Pros: Does a great job of showing how two people can grow close together; emotional reactions to situations feel appropriate and honest
Cons: One of the villains is almost too crazy to be seen as a real threat
Rating: 4.75 out of 5
Review book (uncorrected proof) courtesy of Penguin Group
Expected publication date: January 5, 2010
Jessica Thornton has fled England and her home to live with her brother in America because she fears for her safety, and for that of her unborn child. While traveling across the New Mexico Territory, the stagecoach she is riding in crashes and she and the other passengers are taken in temporarily by Brady Wilkins, a local cattle rancher. As she gets to know the man behind the caustic wit she finds someone who can help her to find the strength to get through difficult circumstances and heal from past hurts. But there is danger lurking at the peaceful ranch; one of Brady’s old enemies has a score to settle, and it will take both Brady and Jessica’s strength to get through it.
I’ve never read a Western or historical Western before, but if they’re all done as well as Pieces of Sky, then I’ve been missing out. Since I tend to read British historicals, it was a real treat to read a historical where marrying well was not one of the overriding concerns of the characters. Instead, the romance between Jessica and Brady is allowed to develop naturally in the context of the two of them trying to make livings for themselves. We get to watch them engaging in a larger variety of ways and mundane activities that landed gentry tend not to engage in, such as cooking, sewing, and taking care of animals. For me, it made it easier to enter more fully into their world, because they were doing some of the same things that I do on a daily basis. (It would be nice, though, if I could go to balls every week!)
It was an absolute joy to watch Jessica and Brady’s relationship develop. Because they and the rest of the Wilkins family share a house, we are given a great many quiet opportunities to observe the two together. Some of my favorite moments are when the two sit out on the front porch at night, watch sunsets, and talk together. It’s nice to get a chance to watch as trust and respect develop before some of the more demanding carnal feelings, and it made the physical passion more believable to me, because the physical underscores the emotional connection nicely.
I also enjoyed the maturity with which the two of them faced their problems. They had both been through some pretty traumatic events in their lives, but they were trying to continue on the best that they could. It was nice not to see past experiences serve as an excuse for outright immaturity. Even when a difficult situation arose during the book, it was able to be resolved by one or the other lending help and support, and the trust and affection built up to that point gave the courage needed to get through. It was a wonderful change to see conflict as a means of allowing Jessica and Brady to explore the depth and range of their feelings for each other, as opposed to creating obstacles that get in the way of their happily ever after. It made the ending even more rewarding for me as well, because I knew that based on the way they handled conflict together, there was absolutely no way that the two of them couldn’t handle whatever else life might throw their way.
Even when conflict does arise, their emotional responses feel as if they result naturally from what is going on. Too often, I read a book where the hero or heroine goes through a difficult time, and it feels as though they’ve gone a little off the deep end from the way that they react. Jessica’s response to a couple of extremely difficult events were feelings that I could easily see myself having in the circumstances. This believablilty gave the characters much more depth to me, because I didn’t have to spend time trying to overlook little behaviors that aggravated me.
The supporting characters are also excellent additions to the story; instead of a series of aristocracy that can blur into cookie-cutter uniformity, Brady’s two brothers and the women of the house each have their unique voice and personality. Even Brady’s perspective is written with such a distinctive tone, I can hear a soft Southwestern drawl in my head (which for me was like an auditory piece of chocolate!).
The one thing that did bother me a little bit, however, was the fact that one of the villains was too crazy to feel like a threat at the beginning of the book. His own half-brother has doubts about his ability to carry out his evil schemes, and the reader sees him lose touch with reality more than once. As a romance reader, I expect a happily ever after, but painting a villain as borderline incompetent takes some of the suspense away. Ms. Warner does manage to get a good deal of the suspense back, however, by taking us inside his head. Seeing the motive and the anger inside him make him a much more tangible threat.
This was an absolutely beautiful story, and I was thoroughly caught up in the characters. I smiled when they laughed, and cried on more than one occasion. I haven’t read a book that moved me that much in a very long time. All the major characters save one were extremely believable, and Ms. Warner’s love and affection for the time and place shine through on each page. If this is Ms. Warner’s first novel, then I’m looking forward to the rest of her books, because she has a great talent.