REVIEW: ‘Beauty’s Kingdom’ offers a safe erotic world of freedom, choice

(Viking Books)

Recently here at Pop Mythology, we took a close look at Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty series from the 1980s as it compares to Fifty Shades of Grey. The piece was prompted in part by the announcement that Rice’s revival of the series, Beauty’s Kingdom  would be released April 21. As big fans of the Rice series, we were delighted to receive our advance review copy of Beauty’s Kingdom and immediately jumped in to learn what new adventures were in store for Beauty and Laurent.

Twenty years have passed since Laurent came to claim Beauty as his partner and the two have since passed the ruling of their kingdom on to their heirs and are enjoying a serene, if a bit phlegmatic, retirement. Soon enough, however, the outside world intrudes upon their halcyon garden retreat with word that the famed dominatrix Queen Eleanor is dead and the kingdom of Beauty and Laurent’s former sexual servitude is in peril. Several high Lords and Ladies of the Kingdom, including Beauty’s former lover Prince Alexi have come to plead with Beauty and Laurent to take over the ruling of Bellavalten and restore it to its former greatness.

The couple are intrigued and sorely tempted to accept the offer. Although Beauty and Laurent’s marriage has been a happy one full of pleasures, the ways of the world have pressed in over the years and stripped away the raw sensuality of their former time in Bellavalten. The possibility of revitalizing both the kingdom and their own relations is a wonderful prospect. But Beauty and Laurent each harbor their own secret doubts. Laurent is concerned that once returned to the sensual world of Bellavalten, Beauty will submit to another master and fears his reaction to this. Beauty, recognizing that her inner heart is a submissive, doubts her ability to rule with the dominant form that Queen Eleanor did. Will they be able to sufficiently overcome their hesitations to re-create the magical world of their youth?

Author Anne Rice (image: Becket Ghioto, 2014)

Rice’s original trilogy was about stripping away the extraneous to reveal the underlying primal desires, but Beauty’s Kingdom  is much more about building a world. There is an element of creative world-building in science fiction and fantasy that I have always admired beyond mainstream fiction. These genres go beyond storytelling to the imagination and establishment of an entire reality in which to contain the story.

What Rice does in this latest installment of the Sleeping Beauty series is to perfect the world of her erotic imagination. While the first trilogy was an exploration of BDSM practices, in the fourth novel the author has clearly considered the things her critics found off-putting and has drawn a clear boundary against what she finds objectionable in practice. In Beauty and Laurent’s re-built kingdom, all participants are willing, of an age capable of consent, and the hints of degradation and humiliation have been scrubbed.

Some may argue that the words spent to establish this brave, new world of Bellavalten detracts from the  unbridled sensuality of the first three novels. I would argue that it creates between the author and reader an understanding of how Rice defines sexual freedom within the BDSM world, not unlike the concept of the “contract” described in the Fifty Shades of Grey novels between Christian and Anastasia. Thus devoid of the fear and uncertainty that exists without this discernment, the sex of Beauty’s Kingdom  may lack the frenetic energy of the first three novels, but more than makes up for it with depth and understanding.

Robert Mapplethorpe, “Calla Lily,” 1988 (via Guggenheim Collection Online)

Which leads one to the question: is the series complete and, if not, what could be next for Beauty and Laurent? Personally I hope that the series is far from complete. I see the first three novels as looking at their eroticism as young adults while Beauty’s Kingdom  possesses more the cadence of a middle-age sensuality. Perhaps there is more to elaborate upon here, but I also hope that Anne Rice will consider picturing Beauty and Laurent in their elder years. Too often society views sexuality as dying with youth and I would welcome a mature author willing to explore what can lie beyond.

Until then, in Beauty’s Kingdom, Anne Rice has drawn with her ever beautiful prose an erotic domain built around freedom, choice, acceptance, and assent. It is a safe place that encourages the reader to find his/her own path of sensuality and sexual fulfillment.

About Andrea Sefler

Andrea Sefler
Andrea is a consultant and technical writer for various scientific software and instrumentation companies. She has a Ph.D. in chemistry from Berkeley and has never met a genre of music or books that she hasn’t liked. As a gamer since the days of the Apple II, Andrea can relate any number of hair-raising tales about role-playing games stored on 360 kB 5.25” floppy disks and may, someday, put them to paper.

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