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Velvet by Lisette Marshall

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Y’all, this book is kinda bananas, but I also think it will definitely be some people’s catnip, so I have to Alert the Bitchery. I mentioned Velvet in Watcha Reading a while ago (like, a really long while ago before I was sucked into the vortex that was nursing school). I described it as having fanfiction vibes then, and I stand by that assessment. Like, it’s not obviously veiled fanfiction of anything in particular; it just uses many of the same tropes and setups that I have seen in fanfiction, especially in the “porn WITH plot” genre.

The overall scenario here is that princess Viviette was sent away from home to be “polished” in a foreign court and is now back in her home country, which seems to be a sort of medieval-ish mountain nation called the Peaks. She wants to be actively involved in the political running of the Peaks but her father insists on seeing her as only ornamental, and he wants his spymaster, Jaghar, to help protect her. This naturally creates some initial animosity between them as she tries to convince Jaghar that she is capable of actually Doing Things. But of course, they are secretly very horny for each other.

I picked it up because I LOVE any kind of courtly/intrigue type romance with spies. Bonus points for the spy character being a cold or icy person with ~hidden passions.~ I wouldn’t say this is the most shining example of the sexy fantasy spy romance, but I did enjoy it. This was the kind of book that was hard to put down when I was actually reading it but was sort of forgettable when I was not. I ended up reading Velvet in two sittings but they were over a month apart.

There is a plot involving intra- and inter-kingdom politics but it is fairly preposterous and mostly just designed to get people into Sex Scenarios.

On these preposterous sex scenarios – SLIGHTLY spoiler-y, but

This one reached maximum preposterousness

The spymaster hero runs (and also works at) a secret brothel in the castle with the purpose of extracting secrets from guests during pillow talk. He lets the PRINCESS heroine work at his secret brothel at her insistence.

All of the sex workers in this brothel are masked, but it is ludicrous that no one would notice that they were having sex with the spymaster and/or the princess, which seems like it would cause way more problems than it would solve!!! But whatever, masked sex shenanigans, lol.

Once I got my giggles out about how silly this setup was, I found that some of the sex was really hot, and some of it was kinda weird. At one point lavender-scented bathing oil is used as an anal lubricant, and I was internally screaming DO NOT PUT A SCENTED OIL INSIDE YOUR BUTTHOLE PLEASE, OUCH.

The characters are…fine? I would not say that Viviette and Jaghar were particularly dynamic or realistically-drawn, but they did not actively annoy me, and again, since this is really just one big porn-with-plot trope-fest, the characterization is not that important. The villain is one-note of mustache-twirling evil (but he also has incredible sexual magnetism, because of course). There is also a secondary villain character who is basically evil because she is so jealous and possessive of the hero, which, again, eye-roll.

Importantly, I want to issue some MAJOR TWS for child sexual abuse in one of the characters’ backstories (which was alluded to with enough detail to be quite disturbing, actually) and multiple instances of attempted sexual assault (I wouldn’t say they were graphic, but I did kind of roll my eyes because FIND ANOTHER WAY TO BUILD STAKES, THANKS).

Also, each member of the main couple has sex with other people on page which I know some people do not like so be aware of that! There is a happy-for-now ending that includes some consensual polyamory elements. It is the first book in a series; I may or may not pick up the sequel at some point if the mood strikes me.

I think reading enjoyment of this book is all about having the right expectation level. If you go in expecting a somewhat absurd sexy spy medieval costume drama, it hits. If you go in expecting a lot of in-depth world-building, well-drawn courtly intrigue, and a plot that makes sense, you will be disappointed.

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