Afflicted by Brandon Shire

“Loving someone gives you courage; being loved back gives you strength.”

Afflicted is Brandon Shire’s first published foray into the realm of gay erotic romance. The story traces the development of the relationship between Hunter Stephens, a blind audio books publisher, and Dillon Chambers, a high priced male escort, from their chance meeting and one-night stand, to their burgeoning love. What ensues is a well-written, highly erotic and sensual romance story as their need for something more than a sexual relationship grows, but their respective insecurities serve as an obstacle in fulfilling their desire for love.

As a blind man Hunter’s freedom and independence from an overprotective mother was hard fought and won. He is a successful niche market publisher of audio books, extremely self-sufficient and more than capable of taking care of himself. However, despite his confidence, his blindness is an alienating factor in the world of the sighted and he is lonely.

Dillon is a high priced male escort that works with an exclusive agency who handles only the wealthiest clients. But it wasn’t always like that for him. At sixteen he was thrown out of the house for being gay and struggled to survive, turning tricks on the street and finding food and a place to sleep wherever he could. Along the way, he met two people that both saved and changed his life. But he has never met anyone who could change his heart until Hunter.

Mr. Shire fuses his distinct literary style with elements of genre fiction to write a lyrical and often reflective novel that captures the sexual and emotional journey of these two men as they navigate the waters of their new relationship attempting to overcome their insecurities and trust issues. The story is written in the third person and the author alternates the perspective between each protagonist. However, it is Hunter’s voice that dominates the narrative throughout.

The writing aptly captures the issues that Hunter faces and through the character provides the reader with an extremely intimate portrayal of what it’s like for a blind man in a sighted world. Mr. Shire’s refined descriptions, which purposely omit visual attributes from the prose, allows the reader to experience the world as Hunter does through touch, taste, sound and in particular smell.

Through the character of Dillon the author revisits a dominant theme found in all of his published novels to date, that of the realities for LGBTQ youth. Mr. Shire chronicles Dillon’s tragic back-story with both sensitivity and honesty. It begins with a loving family life but later turns into rejection, disownment and homelessness as a result of his coming out. As much as I enjoyed the character of Hunter, I was quite drawn to Dillon and the subtleties of this character, in particular how the author well nuances the seminal impact of his family’s rejection on his outlook on love and relationships.

Hunter and Dillon first come together through sex and it is through their sexual relationship that their emotional intimacy slowly grows. Sex is plentiful in this novel, but by no means gratuitous. The author takes his time in exploring this important aspect of their relationship and the scenes are sublime in their depiction of unfettered need and desire between the two men, providing the reader with an erotic and sensual feast. The sex scenes are also written exclusively through Hunter’s perspective, and in this, the author excels in writing how Hunter experiences physical pleasure, once again, by omitting any visual attributes in his descriptions and concentrating instead on the feel, tastes, sounds and smells of sex.

I found the dialogue in this story to be of a quality not often found in erotic romance. Throughout the novel the exchanges between Hunter and Dillon often serve as foreplay heightening the sexual tension between the two. The first scene in the novel stands out most because it is this intelligent initial exchange between Hunter and Dillon (a.k.a. Frank) and Dillon’s sharp observations that immediately drew me into the story.

“…He stopped suddenly and listened as Frank stopped beside him. ‘Tell me what you see,’ he instructed Frank. ‘What do you see?’

Frank was quiet for a few seconds, obviously trying to gauge his question.

Hunter let it hang there as a dapple of sunlight warmed his face; this meant the trees he heard whispering in the breeze were likely right overhead.

‘A deep green melancholy,’ Frank finally answered…”

The story includes a number of recurring and occasional secondary characters that impact Hunter and Dillon’s lives. Most prominent is Hunter’s best friend, Margie, who deeply cares about Hunter, but who is also overly protective of him and at first quite judgmental of Dillon, and of Hunter’s relationship with him. I had a mixed reaction to this character. On the one hand, she is a well-written representation of the “fruit fly” (my preferred term) archetype within gay fiction. On the other, I would have welcomed a more fleshed out portrayal of this character. Hunter’s mother Lydia is also an important, albeit somewhat elusive figure in the story. Although the character has only a few on-page scenes, the reader gets to know her and of her complex relationship with her son mostly through Hunter’s introspection. Rounding off the cast of secondary characters is Garret, Hunter’s hometown friend and his son Toby, who has Down’s syndrome and Dillon’s cousin Travis.

A plot twist is introduced in the latter half of the story involving Hunter and Dillon’s respective families that may have repercussions for their relationship, and the story ends in a cliff-hanger of sorts as Hunter and Dillon begin to scratch the surface of their relationship issues only at book’s end. This is purposeful on the author’s part as their story continues in the sequel entitled, Afflicted II.

My affinity for this author’s writing remains intact as Mr. Shire once again raises the bar, this time within the realm of gay romance, to deliver a quality written love story. I very much enjoyed reading Afflicted and look forward to the sequel.

Afflicted by Brandon Shire is available at Smashwords, All Romance eBooks, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. As with all of his titles, 10% of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to two of Mr. Shire’s charities, organizations that help homeless LGBT youth – Lost-n-Found Youth, Inc., and GLBT Advocacy and Youth Services, Inc.

Music: Speak Your Heart – Lizz Wright (The Orchard, 2008)

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