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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Fifth House by L. E. Bryce

The Fifth House by L. E. Bryce
Publisher: Phaze Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (114 pages)
Other: M/M
Rating: 4.5 Cherries
Review by: Phlox

First in the Water Lovers of the Islands trilogy, the follow-up series to the bestselling The Water Lovers of Sirilon!

For years Dyas has been unlucky in love. So when the brilliant yet outspoken servant of the Lady of the Waters is sent to the Seaward Islands to establish a new house for the LadyÆs sacred consorts, love is the last thing he expects or wants to find. Will Dyas survive the culture shock and finally find the man of his dreams among the islanders?

Dyas has always endured a life of lonely frustrations and now the priests send him away, to what seems to him an exile brought on by his inquisitive, meddlesome nature. In this return to the world of Sirilon, Bryce takes us away from the Blue House on the mainland to the islands, a culture she has only hinted at in previous Sirilon stories. The islanders have traditionally sent their talevé, the sacred consorts of the Water Goddess, to live on the mainland. They have grown tired of the mainlanders’ demands, though, and want to keep their talevé where they belong – in the islands. Dyas is tasked with establishing a new Blue House there, sent with two companions, far from home and everyone he has ever known, with no prospect of ever returning.

The three mainland talevé are shocked by the rustic conditions, the provincial attitudes, and the lack of ceremony and decorum when they arrive. These talevé live among the people, anyone may speak to them, they roam wherever they please and they work, all unheard of and rather scandalous to mainland sensibilities. But the islanders are practical people. They have no time for nobility or armies, war or the slave trade. The business of living takes all their time. ‘Everyone works’, Dyas is told with some surprise. The island talevé are rather puzzled over what their mainland counterparts do all day if they are shut away and forbidden to work.

Dyas struggles daily with the culture clash, carefully navigating the jagged shoals of compromise between what his new hosts believe is right and necessary and what the mainland priests have told him must be. It becomes clear early on, to the reader, if not to Dyas, that he had been chosen for this task because of his temperament and diplomatic skills, his ability to see where the rules might be bent. No one else would have been right for the job and the reader aches to tell him so.

His other struggle is more personal, having to do with the handsome and somewhat stubborn Adarrel, one of the island talevé. No one has ever wanted Dyas for anything more than a bout of sex. Tired of meaningless encounters, he hesitates and backs away from Adarrel’s rather sweet courting of him, inventing more and more excuses for why giving in would be a bad idea. (It won’t last, the difference in their ages is too great, the cultural differences too vast and so on.) The conversations between these two are one of the best parts of the story, Dyas, refined and educated but with so much inner turmoil, Adarrel, rough and sometimes coarse but sensible and confident.

Of Bryce’s Sirilon stories, this is perhaps the one with the quietest, most intimate feel. There are no kidnappings, no riots, and no attempted suicides, just the trials of a man trying to do his job well and adjust to living where he feels he will never belong. The language, as always, is beautiful and flowing, the dialogue crisp and believable, and the reader will be swept away in the romance without missing the high drama. My only issue with this lovely, rippling story is the length, with an ending that struck me as perhaps a little abrupt. It gives the reader hope, though, that Bryce will return to the Fifth House in future stories since one is definitely left wanting more.

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