Disclaimer: This book deals with suicide, molestation, and has many scenes of a sacrilegious nature involving a priest breaking his vow of chastity. If any of those are things you cannot handle or are uncomfortable with, you have my full blessing to scroll on by til the next review.
I was so into this book in so many ways I was not expecting.
I’ve been hearing praise for Sierra Simone’s Priest series for some time now and knew I needed to give it a try but it wasn’t until Heaving Bosoms put it on the docket to review that I really got the push I needed. I’m so grateful for that push. I do not have a priest kink (no yucks to yums just not my preferred flavor of taboo) and I still do not, but I couldn’t help but melt for Father Tyler Bell.
To quickly summarize, the novel is a first person account of Father Bell, modern, sexy, sex positive priest with a tragic past, and his encounter with Poppy Danforth, blue blooded debutante turned sex worker turned bookkeeper who doesn’t know how to be ok with how much she loves being a slut. I use the word slut because that is the word she uses and it is absolutely used as a praise as opposed to the usual slur.
The two meet when Poppy comes in for confession despite not being religious. Essentially she needs the therapy aspect of talking about her feelings without the complication of involving an HMO. I get it. Her confessions are told in first person as well, though hers in this instance, and we hear about her first love who brutally rejected her as “too much of a whore to be a wife” but wanted her as a mistress and how she embraced sex work but is uncomfortable with how to reconcile her desire to be used consensually and being loved for this and not in spite of it.
For Bell’s part, he is immediately taken with her and I know that sounds creepy and predatory and that is fair to worry about but one of the things I most appreciated about the novel is how clearly Sierra Simone reinforces that these are two consenting adults and that Poppy knows exactly what she wants and communicates it. There was so much communication between these characters that it never felt wrong to me. To be fair, I am not a Catholic and do not hold any religious beliefs so I am not as sensitive to this. One doesn’t need to be a convert, however, to know that fucking a woman on the altar is a major moment of Unacceptable Behavior. Similarly, one is not supposed to use sacred, blessed oils of sacrament to lube your already forbidden partner’s body for anal sex.
Throughout the novel the couple shares more than their bodies. Bell talks about finding his sister’s body after she dies by suicide and finding out that the cause of it was years of being molested by their church’s priest and how it tore his family apart even further when he chose to join the church. They share their feelings for each other. They extensively share about their feelings on God. Bell is a priest who is not torn between a woman and God. He is a man who holds a deep, unyielding love for his God and acknowledges that his reasons for entering the church were more about trying to right a wrong that was never his to undo than a true calling to the priesthood. He does not deny religion or make these choices lightly. Poppy comes to appreciate religion through her own experiences with the church members and communication with God herself, not through some extremely blasphemous sex. The sex is hot and consensual and beautiful but it is not the core of their identities or their relationship. Instead it is their ability to be vulnerable and see and be seen by each other as they are and recognize how unique and wonderful they are as individuals and together. Their relationship with God becomes just another thing they share and grow together with and I thought it was beautiful.
I have read criticisms of the book as too angsty and, fairly, too blasphemous. I’m not here to say that either of those feelings are wrong as reading is a very personal experience and it’s absolutely fair to feel that way. As for me, I found it to be a master class in exploring religion, bdsm, and showing how two characters can approach obstacles with open communication and clear resolution of conflict. Also did I mention the sex was crazy hot?
There is a sequel novella called Midnight Mass and a proper novel sequel called Sinner which I have heard mixed things about and will be sharing those in the near future.