Mary reviews The Princess and the Evil Queen by Lola Andrews

The Princess and the Evil Queen by Lola Andrews (affiliate link)

Princess Snow White and the Evil Queen (Harlow) have been at war for years. Harlow might have been married to Snow’s father, but he died shortly after they were married, and the two women are very similar in age. Growing up, they had something of a friendship, but that changed over time, and their paths diverged into darkness. Now, Harlow suggests a truce to the war that would require Snow to live with her and at the end of it make a choice that would change everything.

This an erotic romance novel with a twist on a classic fairy tale that was interesting and enjoyable to read. Snow is more independent in this and is out on the front lines of the war with her husband Prince Charles. What I really loved about her character, though, was her resolve to continuously be compassionate and understanding. She isn’t hardened by her dark past with Harlow or the war: she remains kind.

Harlow, on the other hand, is hardened, but understandably so. The story delves into her past: how she got her powers and to be the queen in the first place. She has many secrets that she struggles with, along with the trauma of her past. I like that the story doesn’t shy away from the darker parts of her or try to excuse her actions when they’re wrong. She has to make right what she’s done, not only for Snow, or her kingdom, but for herself.

The romance was a lot of fun and never felt like my excitement died down while reading this. It helps to know the fairy tale beforehand and come into it knowing that Snow and Harlow were at least somewhat close before the war, because things do pick up rather quickly. Having said that, I never felt like it moved too fast. I could definitely tell these two were old friends in some way, and the chemistry sparked so easily between them that their interactions felt natural.

The world building and the magic were also great. While the story changes the narrative, it still felt like a fairy tale, and without giving too much away, the way the magic mirror works was a really interesting twist.

Overall, I loved this retelling of Snow White and recommend it to anyone looking for a fun and erotic romance story.

Sponsored Review: Vignettes by Lola Andrews

Normally I wouldn’t start a review right off the bat with a content warning, but in this case I think it’s necessary. Vignettes includes several subjects that could be deal-breakers for many readers, so better to get those out in the open first. For one thing, one of the stories (“Eliza and Violet (and Sandy)”) describes (though it is mostly in the past) a mentally and physically abusive relationship, one that leaves the protagonist with a permanent injury. It also describes intense BDSM, both inside and outside of that relationship. There is also incest in this collection, including attraction between half-sisters, a stepsister and stepbrother (he calls her “little girl” and “baby girl”), and between a teenager and his biological father.

Which brings us to what I most want to warn about: the age gap relationships and underage sex scenes in this book. This collection includes an erotica story between teenagers (“Victoria and Wen”), a sexual relationship between a teenager and his biological father (he did not raise him), as well as many off-hand references to large age gaps and/or underage sexual partners. These are not generally critiqued or presented as being immoral. Even in stories that don’t focus on these relationships, they often mention a side character’s “very young lover” or “Marge’s latest boy-toy, some kid who is inappropriately young for her and who she likes for precisely that reason.” I asked the author about her choice to include these stories, and this is her response:

The choice to include a wide range of stories, stems from, not only the chance to explore some of my own personal experiences during my time at a private boarding school, but from the desire to push the boundaries and explore different sides of human emotion, and the choices people may make during confusing times, regardless of codes of conduct that would prevail in different circumstances, always in the hope of inspiring thought, and never wanting to offend.

The content warning would suggest that the collection is an exercise in risqué subject matter—that is a selection of taboo erotica. Although there are several stories that fit into that, it doesn’t define Vignettes. Instead, it is an eclectic grab bag of erotica (both tame and “boundary-pushing”), literary short stories, and a few Fantasy short stories.

The strength of the collection is in the characters and their interactions. Despite only having a small space to work with (none of the stories are novella-length), the main characters quickly feel rounded and compelling. Though their personalities differ greatly, I was invested in each of their stories, from the middle-aged lesbian married couple just trying to survive a hot and sticky summer, to the artist and her frenemy battling between attraction and disdain.

Part of what made these characters feel real to me was the complicated family dynamics that often accompanied them. Even when a character’s family was not at the center of a story, they were given enough detail—enough quirks and dysfunction and depth—to feel familiar and relateable. Whether that family is a mother who’s impossible to please, a friend’s family who has basically adopted you, or a selection of long-time friends who have become a stable point of contact, they position the character in a way that makes them more nuanced.

It’s these dynamics between the characters in each story that makes them sing. Kamila and Regina, two people who have somewhat reluctantly become friends on a foundation of cutting remarks and distrust, have a satisfying tension that inevitably flares into heat. Though the situations vary, these interactions are reliably compelling. In a collection that favors erotica heavily, that chemistry is essential.

Unfortunately, Vignettes does suffer from a few flaws that dragged it down for me. For one, it felt like it could be greatly improved with a good editor. There is some awkward phrasing, typos, and pacing issues, as well dialogue that reads as being much more juvenile than the characters.

Beyond that, I think the fatal flaw of Vignettes is suggested by the title: there is no cohesion to this collection. Some of the stories seems to be straining to be novels. “Kamila and Regina” tries to pack so much exposition in—filling in backstory and skipping oddly through time—that it feels like it could easily be expanded into a smoother novel, especially with the strong chemistry between the two characters. And I am sure that many Lesbrary readers would jump on a lesbian werewolf hunters novel (or series!) But these are interspersed with short erotica stories and a sprinkling of incest and pedophilia. I can imagine there is a market for a collection that is uncomfortable and taboo, but it’s hard to imagine the audience for this collection as-is. Right now, it feels like a lot of different things shoved together, where I think it would be strongest separated out and refined as each individual piece. If this was a few novels (or novellas), or a literary short story collection, or an erotica collection, or a selection of taboo vignettes, I could recommend them to the audiences that would appreciate each one. But I am not sure how to recommend a book that attempts to do all of these at once.

This has been a sponsored review. For more information, check out the Lesbrary’s review policy.