Cover art by Anne Cain
I’ve been eyeing this cover for some time now. I like the mix of modern graphism and traditional painting, I love the coloring, the surimpressions and variations of ocre, the splash of red, how well-balanced it is. It tells of two characters who are not equals; the warrior is standing tall and proud, and looking ahead, the musician is kneeling at his side but somehow not at his feet, looking sweet and dreamy. Besides the effect for balance in the drawing, it’s interesting that the sword and the instrument are aligned and pointing at the same direction. Maybe equals, after all…
The overall effect is elegant and a little stiff, making me hope at best for the clash of unbridled passion against stiffly exteriors, making me fear at worst something too smooth and delicate, overusing the fade effect.
Once I began reading it, I felt like laughing and slapping my knee with glee, because fearing that it is too uptight, I should have not! I find it very amusing that this book actually is unbridled under stiffly exteriors. This is unalduretated porn!
Sadly, it didn’t work for me. The writing is indeed elegant when it wants to be, it definitely knows how to be bold and graphic to picture hot, messy, right-in-your-face sex scenes, but there is no in-between, and it is strangely unsubtle for an author who seems able to handle it. I did enjoy the beginning; the setting, the hushed courtly ambiance disturbed only by the emperor’s tantrum, and the first erotic scene, all teasing and power play. But the development takes its sweet time to make up its mind between contrived inner conflicts and rushed political machinations, the characterization is one moment mawkish, one moment wanton and overall as consistant as a porn actor’s play acting. The result is something disrupting and phony. Without tension of any kind.
That's where the shoe pinches. I have my not-so-guilty pleasures, I don’t necessarily expect in-depth characterization, I can suspend disbelief and overlook a lot, because, you know, it’s smut fun. But without tension to blow on the embers and fuel my interest for the characters, my attention wanders, I grow very quickly bored with the knuckles biting, moaning, mewling, purring, spurting, and I find the overall delighted ecstasy unsatisfying.
I can’t say who will love this story or not, but if you put it aside thinking that it’s a boring, sexless historical, fear NOT! It’s the fluffy, naughty tale of two lovers learning to be equals in love if not in station.
ETA : I intially rated it 2,5 stars, but I'm rounding it down, after all.