The Golden Lotus by L. E. Bryce
Publisher: Phaze Books
Length: Short Story (53 pgs)
Rating: 4 cherries
Reviewed by Phlox
When his master is defeated in battle, the concubine Tamet volunteers to take his place as a royal hostage. But when betrayal leaves Tamet trapped in an unfamiliar land, with a prince who both attracts and repels him, what fate will the future hold for him?
Bryce’s world building is so compelling, there are times while reading her work that I develop the bizarre desire to write histories of her world. They would have titles like The Shivarian Expansion and Early Tajhaani-Juvan Dynastic Relations. Unfortunately, I don’t think the scholarly world has a market for such titles, so I’ll content myself with her lovely romances.
The Golden Lotus is one of her earlier works, placed chronologically before Dead to the World, in a time when Tajhaan and Juva are still at war. The themes of blossoming love in captivity and the captive as a ‘stranger in a strange land’ (in the Biblical sense, not in a Heinlein sense) are a revisiting for the reader who has read later works. This is a much gentler treatment of the subject matter than in Dead to the World, though, with a young man who has volunteered for his captivity. In a desperate moment of brave loyalty, Tamet steps forward to take his Prince’s place as royal hostage, his selflessness heartbreaking for the reader as we discover how little his master deserved his loyalty. The Tajhaani High Prince, Rahmad, is a rougher, less couth character than the genteel, sophisticated High Princes of later works, but he is a product of his time and no less appealing because of it.
My only issue with this piece, as with some other Bryce works, is the abrupt ending. Without revealing too much, it is a sweet ending but nevertheless stops short of what, I thought, should have been Tamet’s moment of truth. The reader is set up for this final scene to be played out, and then is cut off before we reach that crucial point. It’s no secret what his decision will be, of course, but I’m a selfish reader and would have liked to have seen it. As a reader, I don’t like things over-explained, I appreciate having things left to my imagination, but once in a while, Bryce leaves the reader to fill in a bit too much.
The Golden Lotus is a graceful, languid work, an easy two hour read, with fully developed characters and a well-paced plotline carefully crafted to fit that space. The cultures are so beautifully realized that they become their own secondary characters, lending depth and flavor to the story, allowing the reader to grieve with the homesick and anxious Tamet in his alienation amidst strange customs and manners. The author has grown as a writer since this piece, but it is nevertheless a lovely, worthwhile addition to any Bryce collection.