“Lt. Privet’s Love Story” is set in a complex fantasy kingdom which is ruled by sibling monarchs who command a massive and powerful navy. Scott Thomas focuses his attention on a remote seaport, the activities that brought two of the royal navy ships to the seaport, and the actions of a lieutenant that threatens to cause further harm to the fleet.
The title character serves on the frigate North Swan in a fantasy world. After his ship was mysteriously damaged by a ghostly red ship, it put into the harbor at New Crown for repairs. While in port, he becomes smitten with Hazel, the daughter of the local innkeeper. Although one would think that level-headedness and logic were good traits for a lieutenant in a royal navy, Privet fails to demonstrate either of those traits. Rather than court the barmaid, he goes to Old Crown, located on top of the mountain at which New Crown is at the base, and purchases a love philtre from the twin Deerfield Sisters.
As may be expected, Privet’s used of the magic potion causes difficulties. Having been befriended by Captain Moorsparrow of the Swift Cannon, and his wife, Privet learns that the fleet’s flagship has also been fired upon by the mysterious red ship. To make matters worse, the Swift Cannon was carrying one of the heirs to the throne and was now also in port for repairs, which would delay the repairs to the North Swan.
Naturally, Moorsparrow’s wife winds up unintentionally drinking the love potion, which leads Moorsparrow to challenge Privet to a duel, a situation which will either deprive the royal navy of a ship’s captain or the reader of a character who is presented as the hero, and certainly the protagonist, of the short story. A deadly outcome for the duel is only averted by the sudden reappearance of the red ship.
Thomas manages to create an interesting world that hints at a larger polity beyond that which is shown within the text of the story. He discusses the machinations of the various claimants to the throne and shows that the world has need of a navy similar to the Napoleonic era British navy. If the magic existent in the world doesn’t seem as well defined, it may be because it is seen through the eyes of Lt. Privet, who is merely purchasing the magic, rather than the Deerfield Sisters, who are actually casting the magic.
The love potion wears off Mrs. Moorsparrow reasonably quickly, within a couple of days, which leads the reader to wonder what Privet’s plans were after the potion wore off of Hazel. Does Privet expect she would be so in love with him by that time that she wouldn’t notice that he had slipped her a date-rape drug. It is also clear that while Privet may know how to handle himself in military situations when he is in command of men or dealing with his superiors (accidentally drugging Mrs. Moorsparrow aside), he demonstrates absolutely no aptitude in a social context. Throughout the story, he is only shown saying a single word to Hazel when he orders a drink, and no indication he has spoken to her prior to the beginning of the story. He is merely in love with the idea of being in love with her and clearly lusts for her more than loves her.
Despite the problematic character at the center of the story and the actions he chose to take before he even considered a more traditional, less drastic measures to win the love of his enamorata, Thomas offers an intriguing world in “St. Privet’s Love Story,” which combines a sense a fantasy world with the naval adventures of Patrick O’Brian despite taking place almost entirely on dry land.
Scott Thomas’s “Lt. Privet’s Love Story” appeared in The Solaris Book of New Fantasy, edited by George Mann in 2007. It has not been reprinted.
Steven H Silver is a nineteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW, NESFA Press, and ZNB. His most recent anthology is Alternate Peace and his novel After Hastings was published in 2020. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.