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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Lovers and Beloveds - An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom" by MeiLin Miranda (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Official MeiLin Miranda Website
Order "Lovers and Beloveds" HERE or HERE(Kindle) or HERE(Smashwords)
Read 50% from "Lovers and Beloveds" HERE (either online or download various formats)

INTRODUCTION:
"The Tremont family has conquered kingdom after kingdom, and rules its continent. Now, Tremont stands on the cusp of an industrial revolution; trains and steam engines are new, and the Scholar Priests of Eddin's Temple make exciting discoveries daily. Magic is long forgotten, but the Gods are not. Prince Temmin must now leave his childhood home to live with his father--Harsin the Fourth, by the Grace of Pagg, King of the Greater Kingdom of Tremont and Litta, Emperor of Inchar. Harsin expects his son to become the kind of ruthless, pragmatic man he is. But his immortal advisor Teacher has other plans, involving the seductive human avatars of the Gods called the Lovers. Teacher intends to bind Temmin to the Lovers' Temple, bring him closer to his people, and set him on a path that will lead to ultimate glory for Tremont--or its end."

"Lovers and Beloveds"
is an indie title I have discovery from a review inquiry. The Jacqueline Carey comparison the author used attracted my attention, while the excerpt linked above convinced me to read the book and I am really glad I did. I would note that indeed Lovers and Beloveds has "Kushiel vibes"; while it is more explicit though in the same tasteful vein as there, it posits a world where the Gods' embodiments - including the erotic one in dual male/female manifestation - play an important role in society.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION:"Lovers and Beloveds" stands at about 400 pages divided into 17 chapters with an Appendix about Tremontine Calendar and Measurements and one about Pronunciations.

The main POV of the novel, Temmin is the only son of King Harsin and for reasons we discover as the novel goes on, he has been raised far away from the capital in his mother's stronghold, very sheltered and with limited possibilities of female companionship. To the scorn of the capital's young bloods, he is still virgin when the king summons him to assume his responsibilities as heir. That factoid is very important since it is provable in a conclusive way in a special magic ritual which is fatal otherwise. But that magic ritual involves subtle issues about the power distribution in the Kingdom, so having the heir undergo it is not in the King's interest and the novel's main motive driver follows from here.

The mysterious Teacher who seems to be a long-lived magician advising the King and who is both in the King's power to command but who can also try subtly to influence things starts training Temmin as well as dropping hints about important events from his family's past that somehow never made it into the official histories. One such event is the subject of the secondary thread of the novel which starts interspersing with the main narrative after a while.

"Lovers and Beloveds" is secondary world fantasy in the Legacy of Kushiel vein with quite a lot of explicitness which is integrated well into the main story. The first volume in a series, "Lovers and Beloveds" stops at a good "to be continued" point and offers a complete and satisfying reading experience. I am very interested in the sequel which is tentatively expected in the second part of 2011.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The novel starts slow and a bit on the raw side but it picks up considerably after a while; I liked the writing and was intrigued by the premise so I persevered beyond the clumsy descriptions in the first several pages, where things seem just out of kilt somehow, not quite making sense in the "pseudo-medieval" setting we are introduced to.

The later events and world building will make sense of that part, but here we encounter one of the common problems in secondary fantasies that contain "unhistorical elements", whether in social mores or in how political power distributes, namely that the author knows much more than us, but fails to convey the reasons for the 'way things are' against our empirical knowledge of the human nature.

"Lovers and Beloveds" ultimately depends on the character of Temmin and while he becomes quite interesting by the end of the novel, readers have to put up with a lot of silliness and even dullness before; not a bad prince as they go, but still spoiled and naive which makes for the worst combination sometimes.

The emotional distance of 3rd person narration works against the book to some extent - one big reason the Kushiel books are so good is the immediacy of first person narration - and since we essentially follow Temmin's path with few outside events recounted, I think that a first person narration would have made the book better.

The secondary story that Temmin sees in the magic book of the subtitle (Intimate Story of the Greater Kingdom) is somewhat cliched and predictable, so a bit overlong as a subthread but it works as a morality tale/history lesson and I guess it may play a role in later world building expansion.

The huge strength of the novel is the writing style which is excellent and helps smooth some of the issues mentioned above, while keeping one turning the pages and accepting at least temporarily what the author "sells"; once getting going, the world building is pretty good, still a little bit sketchy to the end but not with great flaws and I expect continuing volumes to expand it. The characters develop and show a lot of nuance after a while, so I urge everyone to give this book a little time to develop as story and hero go.

All in all the series has extremely great promise so I am very interested in the sequel, while Lovers and Beloveds (A+) is one of the best indies - more or less a debut since the book has been expanded a lot from its first edition - I've read this year. If you are a fan of Jacqueline Carey I would definitely urge you to try this one and as mentioned give it a bit to settle down and of course I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in beautifully written fantasy of intrigue and eroticism and who is not afraid of some explicitness.

15 comments:

Sarah (Bookworm Blues) said...

Well, if it wasn't for your review I wouldn't be interested in this book. I will have to give this a try. I do enjoy Jacequeline Carey (though I don't think I EVER spell her name right) and the world seems really interesting. If the writing is good enough to overlook, or help smooth out a lot of the problems you mentioned, then this book could be quite a hit.

Thanks for the review. I always enjoy it when reviewers pull my attention toward lesser known titles.

mark said...

I've been looking forward to this review and will be buying it as soon as it is available in the UK. Not sure when it will be though as it ain't listed on amazon.co.uk other than in kindle form.

MeiLin Miranda said...

Liviu, thanks for the kind review. We've talked on Goodreads, so I won't go into more here except to say the world is pseudo-Victorian, not pseudo-medieval. :)

Sarah, thanks for being willing to give it a try. There are several previews around (at Amazon, Smashwords and my own website) if you don't want to commit the $2.99 - 3.50.

Mark, I don't know when I'll be able to offer the paperback in the UK. I'm POD, and I haven't found a POD printer in the UK/Europe to handle the book yet. You can buy from me direct, but it costs as much as the book to ship it. :(

Liviu said...

Thank you for your kind words; I would add though that both the organization of society and the distribution of political power does not seem to me Victorian in the sense that the King is pretty much a powerful king constrained only by the nobility and there is no real middle class power formalized in a parliament that has authority, only the threat of revolt; the power is aristocratic/religious and while maybe "pseudo-medieval" is misleading in many ways since indeed the book is urban and all, I would have a hard time calling it Victorian either.

Maybe an "enlightened monarchy" governing by the king's bureaucracy limited by noble power a la 18th century would be closer, but Victorian has very bourgeois, middle class power connotations

MeiLin Miranda said...

I suppose I make the distinction in that there is technology in Tremont that would definitely NOT be considered medieval--trains, for example. :) In terms of the political set-up of the country, yeah, it's more medieval. Because we're following Temmin's journey in the series, we haven't explored the larger political world yet, so I'll leave that alone for now. There's a lot of stuff I know about Tremont that the readers don't know yet, but there's a reason for that: it wasn't germane yet. It will be soon! :D

Liviu said...

I agree with that completely and it's one reason I am very interested in how the series develops since its world seems a fascinating place and with a lot of potential of expansion.

The other interesting thing is how the world changes because historically a "pseudo-medieval" society was relatively stable, while a modernizing society is only short-term stable since the pressures (improved living conditions mean more children survive mean need for more improvement or collapse) are too high; at least this is what all our empirical historical knowledge tells

MeiLin Miranda said...

And that's one of the fun parts for me: Tremont is seeing that rise of the middle class, and those pressures have begun. It's one of the reasons the more conservative/religious elements of the nobility are so nervous about Temmin.

Thank you again for the review. As an indie I have trouble getting reviewers even to look at my book, but when they do, so far they've universally enjoyed it.

Chad Hull said...

I had to read this review twice to see that it isn't exactly positive, yet I've read other books you've recommended and always been pleased.

I'm a bit surprised that the OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS merited a A+ but perhaps the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts or whatever...

I'll keep an eye out for it as I like trying different things. As Sarah said, I appreciate you taking the time to highlight something that most others don't, and that otherwise I wouldn't have known about.

Liviu said...

Chad:

The book has 2 main strengths: writing style and concept (world building if you want, but as mentioned it is only partially developed, so I would call it concept for now).

The negative is that the book takes a while to make sense but the writing makes up for that - note that the fact that Temmin is pretty annoying to start in his naivety is not a negative in itself since after all how a sheltered prince thrown in the glitter of the capital could be?

As opposed to other books claiming it, this book has the Kushiel vibe I really appreciate (this comes from the way sexual mores are sort of god-given since that and not the heroine being a courtesan is the defining characteristic of the J.Carey series imho)

Anyway there is a big excerpt available - 50% of the book - so you can look at it and see if you like the writing or not.

mark said...

But sexual pleasure IS a god-given right in the D'Angeline books.

That you say that this is in the same vein as Carey's books is what appeals to me as I love those books. Can't wait for Moirin's next one.

MeiLin, hope you find someone to publish in Europe soon. I think I'll wait until I've got through my books that are piling up unread (I think I am addicted to buying new books) before buying from Amazon to save on the postage.

Liviu, have you seen the cover for the next Adam Roberts' book "By Sunlight Alone"? Contender for cover of the year and bound to be a cracking book.

Liviu said...

"But sexual pleasure IS a god-given right in the D'Angeline books."

yes and that's what distinguishes the J. carey series from others that seem similar at first glance;

I saw the A. Roberts cover and I am definitely interested - I have all his books (non-parodies novels I mean) and read all but 2 and while i did not like Model Army that much, I hope this one gets back to the level of YBT or Land of the Headless.

mark said...

Sorry, I misread your post about sexual mores being god-given in JC's books. I thought you were saying what you liked in this book and that's why it was different to the Kushieline stories.

Leevan Banzuelo said...

Because of your review I got interested with the book. Thanks a lot. More power to you and good luck.

mark said...

I'm readin the book on MeiLin's site and I'm not sure if I can wait until January to order it. :-/

MeiLin Miranda said...

Thank you, Mark! I'm glad you're enjoying it. Leevan, I hope you check it out. :)

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