I’m behind the curve with this anthology. It’s been out a while and well reviewed by several great reviewers but I’ll be honest I didn’t really know anything about that when I read this anthology. I happen to like the incest kick and wanted to read SMP’s take on a complicated issue. Stories in this niche tend to be angst ridden or sex filled, both of which I like, but I was hoping for something more well rounded and nuanced from Fraternal Devotion. Thankfully almost all the stories delivered this and offered a range of interpretations. Not all stories resonated with me as a reader but all are well-written and interesting takes on this particular kink. As an anthology I think the collection works very well and is worth buying. I especially like that this collection offers 5 well thought out stories than 20 extremely short ones. One final point I wanted to add is that the collection as a whole is edited beautifully with a wonderful flow of topics and interpretations. It works well reading them all in one sitting.
The collection opens extremely well with a bang in War and Peace and Brotherhood by D.K. Jernigan (4 stars). This is easily one of my favorites of the group. It’s a futuristic, paranormal world where a sexually transmitted virus causes infected people to change into a wide variety of possible superpowers or mutations. Keith and his brother Riley are on opposites sides of the problem. Keith is part of a militia hunting down infected while Riley is trying to save and transport infected to safe areas. The two clash but their chemistry and love for each other eventually wins out. The world is well crafted and immediately engaging. The two personalities feel authentic with real conflicts, drama, and questions. I’m not sure this is a soul mate love match but the two men feel well suited to each other and genuinely care for each other. The build up to the brothers getting together takes most of the space so the story feels rushed once Keith and Riley finally have sex. The concepts are interesting and complex enough to have filled an entire novel but the author did a wonderful job presenting a successful short story filled with complicated themes and spanning several genres.
Moving on from the dark tone of the first story, Analgesia by Alisha Steele (4 stars) offers a super hot, sexually charged delight. Set in modern, contemporary day Ethan and Brandon are typical brothers in many ways. They tease each other, antagonize, compete, and even care for each other. Brandon has been longing for his brother for years while Ethan has been out sleeping with everything that moves to forget their connection. They’re back together in a forced companionship trying to help their mom sell her house. It’s clearly a short-term situation so I’m not sure how they would exist beyond this time but I also didn’t really worry about it. There’s a little bit of angst and emotional turmoil offered but it’s tempered by extremely hot sex. Not to say this is nothing but erotica but the author knows how to write steamy and delicious sex scenes and happily litters the story with such. The conflict and turmoil of being brothers is very distant and not essential to the story, which makes for a nice foil to the darker, more cerebral tone of the first story. The writing is clean and evocative and centers on the connection between the men and not so much their future. This is easily the most erotic story of the collection, but would also stand out on it’s own. I loved this one and would recommend it.
After the high of the second story, Depression, Love and Swimming Pools by Leigh Wilder (3 stars), is a bit of a downer. As the title suggests, this short story deals with a collegiate Cale home for break and his depressed, medicated brother Derrick. Unable to deal with the prospect of Derrick drowning himself like their father, Cale decides to do what he must to help his brother. This help includes sleeping together and through that process Cale discovers something about himself. The story is undoubtedly well written and intriguing. It delves into mental illness and the impact an incestuous relationship can have, both positively and negatively. I didn’t mind the more somber, serious tone of the story and I especially appreciated how this story stood out so uniquely. Not all brother relationships are easy and light and this story tries to show another side. Both brothers have issues they need to work through and they eventually realize that together they can function best, even if it’s not perfect. I’m not sure that their relationship is based on love so much as mutual need and mental illness. It’s an intriguing look though and fits well in the anthology.
Next up is On Clouds of Obsession by Azalea Moone (2 stars), my least favorite of the group. It deals with Jeremy who’s been in love with his brother since they were teenagers. Now Matt is set to marry his brand new girlfriend in Vegas and Jeremy is trying to be supportive when all he wants is to have Matt for himself. I struggled with this story from the outset since I never really understood why Jeremy was in love with Matt. Their childhood relationship is pretty typical for siblings but Matt is described as cruel and mean. Even their banter and behavior as adults highlights a sheen of disrespect Matt shows for Jeremy. There’s a sense of thinly veiled cruelty on Matt’s part that never really goes away. Together I didn’t quite understand the push-pull dynamic. Some of their actions make sense while others seem baffling. The final resolution is logical but seems out of character for both men. Matt goes from condescending and dismissive to caring and loving without a real reason for the change. Overall I think the idea of the story is a very good one and it presents another aspect of the brother-brother relationship that’s not shown elsewhere in the collection but I don’t think the writing quite achieved the goal. I couldn’t connect to the characters nor really understand a lot of their actions and rationales so this one left me cold.
Thankfully the anthology ends on a high note (literally) with On the Edge by SL Armstrong & K Piet (4 stars). This is my favorite of the group, though all three favorites are equally good in different ways. Here Andrew and Ben are twins living and loving together. They’ve been sexual with each other for over a decade but Andrew has always struggled to let go of his guilt over their relationship. He feels tremendous weight over what society thinks and how he knows that their incestuous relationship is inherently wrong in others’ eyes. He compensates by getting drunk and high on drugs to have sex with his brother before the guilt forces him to hurt Ben emotionally. This roller coaster ride is highly emotional and angst ridden, however it’s a wonderful counterpoint to the anthology as a whole. It shows a much deeper, more internal conflict and one I’d expect would be a real stumbling block to these kinds of relationships. It’s nice to see this thread explored and without a magical, easy ending. Andrew has to really fight his demons and even admits at the end, he’s not entirely sure he can win but he wants to. The writing is incredible and the characters are very deep and nuanced. I think the ending is hopeful, almost too much, but it makes for a nice belief that these two can really make it work.