Pieces of Sky
A few publishers have continued to publish Western romances, but recently, I’ve started seeing more of them from other houses as well. With Pieces of Sky, we have the return of a type of Western romance I’ve missed – the big, sprawling saga. This debut novel has a slightly retro feel to it (in a good way – as opposed to the “love at first rape” way), and tells a really good story.
Jessica Thornton, a British author of etiquette pamphlets, has discovered she is pregnant and has fled her home in search of her brother, whom she believes may assist her. Along the way, she meets Brady Wilkins and, since his teasing and decidedly improper etiquette appall her, she is not entirely happy to see him joining her on the coach. However, this changes when she finds herself stranded in New Mexico due to an accident and the traveling party is compelled to rely upon him to save their lives.
Brady takes the travelers to the RosaRoja ranch, the spread he owns and works with his two brothers. To Jessica’s horror, she learns from the local doctor that her condition is such that she will need to stay at the ranch until she gives birth. Not only will she have to deal with Brady, but the rather rough environment of the ranch is nothing like the life she left in England. Still, Brady’s brothers and the others working the ranch treat Jessica kindly and patiently and she warms to them, as well as to Brady, who seems to infuriate her and endear himself to her in equal measure.
From the very beginning of the book, readers will know they have picked up a gritty story. People and animals die, sometimes in vividly horrible ways, and some of the harsh realities of ranch life in New Mexico do not get glossed over. While some may find this off-putting, to me it actually gives the underlying romance even more power. Against the sometimes harsh backdrop of life on the ranch, readers see family members and ranch hands caring for each other and a hero who does everything in his power to smooth the rougher parts of life for Jessica. There’s a gentle humor to some of Jessica and Brady’s interactions, but also some very touching moments.
That humor and Jessica’s intelligence (she has some great one-liners interspersed throughout the text) go far to make the relationship between Jessica and Brady very fine reading. In addition, Brady is also a really good hero. While of the alpha male variety, he has strength without being a domineering jerk. One might consider him alpha because of his ability to care for those around him and because he just seems to naturally be in charge wherever he goes, rather than because of any need to prove his strength by diminishing others. Also, he has an easygoing manner and goofy good humor that make him a very appealing, approachable character.
The book takes on a vast saga-like feeling due to the sheer size of the story. Though Brady and Jessica’s romance takes center stage, the book features many characters and several side plots. In addition, while most of the characters have a mixture of good and bad characteristics, we do still encounter a truly evil villain and a big showdown between good and evil. Though there are annoying bits of overwriting, particularly in the first half of the book, and there’s the occasional lapse into 21st century psychobabble that pulled me out of the story a bit, Pieces of Sky is by and large a very good book. It’s the sort of vast Western saga that I hope to see more of, and I look forward to reading the sequels.