Review: Son in Sorrow: An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom (Book Two)

I reviewed Lovers and Beloveds awhile back and said I’d review the second book when it came out, so, here it is.

As this is the second book in the series, there’s not much I can say about this one without spoiling the first, and I definitely recommend that you give a read through volume one before attempting this one.

Plot-wise, Temmin is still grappling with his attraction to Allis (who can’t love him back for religious reasons), Temmin’s father, King Harsin, is busy trying to screw every eligible maiden in the Kingdom, Queen Ansella is taking issue with Harsin’s infidelities, Sister Ibbit (who was mentioned a few times in the last book) is plotting, and Teacher has another story to tell. As in the last book, Son in Sorrow is a story-within-a-story. This time around, the story Teacher tells Temmin is the story of the third Temmin who became King of Tremont. The story is told through multiple perspectives, notably through Temmin himself and Harsin’s latest mistress–Twenna Shelstone, who has a rich an ambitious merchant for a father.

I’ll say right off the bat that Son in Sorrow is an accurate title for this book, as there is definitely a lot of sorrow (seems to be a trend in recent books I’ve been reading). Characters die, are left destitute, or are forced into marrying someone they would rather not marry.

In terms of explicit sexual scenes, there are fewer than in the last book. The one scene that might be problematic is at the beginning, where Temmin counsels a couple who are unable to conceive because the man is gay and unable to get it up for his wife. Unfortunately, because he is the eldest son, he requires an heir. You can probably see where this is going. Aside from that early scene, there is a moment I mentioned where a character is forced to marry someone (which includes a trip to the marriage bed) it’s one line and it’s definitely treated as a Bad Thing. Two characters end up sleeping with each other via intervention from a god (neither was aware of what they were doing at the time).

The book isn’t perfect, of course: Temmin makes an ignorant comment about lesbians when he learns about his mother’s relationship with Sister Ibbit, although this could simply be read as his privilege showing (and, as a man and a prince, he is very privileged) and he is quickly called out for being an ass. I think it’s supposed to be cute that the “native people” in this story are blond and blue-eyed, but it just strikes me as a half-assed attempt to not be racist (not helped, mind you, by the tendency of non-Tremontines to speak broken English–er, I guess that would be Tremontine, and even though the character is supposed to be (IIRC) this fantasy world’s equivalent of Germany, the fact that his name is Yellow Hanni and he talks like Yoda seems too much like an uncomfortably awkward stereotype, or perhaps I’m reading too much into it. (Then again, in a short story I recently read by the same author, the Native American woman in that story speaks in the exact same way, coincidence?) There was some critique of Tremont’s restrictive patriarchal culture, and I have a feeling that in the hands of a better writer it might have been explored more, but most of what we get is a whole lot of complaining that the system isn’t fair (of course, Temmin isn’t king yet, so there’s nothing he can do).

Overall, I found this book was a bit slow (not the the first one was a thrill a minute) but still entertaining.

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