GUEST REVIEW: The Land of the Beautiful Dead by R. Lee Smith
Dear R. Lee Smith:
Disclaimer- I am a huge fangirl of your work.
HUGE. The enormity of which is as unfathomable as the depths of the Marianas Trench. I routinely reread both The Last Hour of Gann and Heat. If someone mentions you on Twitter I’m like a hound catching a scent, butting in, gushing about how deep and complex your stories are and doing my best to pimp the hell outta your books. I use The Last Hour of Gann as the gold standard by which I compare other books; it’s up there in my personal Pantheon with The Spymaster’s Lady and Lord of Scoundrels because yes, it’s just that good. I have to admit, some people probably find my devotion annoying.
And I don’t even know you!
I usually stalk the authors I admire on both Twitter and Facebook so I can easily sent OTT tweets with too many emojis and keep up to date with that author’s new releases…but, *sniff* you’re not on social media. Since I’m too lazy to pursue you for further info, I rely on the kindness of strangers to keep me up to date on your new releases. So I found out about The Land of the Beautiful Dead in the typical way—via Twitter. “New R Lee Smith?” I gasped, literally having heart palpitations as the first #Ganngirl fan tweets passed through my twitter feed at the end of October.
I knew this release was going to completely wreck my nano word count because first, you seem incapable of writing a short book, and second, all of your books are goddamn epic page turners—the kind that consume whole days, or even weeks of a person’s life. The kind of books where you wake up from your reading fog and wonder—Did my kids get fed? and Who did the laundry? But still, I could not resist. Breathing heavily, hands trembling, I went to one click this new book and paused. Wait, I thought, what about Olivia? Was this going to be like Olivia, the R Lee Smith I dnf’d?
I read The Last Hour of Gann two (three?) years ago when Jane pimped it hard on Dear Author. I was like, Holy [email protected]# I must read that now. Afterwards, I went on a partial backlist glom and read Heat, Cottonwood and 60% of Olivia. I consider Heat to be second only in magnificence to LHoG, Cottonwood is good and Olivia made me so upset if I’d owned it in print I would’ve thrown it against the wall. I am not kidding. Why? The book had no HEA. No effing HEA! Come on, I’m a romance reader, discovering a book has no HEA at 60% is like throwing a bucket of water on the Wicked Witch of the West.
Would this book also be a dreaded non HEA? The back cover blurb held no clues:
SHE WOULD DARE ANYTHING TO SAVE THE WORLD FROM HIS RULE.
EVEN HIS BED.
He ascended from the darkness years ago—Azrael the Eternal, Azrael the Undying, Azrael Who is Death—bringing with him the black rains, the fires, the souring of the sky, and the Eaters. Now he rules in the walled city of Haven with his favored Children and his dead court, while all that is left of the living struggles to survive in the ruins of a world that used to be their own. But even as extinction looms, humanity will never surrender to their monstrous conqueror.
For Lan, this brutal life has been the only one she’s ever known, but she still believes it can change. If the war can never truly end until the eaters are ended, she will go to Haven to Azrael himself, and demand he end them. To her surprise, she does not immediately die the hero’s death she expected. Instead Azrael offers her a chance to convince him, and all she has to do is submit herself to the chill embrace of the lord of the Land of the Beautiful Dead.
From the author of the Scholomance and The Last Hour of Gann comes a new vision of erotic horror! This book contains explicit sex and gore and is intended for mature readers only.
I held off, bit my nails and waited for a few trusted friends to read The Land of the Beautiful Dead and report back. Verdict- Yes, there is an HEA and its romantic and satisfying.
I one clicked and went in. Note—I was going to buy it prior to reading the blurb. I didn’t need to know what this book was about, it was an R Lee Smith, therefore I read.
Two point five days later I resurfaced, greeted my husband and children like I hadn’t seen them in years (because it kinda seemed that way) and stumbled around in a euphoric R Lee Smith post reading haze. Dear reader, it was just that good. The force is strong with this one. I’ve now changed the order of my R Lee Smith reading priority: The Last Hour of Gann, The Land of the Beautiful Dead, and then Heat.
Friends wanted to process the book on Twitter but I couldn’t because my brain was tied up with so many thoughts. So. Many. Thoughts. ALL THE THOUGHTS.
But now I’m ready.
This is probably your most broadly readable book. Meaning it has violence, but less so than in Heat and LHoG and the sex scene heat level is lower and more consensual than in those two other books. Still, this book has that raw edginess that I enjoy. Nothing is held back. This could be considered a zombie apocalypse story but it’s more Dystopian than post-apocalyptic with a hint of the Nalini Singh Guild Hunter series thrown in: a hero who is immeasurably old with limitless power who can create minions of varying degrees. There are Eaters (Zombies) and “children” Azrael creates for himself, and he also has hoards of the undead—people he turns immortal who are forever frozen in time and are completely devoted to serve him. Outside of this small decadent paradise that Azrael has crafted in the walled city of Haven is a world that has crashed back to the Dark Ages where humans struggle for basic supplies, trying to stay alive amidst the Eaters who are constantly, well, eating them. The heroine Lan, is one of those humans and she’s had enough of this shit. Lan decides to go to the man in charge, the “man” who is the root of all evil and ask him to stop the madness. This is a suicide mission, and yet Lan finds herself in his bed. This is a wonderful premise. I reached this point in the book and I was hooked, I had to find out if Lan would be successful and I had to answer the burning question—who or what is Azreal?
Yet again (like with Kane in Heat) you have created another hero who is pure evil and yet is also completely sympathetic. How do you do this? Where is this writing magic and why don’t I also possess it? This is a beauty and the beast trope. Azrael is scarred from his centuries of persecution by humans, his skin is dry and brittle and open in places and his bones are exposed. His face is so deformed he usually wears a mask. How can your heart not break for a man who is so used to women “faking it” that when presented with a real orgasm he throws the woman out of his bed, wondering, what trick is this? The key here is that Azrael appears eeeeevil but upon closer inspection his motives are entirely sympathetic. He brought the apocalypse and therefore killed millions, and yet we feel for him. Amazing.
I bow to your world building. I’d put it up against Meljean Brook and Nalini Singh any day. I do not say that lightly. I enjoy being immersed in your worlds, feeling all the intense emotions, all the struggles the heroine and hero go through, the sights, the smells, the details—they are all there in HD. Lan spends weeks, maybe months, exploring Haven’s architecture and gardens and I loved every minute of it. I felt I knew the secondary characters as well as the heroine did. Her world was mine. Your creativity and imagery are breathtaking. Thank you for not cutting any corners in this regard.
The secondary characters were wonderful. I could write a dissertation on Azrael’s “children”. Deimos needs his own Novella, and her attendant—what a bitch! (In the best way) And the relationship Lan had with her tutor was beautiful: rich and complex, heartbreaking and smart, and, and…*sputtering*. Well, I don’t want to leave too many spoilers. Suffice to say—read this book!
The romance between the hero and heroine is exquisite. Thank you for that. My romance reader heart grew three times its size that day. Lan is as hard driven and ethical as Amber was in LHoG, but she is a bit softer, not as quick to yell and shout out obscenities (although I missed this a bit) and I have to agree with Jessica Clare that she is funnier.
Usually cheating is my hard line but surprisingly I was able to easily work past the “cheating” in this story (I define cheating as when the main couple has had sex and then one of them has sex with someone else) because: a) Sex is a commodity in this world. This is immediately established in the first chapter of the book helping me to understand the matter of fact manner and lack of inhibitions towards sex in this Dystopian story. b) The heroine herself is very logical about how at first she is one of many and then graduates to being THE ONE. And c) by the end of the story I know that this couple will have an exclusive and monogamous HEA. This was important to me.
I loved every minute of this finely crafted story and I can hardly wait for your next book. In the end I give this an A. Five stars all around. It is definitely the best book I read in 2015.
Dear author—Thank you for your fearless words. Keep them coming.
Michele Mills teaches High School English to unruly teenagers and enjoys cooking for her husband and two sons. DIE FOR YOU, the first book in her new post-apocalyptic series from Samhain releases spring 2016. You can find her pretending to be professional on both Twitter and Facebook.