It’s hard for me to turn down a tortured hero story, especially when it’s a scarred tortured hero. Believe me, Gabriel definitely fits the bill. I’ve read my fair share of historical romances set in the aftermath of the Napoleonic War, though this is the first from the perspective of a French soldier. It’s dark. After all, the hero does shoot himself in the head in the very first chapter. But there are also moments of hope, redemption and love.
Though the hero is the more tragic figure of the story, the heroine is battling demons of her own. But Ariah is determined to overcome all she has endured. She is trying to live a good life and take care of her daughter and half sister. When she stumbles over Gabriel’s body floating in the river, it never occurs to her that this decorated soldier in uniform could have put himself there intentionally. So she drags him out and sets to nursing him back from the brink of death.
The book follows the evolution of both characters, individually and together, as they get to know one another and Gabriel heals. He starts so broken, both inside and out. But Ariah’s light changes him. In her, he finds belonging and acceptance he thought he would never have. And with him, she finds the safety to let go of her past.
Some parts of the book are quite good. I like how the author slowly parcels out the backstory on both Ariah and Gabriel. You start off with only broad strokes, but the depth of their suffering is peeled back like the layers of an onion. I also feel like Rachel Demeter did a good job fleshing the characters out. I understood how they got to these places emotionally and I felt like I knew them. And together, they fit.
I did have some issues, though. There were times the book felt too long and there was too much narrative. But perhaps my bigger issue was in Gabriel’s ability to function through his injury so quickly. Yes, he was in and out for a week or so. But he blew out the side of his face, and in a couple of weeks he was lusting for Ariah. I broke my arm once and two weeks later, even Chris Hemsworth wouldn’t have turned my head. THIS GUY STUCK A GUN IN HIS MOUTH. He shot through his teeth, his cheek. He had exposed bones sticking through his flesh. And he was thinking about how much he wanted to taste her, consume her warmth, and track his tongue across her beating pulse… among other things. Did I mention he just blew half his face off?
I believe these two could form an emotional attachment in the time they did, but the physical desires so soon after such a traumatic injury were too much. In addition, I felt like what happened to Ariah’s husband was trite and a bit too convenient. I felt the climax was a little contrived and the ending tied up a bit too nicely.
All that said, I felt like the good outweighed the bad. I had to suspend my disbelief and just roll with it. I liked the romance at its core and it hit all my tortured hero buttons.
*ARC provided by publisher
Click to purchase: Amazon
by Rachel L Demeter
Release Date: August 27, 2015