher–who possesses a magic book. The story contained within this book is Lovers and Beloveds’ story-within-a-story about a princess who is cursed to return the desire of anyone who desires her. It’s an interesting framing device, although sometimes the story within a story can drag on for longer than it should.

Before I get too deep into the plot, let me just say that this novel was originally published online in serial format, and it definitely shows. I’ve certainly seen worse, but don’t go into this book looking for ornate prose or a glued-to-the-page kind of story, because that’s not what this book is about. What you will find though, is smut.

I read a review somewhere where the reviewer said that there was no kinky stuff in this novel, and I kind of have to wonder whether they were reading the same book, because here’s a short list of kinky things you will find in this novel:

  • spanking (m/m)
  • whipping/flogging (one woman, multiple men) – Temmin expresses horror at witnessing this and is informed that the one being flogged is actually one of the priestesses, and that the experience is healing for the participants
  • Temmin expressing a desire on multiple occasions to kneel before Issak (the dark-haired man on the cover) and do whatever he tells him to do
  • the not-so-subtle D/s dynamic between one of the villains and his (male) lover
  • Algamatophilia (statue fetish, sort of)
  • one threesome
  • incest (the Lovers are brother and sister, so are their hosts, the Chase is a ritual where the the god Nerr possesses his host and chases his sister-lover Neya, also having possessed her host, when he catches her, sex ensues, you do the math)

The novel is not without its problems, however. The princess’s curse, to return the desire of anyone who wants her is taken to its logical (and horrifying) conclusion, which means that, yes, unfortunately there are erotic scenes of a non-consensual nature (although I would say the curse doesn’t make her incapable of consent). There is also the suggestion that the Embodiments were underage when they began working as prostitutes (the perpetrators are punished for this) but I can’t remember if the book went into much detail over it. What I really found problematic, though, is the suggestion that only heterosexual sex actually “counts” towards losing one’s virginity. Temmin’s first sexual experience (on the first or second page) is with his friend Alvo, who gives Temmin a blowjob (Temmin consents, but is a little confused after the encounter) it’s even said as much that “for our purposes, only sex with a woman will count towards losing your virginity”. Mind you, for the prophecy regarding “Nerr getting the heir” to come to pass, the royal supplicant is required to be a virgin, but one wonders why MeiLin Miranda couldn’t just cut out the scene with Alvo entirely instead of making a problematic statement like “only heterosexual sex actually counts”.

Another issue I had is with the world-building, well, not with the world-building per se. Suffice it to say that I feel Miranda gets it right when it comes to treating religion like its own entity rather than a “set piece”. Even though Tremontine society is at times rigidly patriarchal, the Lovers’ Temple is a very sexually open place and two of the major deities exclusively take lovers of their own sex. (Except for a couple of incidents involving Eddin, a god who can change his sex at will.) There’s so much information that the series has its own wiki, and there are hints of religious conflict that were brought up and dropped suddenly near the end of the novel. Perhaps these will be revisited in future installments (the second book “Son in Sorrow” is out now and on my ereader as I type this).

Overall, I’m not sure who I would recommend this book to. I suppose if you like smut  erotic fantasy (and can stomach everything I’ve talked about in this review) or are looking for some light reading, give this book a try. If you own a Kindle, the ebook version is only $5 on Amazon.com, and there are a bunch of different purchasing options on MeiLin Miranda’s website (including an option to read the serialized online version for free). It’s definitely not the most terrible book I’ve read, but I wouldn’t say it’s ZOMG AWESOME! either. Even so, I’m still looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

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