North of Heartbreak
So, where are you when you have a spectacular setting paired with undeveloped leads and rather humdrum plotting? Apparently that location would be North of Heartbreak. While the remote Alaskan setting caught my eye, the story itself never really sparked to life. It’s nothing awful, but not terribly special either.
Nurse Willa Hayes serves patients in three clinics spread across a remote stretch of Alaska. Liam Reynolds, her usual pilot’s nephew, has come to work for Tundra Air, and she meets him while out on an emergency flight. The initial action definitely sucks the reader in as we see Willa working to keep her patient from bleeding to death while the new pilot must fly them to the hospital in Fairbanks in time to get the injured man the treatment he needs. It’s all very tense and serves as an instant bonding experience for the two.
Back on the ground, we learn that Willa came to Alaska following her divorce from an abusive husband – and she’s not exactly looking to replace him. Liam’s reason for being in Alaska takes a little longer to unravel, but it’s obvious that he is equally uninterested in long term commitment. However, the two certainly feel an attraction to one another and what starts as good working camaraderie starts to turn into a friendship and a fun, no-strings-attached sort of arrangement. And, as any romance reader knows, those sorts of arrangements have a way of turning emotional faster than the characters might expect.
The plot itself is not a bad one, and I loved the details of rural Alaskan life. I’ve been to some of the remote parts of Alaska, and it’s a much more rugged way of life than anything I’ve encountered back home. The author did a great job of capturing that. However, the story didn’t quite live up to its setting. Instead of a cohesive plot, it felt at times as if readers merely got a series of incidents all strung together haphazardly. As we see everything from a flu epidemic to a polar bear attack, the plotting started to take on a “kitchen sink” feel. Instead of feeling drawn to follow the story, I wondered what new illness or calamity the characters were going to struggle with next.
Adding to this issue were the weak characterizations. We learn throughout the story that the heroine went through hell during her first marriage, but it never felt entirely real. Things are described largely in generalities so it feels like the reader is being told things about the heroine rather than shown who she is and how she feels. Liam is a gorgeous pilot and we learn things about his background, but he never fully springs to life. Add into this a mysterious spat between his uncle and his father which is hinted at but never fully developed, and you end up with a story that has a lot of underdeveloped telling, with not nearly enough showing.
The romance between Willa and Liam has plenty of heat to it, and that portion of the plot flows a lot better than the backstory. However, the romance got a little lost in the rest of the plot action at times and since the characters weren’t drawn as vividly as they needed to be, the story just didn’t have as much emotional power as it could have. It was not a terrible read by any means, but neither was it fantastic. In terms of length, this story came in slightly shorter than the typical category romance and it had the same feel to it that many rather ordinary, middle-of-the-road romances do – not a bad story but ultimately somewhat forgettable.