Published: 29 October, 2015 by Red Hot Romance
Genres: Erotica, Fantasy, Romance, Paranormal Romance
Buy on Amazon
View on Goodreads
A couple months ago at the end of Dungeons & Dragons night, one of my friends put forth a proposition. She had read a review online about some kind of eldritch erotica book, and she said she’d buy it if we’d read it too. Eldritch erotica sounded like the most bizarre subgenre I’d ever heard of, so naturally I was curious, and soon it was my turn to read Land of the Beautiful Dead by R. Lee Smith.
I went into the book with low expectations. The cover looked like the kind of cover you’d see on a bad self-published book with sloppy editing and a sloppier plot. I opened the book and started to read, and much to my surprise, I was mesmerized.
Land of the Beautiful Dead is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. An immortal lord of mysterious origins arose and called forth a zombie apocalypse, which decimated humanity. Our protagonist, Lan, grew up in a tiny settlement in England shortly after the fall. Her life was harsh and lacked any luxury or joy. Lan’s mother has just died, and now she feels like she has nothing to live for. And so, she travels to the castle where Azrael the Eternal lives, intending to demand the end of the Eaters that have destroyed civilization. Lan isn’t very smart, but on some level, she knows she’s being suicidal and has no real chance of success.
Meanwhile, Azrael the Undying is bored. He is lonely. He’s been living in his castle since the fall, surrounded by his undead children, who have varying degrees of autonomy. Because even though Azrael can raise the dead, he hasn’t figured out how to make a true companion for himself. Everyone he created is merely an echo of a person, capable of doing the task that he created them for, but not truly *creating* anything or being spontaneous or producing anything new. His children are all dead, and many of them are capable of realizing their incompleteness and resenting him for it. So when a foul-mouthed human street girl shows up demanding favors, Azrael is at the very least entertained by her–entertained enough to allow her to try to bargain with him, even though she has no hope of success.
Lan agrees to be Azrael’s “dolly girl” aka mistress/prostitute/whatever, and in exchange, each night she asks favors of Azrael, hoping to one day win him over and convince him to end the apocalypse.
One of the things that I love about Lan is that she isn’t very smart. She’s not a nice person. She’s completely illiterate. Unlike most protagonists that I read about, she’s fundamentally flawed. She’s not the kind of person you can really identify with or aspire to be like. The only thing she’s really got going for her is her willingness to hook up with a monster in exchange for the slimmest chance to save humanity, even though she knows that there aren’t any people on the planet who would do the same for her.
Meanwhile, Azrael has no intention of getting rid of the Eaters, because the Eaters are his protection. They keep the humans in their little settlements and keep them from trying to destroy him as they had in the past. They’d tried torturing him, starving him, even nuking him, even as he just wanted to live his life in peace and be himself. Azrael may have turned the world into a wasteland, but the world didn’t exactly welcome him with open arms either.
And even though Azrael is a demon/monster/litch/something and Lan is a woman who has had a very tough short life, the two of them find something in each other, despite their best instincts. But Azrael has never really opened himself up to anyone before, and Lan is still trying to learn the rules of living in the world of undead luxury.
The world itself is fascinating. Azrael’s castle is filled with undead lords and ladies, who make up an undead court. They dress in fancy clothes and prepare fancy meals (that they can’t taste and don’t need to eat) and live in fancy buildings and it’s all empty and meaningless in and of itself until you realize that Azrael is trying to recreate the things he’s read about and heard about from civilization, and in his own weird way is trying to preserve something of a legacy of mankind. He’s raised people to chat with about architecture, play music (but never create anything new), and go through the motions of what it’s like to have a society. Lan doesn’t know anything about this kind of society, because she’s grown up in tiny settlements where every moment is dedicated to survival. She’s frustrated by corsets and learning to read and taking baths, and feels guilty for eating dinners where the leftovers could feed entire villages. She’s lived the ugly truth that’s the consequence of Azrael’s apocalypse, and just wants him to admit and understand what went wrong, and maybe give the humans another chance, even if the humans are terribly stupid and self-destructive.
I could go on about this book for hours. Even the minor characters are creepy and fleshed out, reminding me of something out of an Anne Rice novel, and even Azrael’s undead creations are multi-dimensional and have full arcs. The book does such a good job at creating atmosphere, and the characters do grow and develop and learn from each other as they build their relationship. And even though I thought the book would be erotica, I don’t think that genre quite sums it up properly. It’s more of a slow burn romance set against the backdrop of a dying world.
Land of the Beautiful Dead was so much better than it had any right to be, and was unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I adored it, and can’t wait to read more of R. Lee Smith’s books.