Five-Star Friday: Priest Edition
Priest is the dirty, angsty, messy story of a beautiful romance between—you guessed it—a priest and one of his flock. This made quite the wave last year when it was released, but I never bothered picking it up because I thought all the hype was due to its tawdry, taboo subject matter. Well God bless freebies (and forgive the blasphemy) because I wouldn't have picked Priest up otherwise.
The expected titillation was definitely there—some of the sacrilegious sex scenes were over the top, although the strength of the narrative made it bearable. But most stunning to me: this book should be the poster child for why “worldbuilding” isn't just for sci-fi and fantasy authors. Going into this, Hollywood and one Catholic wedding with a ruthlessly abbreviated mass were all I knew about Catholicism. In short, I knew bupkis. And yet, Sierra Simone built this wholly alien world into something tangible and completely accessible without talking down to the reader or resorting to info-dumping.
How? Let's start with the first sentence:
It's no secret that reconciliation is the least popular sacrament.
Right from word five (I counted), the worldbuilding begins. Simone doesn't call it “confession,” she calls it “reconciliation.” And then she proceeds to never define that word. Even though Simone knows most of her audience has probably never heard the word used like this. A lesser author might have stopped and inserted “...reconciliation, or what every layperson calls 'confession,' is the least popular sacrament.” But Simone resists the Dark Side, trusts her readers to pick up on context clues in the next few paragraphs, and writes a character that thinks in the words and phrases a real-life priest would use. As a result, the reader is immersed that much further into the MC’s POV—and the book.
Moreover, what follows is a small rant from our priest's POV about how he wishes his church came with a modern “reconciliation room” where he could reach out and hug his parishioners. Instead, he bemoans the “constrained and formal” booth for inciting claustrophobia. Bam! Context clue. What claustrophobic box have I always associated with Catholic churches? Confessional booths. And she's also subliminally hinting to the reader that our vision of confession (and perhaps of the Catholic church as a whole) is antiquated. But in addition to clueing the reader into the setting, Simone also illuminates important things about her MC's character: his love of people, his desire to get out there and do good amongst his flock, and his need to see the tangible results of his work (showing, not telling FTW!). Way to make worldbuilding do double duty as character building, too.
It's Simone's deft hand that turns Priest into more than just a smutty good time. Yes, this book is filled with dark, taboo sex. Yes, this book revolves around a popular porno/erotica theme. But a talented author with a solid vision of her characters and the world they inhabit can turn something commonplace into a gut-clenching, five-star read. Even if the subject matter isn't to your taste, if you're a fiction author of any stripe, it's worth reading the free preview on Amazon just to see a master worldbuilder at work. Bonus: as of this writing, Priest is also free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.