It’s a rare book that compels me to spend the entire day reading, so I was thankful that I began Mia Sheridan’s Archer’s Voice the morning of Mother’s Day so I could indulge in such a great story without guilt while the family fed me and handled the daily chores.
Bree Prescott arrives in the tiny Maine town of Pelion hoping to find peace from the nightmares that have plagued her ever since she and her father became the victims of a brutal crime. She rents a cottage by a picturesque lake, gets a job as a waitress in the local diner, and does her best to fight the morning panic attacks she endures every day. While she’s glad the locals are friendly and welcoming, Bree has no plans to get romantically involved with anyone. She certainly never expects to be so intrigued by the town’s eccentric recluse, a man who won’t speak to anyone and whose family’s past dramas still provide fuel for gossip and speculation.
With his scraggly beard and unkempt hair, Archer Hale looks like the hermit he has become. A childhood tragedy has left him mute and emotionally scarred, and being raised by a paranoid uncle further intensified Archer’s feelings of isolation and freakishness. He keeps to himself, only venturing off his land for necessities. When he literally bumps into Bree in a parking lot, she barely registers in his mind. But then she shows up at his house, and he finds that she can actually understand him. Before long, he begins to look forward to her visits, and against every instinct he has, he begins to care for her.
As Bree gets to know Archer, she discovers that he is nothing like the man others in the town believe him to be. It takes her a while to get past his initial coldness, but once she does, she finds a strength in him that helps her begin to heal. However, Archer’s fear of abandonment is crippling, and Bree fears that he’ll never be able to trust anyone or allow himself to feel love again.
I’ve labeled this book a contemporary, but it could also fit into the New Adult genre given that Bree and Archer are both in their early twenties. To be sure, there are little of the typical NA tropes, and even when the book does skirt close to clichés, it manages to remain fresh and unique.
Archer is truly a damaged hero. His handicap is legitimate – he can’t speak because his vocal chords were irreparably damaged when he was a child. The trauma that he witnessed along with the ostracism he suffered through the majority of his developmental years combine to inflict real emotional problems for this man.
As for Bree, she’s the perfect combination of determined without coming off as pushy. When Archer at first ignores her attempts to communicate with and befriend him, she doesn’t give up. But never do her efforts to get to know him cross the line into stalker-like behaviour. She has to earn his trust and the pay off is well worth the effort.
For those who enjoy a virginal hero, Archer’s Voice is a wonderful example of the trope done well. Archer’s situation has naturally lead to his current state of complete innocence, his introduction to sex having been nothing more than some girlie magazines handed to him by an uncle uncomfortable with answering a thirteen-year-old Archer’s questions. While Archer’s ability to become a great lover in a very short time stretches credulity, his delight in discovering the pleasures of physical intimacy is genuine.
However, I did have some problems with the book. The ending was a bit too abrupt and neat. The villains were cardboard-ish and overly dastardly, although Sheridan does manage to give him some nuance by the end of the book. Too, the big plot twist involving the tragedy that left Archer an orphan was obvious from the beginning. While necessary to establish Archer’s backstory and the reasons for his current mental state, I found all of the Hale family drama to be wholly unnecessary and predictable and wished that Sheridan had just left all of that out. In addition, Bree’s ability to speak sign language came across as an unlikely coincidence. And when it’s explained how Archer himself learned sign language, I had serious doubts that such a thing could truly happen.
Sheridan also engages in some unfair writerly tactics wherein she keeps information from the reader just so that she can reveal the truth in dramatic fashion. For example, at one point Archer finds himself with a prostitute, and things seem headed in a very specific direction before we cut out from his point of view. Bree believes what we as readers are also lead to believe, only for us all to find out later that there was a big misunderstanding. This happens again towards the end of the book when Sheridan indulges in a cruel attempt to manipulate the reader by heavily implying one situation to be the case only to reveal the truth a few pages later. I saw no reason for this bait-and-switch and didn’t appreciate the breach in reader/writer trust.
The story contained a bit too much love-as-all-healing-power. With Archer’s support, Bree has a major breakthrough in coping with the trauma she had endured. But after that significant beginning, we get little to nothing of the lingering effects of her PTSD, as if she were magically cured by his love when in fact she surely could have used some professional counseling.
Oddly, though, Sheridan pulls the exact opposite when it came to healing Archer’s emotional and mental scars. Rather than Bree’s love solving all of his problems, it served to exasperate Archer’s extreme – and understandable – fear of abandonment. His fear that his constant need for reassurance would eventually drive Bree to resent him comes from a legitimate place, and his solution to the problem is internally driven. He realizes that she can’t save him, he must save himself.
Archer’s Voice missed DIK status by the slimmest margin, but while it has its flaws, I can heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a fantastic read about a truly damaged hero and the power of love to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.