by AM Riley, fantasy (2007)
Torquere Books, $3.95, ISBN 978-1-60370-159-1
The last Banshee Of The Clan O'Grady is male. And gay. And, at the moment, looking exactly like a drunk homeless buffoon. Needless to say, the members of the O'Grady clan, if they can see the Banshee, will shake their heads in pity or disgust rather than faint in terror when they spot him at their funerals.
Meanwhile, Maeebsef is a closeted fellow of some kind of wood elves called the Gianes which live inside trees. Maab, as he's called for short, yearns for a less orderly life - you know, one where he can run free and be who he really is. I believe that place is called South Hollywood. At any rate, poor Maab one day stumbles upon a man who lures him into giving that man some oral pleasures. The man probably doesn't think of the encounter as anything more than a quickie but the quickie is also Maab's first sexual encounter with a male and as a result poor Maab is besotted. A few more similar encounters with that man causes Maab to decide that he really has to go where his kind has never gone before - into the world of humans where he can look for the man and... well, he's not sure what he expects to have with the man but he realizes that he can't stay with his kind and live with all those pressures to marry a female and settle down unless he sorts himself out first.
And since that man in question is Samuel O'Grady, this leads Maab straight to the Banshee. The Banshee whose job is to protect the O'Grady folks is at first wary of the presence of another Faerie near them but he soon feels protective enough to take the poor lost Maab under his wing. He wants Maab gone but Maab is looking for Samuel, so they won't be rid of each other so easily.
Pardon me for sounding like a squealing fangirl but I lo-ooo-ove this story. I do! Maab is a very interesting dichotomy of innocence and maturity. He has very Puritan-like views of sex - you marry a girl, you make babies with her - that is a result of his upbringing but he is not child-like. He's just a very nice fellow whose more optimistic way of looking at things balances the Banshee's more jaded and bleak outlook most beautifully. Physically, though, Maab looks like... well, think Frodo in that movie. Only this Frodo can do things with his mouth like you can never imagine. The Banshee is more of an emo stereotype - he has lost his scream and his sense of direction, so it takes some nice TLC from Maab to get some shine back to his tarnished armor, so to speak.
I suppose if one wants to, one can draw parallels to Maab's people where homosexuality is taboo to real life. However, Of The Clan O'Grady is as far from depressing realism as one could get - this is a surprisingly romantic and heartwarming story. It has me fascinated from the first word as the story lays down the corruption of Maab's innocence that takes place even as the Banshee regains his sense of purpose. Both characters become more happier as a result of their relationship and it's wonderful to see how these two change in a convincing manner as their relationship develops.
Ms Riley has several things done perfectly here. The characters by themselves are recognizable archetypes in slash fiction but they are archetypes nicely done with enough depths given to make them stand out. Maab is a nice balance of optimism and ease of adaptation without coming off as one-dimensionally child-like or stupid while the Banshee is just enough of an emo brooder without becoming too self-pitying or self-absorbed. Both characters undergo changes in their personality in a credible manner without becoming too much like a different person at the end of the day. Most importantly, the relationship between Maab and the Banshee is a delightful balance of darker and lighter moments. The reason why I love this book is something that is hard to put down in words - it's the chemistry between the main characters, I suppose. They feel so right together, they belong together, and it's such a joy to follow them in this story.
Of The Clan O'Grady is easily one of the best gay romances I've read in a long time.
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