Pieces Of Sky
by Kaki Warner, historical (2010)
Berkley, 15.00, ISBN 978-0-425-23214-9
Pieces Of Sky is a pretty violent Western romance, let me warn those folks who are generally concerned about this kind of thing. In this, the first book in Kaki Warner's series The Blood Rose Trilogy, the author doesn't downplay the harshness of the environment one bit.
Our heroine, English woman Jessica Thornton, is not a happy woman. She has fled England to arrive in New Mexico Territory, hoping desperately that her brother is settled here so that she can beg him for shelter. You see, her sister's husband wanted the grant of Jessica's family home back in England, and when she refused him, he proceeded to rape her and threaten her with more of such episodes should she continue to defy him. When she finds herself pregnant, she decides to flee, both to protect her unborn child and maybe give this child a good life as well as to protect her home (she has taken the house deed with her).
Oh boy, she's in for an exciting time because Ms Warner has everything and the kitchen sink ready to toss her way. Brady Wilkins, fresh from shooting his own horse because he was drunk and he couldn't control his supposedly well-trained horse, boards her stagecoach. And then, the carriage experiences a dramatic accident that claims the life of one of the gang, and Jessica finds herself confined to Brady's ranch RosaRoja due to concerns over her pregnancy and her ability to keep traveling. Of course, RosaRoja is no happy place. Brady's nemesis, Sancho Ramirez, is fresh out of the can and he's going to rekindle the longstanding family feud between the two families. Welcome to New Mexico Territory, Jessica!
Okay, let's start with the good stuff first. Jessica starts out a nervous wreck, which is understandable given her situation, but she eventually comes to her own - magnificently - as the story progresses, and I really like this. Her character arc is pretty well done and convincing. Also, her relationship with Brady simmers at a comfortable and realistic pace without any rushed love scene or anything of that sort. As a result, when they fall in love, I can believe that.
However, the author has also tossed every conceivable Western romance conflict and cliché into this one, to the point that the whole thing ends up like a meal that has been seasoned way too much. Sancho is such a one-dimensional insane psychopath that it is hard to take him seriously as a villain. There is no shortage of dangers and conflicts that pop up here, one after the other, if Sancho alone isn't enough to give me this impression that the story wants to emulate a Road Runner cartoon a bit too much for my liking. To top it off, the author has Brady pull a last moment "I've decided that you're too good for me so I'm kicking you out of my life - for your own good, of course" drama that sees him taking one year - one year! - to get over. Talk about an author happily taking a crowbar to her hero's skull to drive home the message that Brady is a stupid ass. If he takes one year to come to his senses over something important, how long will it take for him to get over more petty grievances in his life with Jessica? Ten years? Brady has plenty of angst to give him a bigger set of shoulders than John Wayne, but since when is that an excuse to be stupid, eh?
Pieces Of Sky is a mixed bag where I am concerned. I like the heroine's character growth and, barring the last minute stunt of Brady to convince me that he's way more stupid than I realized, the romance can be quite heartfelt and moving. The plot however is tinged with camp to the point of overload and, after one too many conflict, the whole non-stop drama can be just too much, really.
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