This, the third and final part of Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty trilogy kicks off exactly where the second book, Beauty's Punishment, ended. Beauty, Laurant, Tristan and three other slaves find themselves captive on a ship, bound for foreign lands and the court of an Eastern Sultan. While some things are exactly the same as they were when they were slaves at the Queens court - they have to obey orders and are subject to punishment both when they break the rules and when they don't - other things are very different. The royal slaves are now in a position where they are being treated as little better than animals. Speaking, or even making loud sounds is strictly forbidden, which brings a new level of submission to their experience.
Initially the new surroundings and rules scare and upset the captives, but it isn't long until they realise that losing even the last little bit of their own will makes it easier for them to surrender to the experience of submission. And new surroundings allow Laurant and Beauty to discover new levels of erotic satisfaction. While Laurant indulges in a dangerous came with his master, Beauty spends time in the royal harem where her eyes are opened to shocking facts as well new forms of pleasure. When they are unexpectedly rescued from the foreign court Beauty, Laurant and Tristan find themselves strangely reluctant to return to the Queen's lands. A return that will separate Beauty from everything she's come to treasure while Tristan and Laurant will experience yet new ways of submissiveness.
This is a fairy-tale yet we'll have to wait until the very last lines on the very last page before we come to the familiar and expected ending:
"And we shall live happily every after," I said through my kisses, "as the fairy-tales say."
"Yes, happily every after", she answered, "and a good deal happier, I think, than everyone else could ever guess."
In many ways this third book in the Sleeping Beauty series is more of the same; more captivity, more punishment, more sex and more unexpected and surprising revelations for Beauty, Laurant and other characters. Having said that, these books are more than a collection of erotic scenes; the characters grow, learn things about themselves and change as a result of what they experience. The learning experiences the royal slaves go through mean different things for the various characters. For some it means coming to the realisation that without submission they can't be happy while others discover that they derive as much, if not more, pleasure from being in a dominant position then they do from submitting to others. Love is lost and rediscovered and role-reversal opens new and unexpected worlds; few characters end this trilogy in the same way they started it, but none resent their discoveries or the road that brought them there.
Anne Rice is a wonderful author. She manages to make a trilogy that could easily have been boring due to repetitiveness into an intriguing study of (a form of) human sexuality. Her writing is fluent and while most of the narrative concerns itself with a variety of sexual exploits, she takes the time to explore the internal thoughts and feelings of her characters. I feel that in the hands of a lesser author this story could easily have turned into a sordid work of pornography (as I'm sure some people will view it anyway). For me though, Mrs. Rice managed to stay just about on the right side of decency thanks to the fact that the reader is never allowed to forget that (s)he is reading a fairy-tale and the detailed exploration of the character's inner lives.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: this is a work of erotica in its purest form. Nothing is cushioned or padded here, all descriptions are raw, descriptive and to the point. This is not a book for those who will allow a sex-scene in their stories provided it fits the story-line. In this trilogy sex is the story as it causes the development of characters. In short this is not a work of fiction with (some) erotic scenes. No, these are three books of pure and at times hard-core erotica. Or, as the author herself said on Facebook:
"I believe in erotica, and the freedom of men and women to enjoy their S&M sexual fantasies. I realize the Beauty Trilogy shocks some people. That's because it is extreme, excessive and true erotica, and I understand. Not for everyone. But for those who share the fantasy."