The worst part about having your e-reader die is losing access to your carefully managed queue of review titles. While I'm (barely) managing to muddle through with a cheap tablet, trying to reconstruct that queue from titles scattered across email, my laptop, my PC, and my cloud drive has proven to be a challenge. As a result, I am woefully behind with some titles . . . but persevering. :)
With my only experience of Brandon Shire being his starkly-realistic tales of sorrow and tragedy, I was quite excited when he told me he had a new story, one with a "HAPPY ending" to share. I already knew him as an exceptionally strong writer, one who can capture the human soul on the page, and one who could wring the most intense of emotions from a reader, so Afflicted went into my must-read pile.
A fresh take on the 'opposites attract' theme, Shire offers up a high-priced male escort with a difficult past, and a fiercely independent gentleman for whom blindness is a challenge rather than a disability. I don't want to say much more about the plot, because it is pretty straightforward, and largely what you would expect from an erotic m/m romance. What I do want to talk about, instead, is the actual writing of the tale, and the way Shire commands our senses.
For many authors, writing a character who is blind or deaf is a challenge, and one that never quite comes across as genuine. All too often a narrative voice is forced to intrude, letting us know what they would have otherwise seen, or could have otherwise heard. We're left outside that character's head, which only reinforces the sense of disability. Not so with Brandon Shire. He immerses us in his characters, and shows just how our other senses can not only compensate for the loss of one, but how they can be powerful and passionate all on their own.
The lust-cum-love between Dillon and Hunter is one of smells, sounds, and physical sensations. If you've ever made slow, passionate love in the dark, you have a sense of what that can be like - except, of course, you really don't, because that darkness is never absolutely, and never eternal. Even knowing what I did about his style and his love for poetic language, I was consistently amazed by how much Shire made me 'see' without seeing anything at all.
There is still some pain and sorrow to the tale, mostly buried in the past, but the prospect of love forces both characters to expose that pain. It's a traumatic, but ultimately cathartic experience, and the way in which the relationship develops will leave you breathless and hungry for more. If I were to have one complaint, it's that the pacing seemed to accelerate unnecessarily in the final chapters, with the end coming about much more suddenly than seemed fitting. That's a small complaint, though, and nothing that takes away from the beauty of Afflicted.
[Reviewed by Sally]