To be clear, 50 Shades is a very, very different animal from any of Anne Rice’s Beauty books.
I’ve talked about how I used to be a big Anne Rice fan before, and that fan worship certainly extended beyond her vampires and witchcraft books. It was a little difficult for me to work through The Feast of All Saints, but I did have a great time reading Violin, Belinda, and her BDSM books – Exit to Eden, The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, Beauty’s Punishment, and Beauty’s Release.
These non-supernatural books all have the sensuality that made Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles famous, and more often than not are much more explicit than any of Lestat and his cohorts. After all, Belinda is a riff on Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, while Exit to Eden, The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, Beauty’s Punishment, and Beauty’s Release all became a hit with the BDSM community at the time – something you can’t say about 50 Shades.
But that was literal decades ago, and Anne Rice has had a roller-coaster of a career since then. If Prince Lestat, is anything to go by, it looks like she may be getting her vampires back in line. But can the same be said for her erotica? The last book in her Sleeping Beauty series came out in 1985, Belinda came out in 1986, and bookstore shelves have so much more erotica now than they did back then. Does Rice still have what it takes to compete in a much more crowded field?
Beauty Kingdom takes up the story of Beauty decades after the events of the first three books. Beauty and Laurent have a kingdom of their own now, and they still engage in all the activities that they partook in back when they were naked pleasure slaves. It’s the Happily Ever After Beauty spent a hundred years waiting for.
However, the old kingdom of Queen Eleanor – the place where all the characters spent their time as pleasure slaves – hasn’t fared as well. The Queen is tired of the system she’s established, and the kingdom is not as glorious as it used to be. She’s looking to give the reins of power to new monarchs, and who better to give it to than former slaves themselves?
When a series of events make it impossible for Beauty and Laurent to refuse the keys to the kingdom, the couple find themselves with a kingdom of slaves looking for a new direction. Will Beauty and Laurent’s past experiences as slaves prove useful as they work to keep the kingdom alive? Or is the kingdom already beyond any salvaging?
There’s certainly a noticeable difference in Beauty’s Kingdom when compared to the other erotica currently on bookstore shelves. For one, Rice makes sure that these characters have grown older – age is brought up early and brought up regularly. And unlike most of the books currently out there, these distinguished ladies and gentlemen still have sex and enjoy it immensely.
For another thing, despite how some of the sexual tableaus in the book may raise some eyebrows and quite frankly even offend some, it doesn’t come off even a quarter as sleazy or rape-y as some of the NA/non-BDSM books that are currently out there. Consent is a foundation of the new kingdom, and Rice takes pains to make sure that this is clear all throughout. It says a lot about this book that more people get spanked, hit, inserted with foreign objects, and rubbed with strange potions in this work and it still doesn’t come off as abusive or off-putting as some of the other books i’ve read.
The fact that Beauty’s Kingdom features older characters already makes it ahead when it comes to diversity, but the book pushes it even further. All the characters are bisexual by default, and near the end of the novel transgender characters are also introduced. Ponder that for a moment. Transgender characters. In your erotica.
That said, while Beauty’s Kingdom may compare favorably to other books currently on the shelves, it’s not as pretty a picture when compared to the first three books in the series. Those first three books were hot (Caveat: Depending on what you’re into). Rice is all about those lush, sensuous sentences, and they were definitely present in those first three books. Compared to those first three, Beauty’s Kingdom is very tame. Prudish, even.
In the end, Beauty’s Kingdom is a bit of a mixed bag. While I found it a definite improvement over some of the similar books out in the market to day, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this isn’t Rice at the peak of her powers. If it weren’t for the twist at the end, I would have rated this lower on Goodreads.