I've read some of this author's erotica and enjoyed it, so when I saw what looked to be a smutty harem fantasy pop up on Netgalley, I immediately signed up for it. The blurb sounded reminiscent of Bertrice Small's works, particularly ADORA and THE KADIN, with a dash of the Kushiel series. Of course I had to read this!
The premise is simple enough. Jenna lives in a desert of ice, ensconced in a paradise-like seraglio where her every wish is granted as she is schooled in the art of pleasing men. The only shadow that hints at worse to come comes in the form of punishment that her cruel mother doles out to her while claiming that it's for her own good as a princess and future-bride.
Yeah, right. Thanks, Mom.
As it turns out, Jenna's been pledged to this sociopathic sadist who's been rumored to have killed his last four brides. Her mother knows this and doesn't care, and basically tells her "suck it up, buttercup." Jenna is utterly miserable and abused and wishes she'd taken up her friend's offer to help her escape, but luckily help comes in the form of her sympathetic younger brother, and as they get to talking, Jenna finds out more about some of the double-standards of their society as her brother tells her what his education is like (fun, with a bachelor party with a whole bunch of prostitutes to celebrate adulthood). Everything she thought she knew is wrong.
I really liked the premise but I think a) the book was too short and b) it came across as unfocused as a result. Did the author want to write a smutty, slightly exploitative fantasy romp with dark themes? Or was she going for a cautionary tale written in the vein of THE HANDMAID'S TALE, in which the dark themes are meant to showcase woman's suppression by and ultimate triumph over the patriarchy? You can do one or the other, but you can't really do both. Kennedy tried to do both.
The sequel sounds really interesting, but I'm not sure if I want to read it anymore. I'm thinking maybe I should just stick to this author's erotica since her fantasy seems so scattered.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars