One problem I have with writing reviews is that I don’t like negatively influencing what someone might buy. You know how it goes. Somebody you respect urges you, read this book, and you do and don’t like it. Well, you know, “I love this book and you might, too,” is one thing. But, “This book didn’t work for me and this is why,” has the potential to do something worse, in my opinion, and that’s discouraging someone from reading something they might have loved.
Now don’t get me wrong. I actually loved a lot about Joanna Bourne’s The Black Hawk.
The characterization was superb. I loved Hawker. I loved Owl. These characters were sensitively and exquisitely drawn. I sometimes ached for them. Both were children with horrid pasts who grew up scarred yet amazingly strong. She was French and he was English, and both were spies. They were enemies in love, and it worked on every level. This is romance at its finest.
I’ve sought out other reviews and every one I’ve read was written by someone who had read all of Bourne’s previous books and has waited with great anticipation for Hawker’s story. I wonder how much difference it makes that these reviewers opened the book already knowing Hawker at different periods in his life, had already fallen under the spell of his personality and the things he overcame, and entered the story with that knowledge.
Here’s the way it worked for me. I had read one previous book and honestly, really liked it a lot, and honestly, remembered little about it when I opened this one. And when I opened this one, it worked. I didn’t know Hawker’s past, nor did I know Owl’s. And from the earliest pages I was caught up in their story.
[Do you sense a “but” coming?]
This book is told through a series of flashbacks that were perfectly executed. I never got lost, and once I got into each time period (which didn’t take long) I was caught up in the tensions and dramas of the moment. As a novel, this structure worked.
As a romance novel? Here is my “but” and I offer it knowing that few other reviewers have had this problem. I was never able to sink fully into the narrative of the story–despite how beautifully the relationship was drawn–because it was not told chronologically and did not give me the “romance novel” experience of a building tension that left me breathless, wondering what would happen next. I knew from the beginning what would happen next. They would survive to a certain age and position in London. “How” was a question, but I was robbed of much of the drama. When one flashback ended in what could be seen as an ultimate betrayal of one gravely injuring another, I was not left with the devastated individual dealing with the knowledge that their beloved would think it was done deliberately. I didn’t suffer with the other who must have believed that very thing.
Instead, I was whisked back to the present.
It was only when I finished the book that I was able to put all of this in perspective, to understand how I could find the book so well-constructed and emotionally gripping, and yet feel distanced. It was because the very construction that on the one had worked, did not ever allow me to completed give myself over to the story and live through the characters.
I say this knowing that I am in the minority, and hoping I don’t discourage anybody from reading this book. I do wonder if it would have been different, had I entered the book with the same deep background knowledge and affection for the characters as the typical romance reviewer.
As a novel I would give it 5 stars, meaning, I enjoyed the heck out of this book.
As a romance, I would give it 4, and since it was meant to be a romance I will have to stand by that rating.
But hey, if you like romance, read it and let me know what you think. It’s a book worth reading.
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