Author: M.L. Sawyer
Cover Artist: Martine Jardin
Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 05/14/2016
Length: Short Story (<15K)
Genre: Bisexual, Erotica, Historical, Romance
What the King wants, the King gets.
When Queen Neferet fails to produce an heir to the throne, King Amun takes Mery, who is also of royal blood, as his mistress. Queen Neferet struggles with her jealousy as she watches Mery fall in love with the king. Mery loves her queen as well, and wishes to leave the palace in order to spare her pain, but Amun won’t let her go, and thwarts any attempts to free Mery from doing her king’s will.
This is a lovely little short story set in ancient Egypt that hits all the bases–love, lust, jealousy, loyalty, death, gods, kings, queens, priestesses, marriage, procreation, free will, and even politics. For such a quick read, it really packed a wallop, and managed a handful of reasonably steamy sex scenes, too. The pace felt a little rushed to me, but given that my faves are all 8-or-more-book sagas, I think it was perfectly correct for a short story of this length. I’m not Egyptologist enough to comment on the historical accuracy, so I will simply say that the setting was cohesive and aligned with my preconceived notions of life in early historical times.
I am forever cynical of short stories since college English Lit because all the assigned short stories seemed to fall into the Short Story Trap: an author writes something that should be the middle or end of a novella, gets stuck, and decides to stop and call it a short story instead. Sawyer gets big props for not falling into the Short Story Trap, giving this tale a proper beginning, middle, and end, and even managing to tuck in a quick Epilogue, of which I am quite the fan (see: the bit about the sagas).
The major plot conflict is pretty much your classic love triangle. Wife The First (Queen Neferet) is jealous of The Mistress (Mery), but the first complication here is that they’re childhood best friends. So Neferet can’t or won’t do any of the nasty things a jealous wife typically does to get rid of the competition. There are plenty of additional layers added to the complication pile as the story goes along, conflicting destinies and emotions pulling at Mery, Neferet and King Amun. I wish we could have spent a little more time with both Neferet and Mery’s heartaches as they realized how, in spite of nominal freedom, their paths were really fairly constricted, and not by their own actions or choices.
The non-consensual nature of some of the sex scenes, while thoroughly in character and in keeping with sovereign behavior in historic context, is a little rough for me. I’m a fan of enthusiastic consent, so when that mark is missed, it is at least a nice consolation that everyone ends up enjoying themselves and getting off. That’s a tricky line to walk, so I give props that the enjoyment is not of the rape-fantasy variety. Mery’s barriers to enthusiastic consent are emotional conflicts over loyalty to Neferet and love for Amun and existential it’s-blasphemy-to-love-a-god-king stuff.
There’s a beautiful and bittersweet scene that puts the FF into this FFM triangle, and it’s where Neferet really gets face-to-face with her paradoxical powerlessness and loneliness as queen. There’s also a revenge-sex scene between Amun and Neferet that was quite powerfully focusing, and though it underlined Neferet’s powerlessness in its resolution, it also crystallized her resolve to change her circumstances. I loved that Neferet, in the end, took action that simultaneously restored her power and relieved her loneliness. On reflection, she was my favorite character.
Mery is a prisoner of her conflicting feelings almost throughout, but they propel her through a distinct character arc that’s a pleasure to read. She finds love, but then learns it can hurt those around her and that for love she will do things she isn’t proud of. Beyond that, she is at the mercy of Amun and Neferet, and to a lesser extent, the priestess Atet. She has some personal agency in the beginning of the story, but from the time she is summoned to Amun’s chambers until the final pages of the story, she is not truly free in any sense.
This story is both a quick read and a fun one. I recommend it highly for those who like historicals, erotica, or stories with complicated emotional landscapes.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
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