Broken Things (The Southwark Saga #4) by Jessica Cale
Released: May 1, 2017
Reviewed by Sheena
“What would you like? I’ll make it for you,” he offered with a smile.
“I would have said a ring once,”she answered honestly, carried away by the peculiar intimacy of the moment.
His gaze dropped to thick strands he held between his fingers. “And now?”
“I don’t know. Something useful, perhaps… I don’t suppose you could fashion a weapon out of my hair.”
He almost laughed. “Beauty is useful.”
She shrugged. “Much good it’s done me.”
The Southwark Saga series is unlike any historical fiction series I have had the pleasure of reading. When people think “Historical Romance” they usually automatically think of dastardly lords, prim ladies sitting on tuffets, dance cards, overwrought ball gown descriptions and snagging a worthy groom during the season to thwart the vicious wrath of the self-righteous ton. But none of that takes center stage in Southwark. This series is set among the poor and disenfranchised. Lords and Ladies are replaced with bar keeps, seamstresses, whores and day laborers. A complete motley crew of characters and personalities that ignite the page and inspire you to root for them until your throat is sore- and even then, enthusiastically flail and fist bump in solidarity.
Broken Things stands alone like a champ, and is the story of Southwark residents Meg and Jake Cohen. I nearly brained myself with my e-reader when I lounged to read Broken Things and saw that Meg was the heroine.
Meg from Virtue’s Lady. Meg the romantic rival. Meg, the hilarious harlot with the heart of stone. Here is my initial impression of Meg from book 2, Virtue’s Lady:
Even the awful rival for Mark’s affections, Meg- who was an awfully catty and conniving woman gave me a giggle here and there. I sympathized with her plight, an unwed, mother of three children whose only prospect is to be kept by a man, be it as a mistress or wife, all before her arresting beauty begins to fade. Meg was a harlot through and through, and gave Jane a run for her money in a way that was so bold and crazy, it was supremely entertaining.
Excitement coursed through my veins because, MEG was up for redemption and an HEA and I could not believe it.- or read it fast enough!
Meg has had a rough go of it. There are no house parties or innocent flirtations for the likes of her. Forced into prostitution by her greedy, evil father, she has grown hard of heart, cultivating and wielding what she believed was her greatest asset- her beauty to get by. By the time she is thirty-five, she is mother to three children and broken. Who will take care of her now? As she is faced with her own aging, and losing her most precious gift, Meg is having a paradigm shift and is frightened of what her future holds. She had no idea, fate would turn her inside and out and on the other side, tie her to an equally down-on-his-luck man who will take care of her in all the ways she never knew to desire.
Jake Cohen is a broken down brawler who finds himself working in the Southwark tavern/inn (run by Meg) after his fighting career is over for good. Busted hands and a bad leg have him permanently sidelined, and his gruff exterior is a testament to his hardships and disappointments. Seeing Jake through Meg’s eyes was sobering. Like recognizes like and helping him healed her and her healing fueled his desire to do better and be better and appreciate his potential- potential he once thought nothing more than a cruel long running joke, that always ended in jeers as opposed to the cheers he sought for so long.
He was more than a boxer. She wanted to believe she was more than a whore. She took one of his big hands in both of hers and he flexed his fingers in her grasp. The action may have been bold for a lesser woman, but was remarkably subdued for Meg. She wasn’t trying to seduce him, but she had felt the need to comfort him. The impulse was so foreign to her that it took her a moment to understand what it was. She knew she shouldn’t care whether Jake was hurting, but comforting him felt a little like comforting herself. She saw a hint of the scars that had built him behind those dark eyes, deeper if less obvious than the ones on his hands.
I can quote from Broken Things all day and contemplate the impact and importance of novels that expose the full spectrum of humanity all night. I loved Jake. I shook my fists at him a few times, but even when I wanted to cuff him one (or two) I could not keep the smile off my lips. Meg is an important character across any genre. She is the way she is because of her experiences. It is easy to chuckle and slut shame her and turn your nose up and sleep just fine at night believing she is getting her just desserts. But when you open your eyes to the abuse at hands of the first man in her life who was supposed to love her (father) and when you acknowledge the constant objectification and sexual harassment by the men in her community and the scorn and contempt she endured from women whom she could never befriend and the sting of rejection from a good man, whom she thought to keep for herself, the only way she knew how- let’s just say, Meg is a complex woman who simply needed a little bit a love.
What is worse than feeling broken and trying to stay afloat? Constantly having your past failures fly in your face and having the one thing that makes you feel a shred of success snatched from your clutches. Just when things seem to be on a sweet streak for the couple, Meg’s bar becomes under siege by Davey, her ne’er-do-well, estranged cousin who is hell bent on following in Meg’s wretched father’s footsteps – his first order of business – attempting to use Meg’s body as currency and second selling the bar right from under her nose. He was a monster and called to all the evil that men do immediately identifying with the dregs that frequented the bar to endlessly harass Meg.
Meg and Jake have their work cut out for them. He wants a home and family with Meg and she wants love and stability and to finally be able to trust a man and depend on Jake emotionally.
She had children without the comfort of marriage, and all the sex she could wish for without a hint of love.
I traditionally hate kids running about underfoot in romance novels. A child’s place is firmly in an epilogue as far as I am concerned (heh!), but Meg’s kids were not fictionally burdensome and I found I didn’t mind their scenes one bit. They fit right in, within this story of family and the different ways they come together.
Jessica Cale’s mastery of capturing the human spirit, dark and unsavory as often as it is resilient and hopeful is magnificent. Broken Things is s-l-o-w burning with the sex, but the plot and story itself moves full steam ahead but rest assured, the payoff is supreme when they do finally hit the sack! Seriously.
If you love historical fiction, this series will feel like the freshest of air and if you are anything like me you will inhale it. If you are ambivalent toward historical fiction, this is not your granny’s historical romance. The only heaving and fluttering of bosoms will be that of your own in excitement and all things “whoa” as you experience this wholly unconventional romance.
I could read stories set in this town, with the spirit of these townsfolk all day! Jessica Cale captures the heart with this one!