Book Review of Sex With Kings: Five Hundred Years Of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, And Revenge

Sex With Kings: Five Hundred Years Of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, And Revenge
reviewed on
Helpful Score: 3


It's an interesting subject, sex. Typically, it leads to interesting media: sizzling scenes in novels, tantalizing romance in movies and TV, and even straight-up porn. This pair of books has none of that.

For all the explicitness of their titles, the Sex with... books have no explicit content. As it turns out, real sex that happened between real people throughout history has been really boring. Everything is couched in the too-subtle metaphors of the time. The books could easily have been spiced up with a few excerpts from actual letters passed between lovers, but even this is absent. Unless one wants to double check each quote by flipping back to the appendix, the whole book seems like hearsay, and dull hearsay at that. ("Did you hear about Queen Victoria's lover?" "No! What happened?" "They exchanged long glances over dinner, and sometimes held hands in the garden!" "Gasp! What scandal!")

Overall, the point of these books seems not to be sex, or even kings and queens, but women. (Kings were dumb! Women were awesome! Behold, these women who had sex with royalty, be they queens or mistresses! Are they not keen?) That is all well and good, except for the teasing little passages where the author lets slip that, oops, this king or that king did not like women. Instead of doing as promised on the back of the book (going into exhausting detail about the lives and motivations of the people who had sex with kings), the author merely gives the names of male lovers and moves on to the next fascinating woman on her list. One supposes that she expects the interested reader to do their own damn research.

The strangest part of the issue mentioned above is that the male lovers of kings crop up more often in Sex with the Queen than in Sex with Kings, usually to illustrate why the queen had to seek a lover. This fact only adds to the impression that the books are poorly organized, an impression first given because the books do not progress chronologically, but by something vaguely resembling a system of keywords. Money, childbirth, love, death, and secrecy all get their own chapters, which means the same names come up again and again, not because royalty have a tendency to reuse names, but because the same people get their life story told multiple times. As a tactic to increase page count, it is impressive. If the goal was to increase reader interest, it falls flat.

If you enjoy reading about history and how women were totally awesome in it, these books are for you. If you want any kind of education, Wikipedia would be just as informative, if not moreso. And if you want a book worth the stigma you would get from reading it in public, I would recommend anything else.