I wasn’t sure what to expect with this since I have only read J.R. Ward's, a.k.a. Jessica Bird, paranormal novels, but I found it to be an okay read. I am giving it 3 stars because while I did enjoy the story overall, I found the romance to be a bit lackluster. I do think the book itself was well written – Ward/Bird is a talented writer. She has a powerful way with words. For example, during a scene when the Hero, Sean O’Banyon, receives terrible news, Bird/Ward describes his reaction to the news this way:
"All at once, the sounds of the party drained away. The patter of talk, the winding chords of the chamber orchestra, the trilling laughter of a woman nearby – all of it disappeared as if someone had thrown a thick blanket over everything. And then the sight of 150 people before him fogged out until he was alone in the vast room.
In fact, the very fabric of reality disintegrated until it seemed as if the world had become an intangible dreamscape and him a formless vapor: he couldn’t feel the floor under his feet or the phone in his palm or the weight of his body. Nor could he remember what he was doing in this room full of crystal chandeliers and too much perfume."
I absolutely loved that.
One of the criticisms that I have seen lodged at Ward (Bird) is that she fails to write compelling female characters. While I do not agree with this in some instances, I do think it is a valid criticism here. The heroine, Lizzie Bond, was a likeable character, but I felt that Bird/Ward failed to flesh her out and make her a person in her own right. Lizzie did not seem to have a true personality and remained somewhat flat throughout most of the novel. I thought her backstory was interesting, but something failed to connect me to her – she never truly became real to me and remained, for the most part, words on paper. I did like her and while she was compassionate of Sean’s situation, I knew this more because I was told but not because her behavior was especially emotional or compelling to read. Since Lizzie was not a compelling character in her own right, I felt the romance itself lacked the emotional punch it could have had. The potential was there but it was never realized to my satisfaction. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the HEA and was happy for her and Sean, but I felt a distance from it. I did find the epilogue to be moving though.
Where Bird/Ward truly succeeded, which is the case with most of her male characters, was with the Hero, Sean O’Banyon. He stole the show.
Sean’s history of abuse (as well as his brothers) at the hands of his father is poignant. His emotional and psychological reaction to seeing his father’s home again and to the past is moving, heart wrenching, and extremely realistic. If there is one thing Ward does well, it’s write emotion and psychological trauma. She is extremely talented at bringing these issues home, and it’s no less the case here. This part of the story is what kept me reading. I was more interested in Sean, his brothers, and the relationship with his father than I was in the romance. And in reality, this book was really more about Sean and his journey towards healing. Lizzie plays a definite role in that but I felt that was her only role in the story. This is probably another reason I failed to connect with Lizzie, she did not really have her own journey in this story. Everything truly centered on Sean. In any case, I really hope that Bird/Ward writes the story of the two brothers, Billy and Mac, since I would love to read how they learn to cope and heal from their past.
I also thought Ward/Bird did a fantastic job with Sean’s father. Of course he is an integral part of the story, but it’s more than that – he becomes a real presence here. He’s never just Sean’s abusive father but a true person in his own right. We never meet the man, but Ward/Bird manages to make him compelling, real, and complex. She even manages to make him somewhat sympathetic. Bird/Ward handles his story in such a way that I actually found myself feeling sorry for him and cried for him (!) during two pivotal scenes. One of them was the scene where Lizzie finds his toolbox and opens it and the other is the scene when Sean finds his father’s slippers by the bed. She never excuses his behavior, but presents it in such a way that makes it much more realistic than just an abusive drunk. Definite kudos to Ward/Bird on that score.
A quick side note, I thought it was really cute that Sean was childhood friends with Butch from the Black Dagger Brotherhood series.
In any case, I think if you are a fan of J.R. Ward, you will like this book. Though it’s not as gritty or erotic as what you might be used to with her Black Dagger Brotherhood series, I still think you might enjoy it. I would also recommend this to fans of romance who don't mind a story that is more hero-centric in nature and who also like a story with a little bit of a darker theme and edge to it. It’s not necessarily a dark novel, but it’s also not a light and fluffy read.