Concubinage by L. E. Bryce
Publisher: Phaze Books
Length: Short Story (37 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 cherries
Reviewed by Phlox
In Tajhaan, beautiful and skilled courteseans of both sexes vie for the attention of wealthy patrons. Money and privilege, however, come with a price, as one young man soon discovers. For when Hanithi begins an affair with another handsome courtesan, he learns that patronage and bondage are sometimes the same thing.
The free courtesans of Tajhaan walk a precarious tightrope between their own ethics and desires and the appetites of their wealthy, powerful clientele. And this is the whole point to Concubinage, this skilled balancing act of young men and women who, under the letter of the law, have the right of choice, the right to refuse, but, in reality, are as much at the mercy of the ruling class as they were as slaves. Even more so for some of them, since they no longer enjoy the protection and seclusion of a powerful master’s house.
I ended up reading the courtesan stories backwards, having read Dragonfly before Concubinage, but I think in some ways I may have enjoyed the pair more this way. The reader connects so thoroughly with Inandré in the later story that it’s fascinating, in a poignant way, to see him prior to the tragedy that befalls him. This cheeky, impertinent Inandré, full of laughter and confidence, is a far cry from the broken, anxious young man we see later on. The reversal of Hanithi’s and Inandré’s roles in their own relationship is painted in anguished and beautiful detail as well, Hanithi transforming from the less-experienced object of seduction to comforter and advisor. The scenes between the two in bed are passionate and playful at first and later more tender as Inandré’s needs change.
Bryce’s characters, as always, are fully realized people; set against a backdrop where the scents and sights she paints makes each scene leap sharp and crisp from the page. I know I often mention issues with the endings of Bryce stories, sometimes a bit abrupt or, in my eyes, too soon, but Concubinage ends just where it should, at a place where the reader feels satisfied and, perhaps, even a but smug. On its own, it’s a well-wrought story; together with Dragonfly, it creates a perfect circle of tragedy and the reinvention of self in its aftermath.