Beauty's Kingdom (Sleeping Beauty #4) by A.N. Roquelaure,Anne Rice
Anne Rice’s original Sleeping Beauty trilogy was, to put it politely, not for the faint of heart.
Rice’s original trilogy, however, had apparently concluded in 1985. Beauty was returned to her kingdom, her fairy-tale happy ending finally achieved; we were left to assume that she was returned to the far less erotic life of ruling a kingdom, and that the land of sexual slavery would continue on, untouched and unchanging, in her absence. Until, this year, Rice released the fourth--and possibly not last?--addition to the series.
Much has changed in the kingdom of Bellavalten. The old Queen’s lust for the customs of her kingdom has faded, even as the kingdom itself has begun to fade around her. When she and her son are lost at sea, the nobility know that there is only one way to save their unusual way of life. They journey to the retreat of Queen Beauty and King Laurent, now in retirement after many years of leading their own (presumably less erotic) kingdom, begging them to take control, and by doing so, hopefully save the customs of a fading land. So begins Beauty’s final journey into the gilded and hypersexual land of erotic servitude, not as tribute, but as its chosen monarch.
I hope that’s enough world-building for everyone to get the picture. Because the novel is less about plot then it is about erotic paddlings and the people who love them. (Just so, so much erotic paddling, you guys. If you are not a fan of tender butts and the things that people can slap them with, this is not your book.) In short order, we are introduced to the new Bellevalten--Queen Beauty at the helm--and given a dizzying tour of its customs through the eyes of its new citizens. The novels always jumped protagonists, but now we hop between both slaves and their masters, which is interesting and certainly makes for a more well-rounded experience. Slaves, lords and ladies all give us a peek into their heads, sharing with us their joys and fears as the dominated and the domineering alike.
Beauty’s Kingdom, to me, seemed as much an addendum to the original books as it was a continuation. Queen Beauty influences every aspect of her kingdom for the better, taking it from a sort of medieval erotic bondage fantasy land into a kinky, sexy renaissance bondage fantasy land. Customs are refined, and beauty is everywhere. You can feel the gentle breezes in the gardens, see the tapestries, listen to the fountains. In the novel, as in real-world BDSM, the comfort and care of submissives has become first priority, ensuring that these nymphs and satyrs are not only well treated but given the tasks and masters that are best-suited for their particular desires. Indeed, Rice seems to be trying to make up for some of the original trilogy's flaws: delineating consent more clearly, for starters. Gone are the unwilling tributes, brought struggling to foreign lands; in Kingdom, these erotic slaves are volunteers, tested for aptitude and capable of ending their service. Similarly, much more is made of the absolute ecstasy felt by these slaves. The first novels focused pretty heavily on the sort of “oh no, oh no, no NO NO YESSSSS” mentality found in a lot of bondage erotica; Kingdom leaned more towards characters who were thrilled by the whole kit and kaboodle, from the spankings to the sexy bits (although, for them, all of it was the “sexy bit,” I suppose.) While the first three novels were good, they were guilty pleasures at best--it’s hard not to step back and wonder if it’s okay to enjoy even fictional non consent, after all--so it’s nice that Rice has handily removed the moral ambiguity.
Especially with all of the new adjustments, Kingdom is a definite turnon. Rice is an excellent writer, and it’s no surprise that her skill with words translates just as well to the joys of being a human pony as it does to her more conventional fare. Would I enjoy being strapped to a cart with a horse-tailed dildo up my bum? Almost certainly not. Does Rice write about it well enough that I managed to get sympathetically turned on by characters who do enjoy being utilized as naked equines? Absolutely. It’s an excellent volume of smut, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys the kinkier side of sexy times.
While Rice writes excellent, interesting, sympathetic characters, Kingdom isn’t romance, not really. It’s straight erotica with plot thrown on as a nice garnish--you can’t go two pages without smacking into a graphic sex scene. But if erotica is what you’re after, and you don’t mind a lot of kink, this is guaranteed to put a bounce in your britches.