Nightingale by L. E. Bryce
Publisher: Phaze Books
Length: Short Story (93 pgs)
Other: M/M, Anal Sex
Rating: 4.5 Cherries
Review by: Phlox
When Aranion, prince of Yshan and officer in the Queen's Navy, is given a singer for the winter solstice, he neither needs nor wants the young man. But when circumstances throw them together, Aranion finds himself attracted to the shyly charming Melan. And when a disaster at sea threatens to drive them apart, Aranion may have to sacrifice all to get his nightingale back.
This story has a short paragraph before the story begins, describing where it fits chronologically in relation to other Bryce stories. I read this paragraph and thought ‘Ah, so this is during the time of Shivarian expansion’ and then had to chuckle at myself. Ms. Bryce has crafted such a thoroughly realized world that those familiar with her works are tempted into thinking in terms of actual history, as if these countries, dynasties and islands truly existed. The writer’s love of history is obvious in her ongoing construction, the royal lineages, the inevitability of conflict and conquest, but these things are never tossed at the reader wholesale. Rather, she works them into the fabric of the tale, showing us how the grand scale affects the lives of individuals.
So many of these individuals, the protagonists in Bryce’s stories, are genteel and refined, submissive either by nature or training. Aranion is a refreshing change of pace in that regard. A Prince of Yshan, loyal to his mother the Queen to a fault, he is far from genteel. A rough military man, an Alpha to the extreme, his language is direct, brusque and often coarse, as befits a man who spent most of his life among soldiers. Subtle nuances of behavior, cues to the unspoken that others see, elude him at times, rendering his navigation of his blossoming relationship with the young slave, Melan, both endearing and laden with dramatic irony. The reader often understands far before Aranion does. I wanted to shake him at times, but I adored his ferocious protectiveness and the tenderness that lay underneath.
This is a single point of view narrative, so often the case with Bryce’s shorter works, so Melan remains something of a cipher throughout the story. Obviously abused since an early age, Melan still maintains a sweetness and a hungry curiosity about the world which point to a character stronger than his physical appearance would imply. The decision to keep him somewhat distant from the reader, I believe, was the right one, only allowing us to see him and his slow transformation through Aranion’s eyes. The only issue I had with the narrative was that the story arc does bog down just a bit towards the end. Our frustration mirrors Aranion’s, but I think, perhaps, it went on a bit too long.
With such an engaging, consistent main character and such a well-drawn supporting cast, Nightingale is a must read for Bryce fans and a thoroughly enjoyable one for any lover of homoerotic fantasy. It is so complete, though, that we will most likely never see another Aranion story—a sad thought, indeed.