Seventh by L.E. Bryce
Publisher: Phaze Books
Length: Short Story (88 pgs)
Rating: 4 Cherries
Review by Phlox
Two years ago, Elantho’s lover drowned in a terrible accident. Now, still grieving, he is sent south to the island of Tash to recruit Eshandri, son of the local matriarch, to join the Blue House of Lachant. What Elantho finds, however, is a powerful being who does not need instruction, and who offers Elantho the promise of a freedom he has never known—and a love he never thought to experience.
How long must you have known someone before you can say you loved them? This is the question Elantho wrestles with throughout this sweet, contemplative story. Everyone tells him he could not have loved Omis, whom he only knew for a few weeks and only made love to once, but when Omis dies in a horrible fishing accident, the pain is no less sharp and real than if he had loved him for years. He reacts to the puzzled questions by becoming as insufferable as possible, snappish, ill-tempered and sulky, to keep people at a distance. If no one ever gets close again, this terrible pain can never happen again. It’s a good thing Eshandri, a talevé prince of the Southern Islands, has other ideas.
Elantho’s character could easily have come across as an annoying caricature, a spoiled prince who has never learned how to be accepting of others, angry at his exile from the wealth and pomp of the mainland. Bryce keeps us firmly and deeply in his point of view, though, so the reader understands his anguish and frustration, the loss of his faith both in his goddess and in himself, so his inner struggles are poignant rather than irritating, his loss and confusion real and heartbreaking. Eshandri’s patient and persistent courtship provides the perfect foil to Elantho’s brooding, his humor and overt, unabashed sexuality just daring Elantho to come out of his carefully constructed isolation.
As always, Bryce paints beautiful scenes for the reader and writes convincing, well-conceived dialogue, the main characters identifiable by their voices without a surfeit of tags and the inevitable culture clash is, once again, masterfully done. Elantho is revolted by the gaudy attire and the myriad tattoos the island talevé wear, while Eshandri is puzzled over Elantho’s plain appearance, which seems, to him, less than the homage the Lady of the Waters deserves. As with Bryce’s other Water Lovers of the Islands story, The Fifth House, the story is told in a quiet way, without violence or an intricate plot. While I miss, to some extent, the gripping tension and high drama of some of her earlier Water Lovers books, this is a different flavor of story and should be approached as such. The ending is a bit abrupt, leaving questions unanswered which one can only hope will be addressed in a future story.
This is a sweet, heart-wrenching tale of a young man who has realized with the death of his first love that he has been bitterly lonely all his life. How he comes to this realization and what he finally does about it is well worth the short read. The prose draws the reader into this world so skillfully, the difficulty is in returning to the real one.