Broken Wings by L-J Baker is a romance like none you’ve ever read before. Baker has created a magical world where Rye Woods is a fugitive Fairy holding down multiple jobs in order to do her best for her sister. Faery is a brutal and harsh place full of religious zealotry and narrow-minded views on anything other than women submitting to men. That was why Rye went back for her younger sister when she ran away, to save the little girl from a life of servitude. But raising a child into a hormonal teenager is difficult at best. Though Rye isn’t adverse to hard work. She works between two and three jobs simply to pay the bills and put Holly through an elite school. She wants Holly to make something of herself and get out of the poverty they currently live in. On top of her jobs, Rye also puts herself through night school so she can eventually earn a better wage. The only thing she loves besides Holly is cooking, and she’s excellent at it.
When Holly wins an award for weaving at an art show, it’s presented by none other than Flora With. Flora is perhaps one of the most famous weavers in the world. The beautiful dryad is rich, a member of high society, and way above Rye’s social standing. Yet there is something that draws both of them together. As they begin seeing each other and are drawn closer emotionally than either have ever gone, Rye’s past threatens their precarious happiness. She worries about social standing and money nearly constantly, but more importantly, she worries that someone will eventually find out her and Holly are living in the country illegally and they’ll be extradited back to Faery.
L-J Baker manages to tell this familiar modern day romance in a very atypical setting. We see closeted Rye, running away from a religious family. She struggles because she’s never been in a relationship, but then neither has Flora. The dryad woman hasn’t found anyone that she was truly serious about until Rye. Another underlying theme is the rich and poor trope. Yes, it’s a trope but despite the fantasy setting, Baker brings the struggle to life for Rye and Holly. Counting out your pennies, rationing food, walking an hour to work because you can’t afford transportation, and getting little sleep because of all her jobs and demands. Not having a social life because you’re afraid to be seen for as poor as you are. Yes, even wanting to pay your own way for everything. It’s poor pride and it’s real. Broken Wings shows Rye’s struggle with balancing happiness and responsibility and it’s all overshadowed by her and Holly’s illegal citizenship status. Yes, Illegal immigrants and what to do with them are all over the news in a lot of countries right now but Baker wrote Broken Wings back in 2006. Prophetic? Maybe…
While there are three main characters in the novel, Rye & Holly Woods, and Flora, the book mostly focuses on Rye and Flora. Rye is rough, frightened, highly intelligent, prideful, hardworking, and loyal. And she’s extremely poor. Her clothes are old and patched, she literally counts her money each week to see if she has any left over for a jar or two of beer. It’s the only thing she has for herself outside, work, Holly, and studying.
And you wonder what an extremely rich dryad, a famous artist and socialite from an equally rich family, would ever see in Rye. First and foremost they’re attracted to each other. Baker writes the attraction on almost a visceral level. And Flora herself is more than just money. She’s kind, loyal, and talented. She sees Rye for the woman beneath the dingy clothes and low rent apartment. And the more they get to know each other, the more they seem to click.
Holly is exactly what you’d expect from a sullen teenager who wants what all her rich friends have. But she also has depth. She doesn’t like that Rye works so much to support them and really loves her big sister despite all the fighting they do.
The Writing Style
You would think that being dropped into a completely foreign and fantastical world full of fairies, dryads, nymphs, gnomes, sprites, and many other creatures would leave the reader confused and out of sorts. But in all actuality, L-J Baker writes the world and characters in such a natural way that it reads nearly like a contemporary romance.
The struggles are familiar and real, only the races and little details are different. They live in trees, they drive brooms and magic carpets, and the different species have their own forms of sexual expression. But the novel flows.
I loved reading about Rye’s cooking and all the different foods she made. I was pulled along as their romance progressed and sorrowed with each obstacle they faced. There is a reason I’ve read this book more times than I can count on one hand, because I can’t put it down once I start.
So a secret thing that I like to read in books is when the characters cook. I am a hobby artist and creative when it comes to cooking and I get ideas for new dishes when I read about them in books. I love that Rye had this amazing talent, completely untrained. I also adored the fact that all the ingredients were fairly unrecognizable to human cooking. It was all written to seem so very normal, yet strange at the same time because you knew the stuff she was using was all made up.
I also liked how Baker wrote about Rye and Holly’s poverty. She doesn’t just say they’re poor, she gives example over and over again and how it relates to their everyday life. She makes it real and believable.
This book may have some triggers for people. Rye recounts some of the things that happened to her while she was in Faery, and growing up. They were dark things. The book isn’t explicit with any details, not even the intimate scenes between Rye and Flora. But Rye has real and valid fear of Fairy and those mentions of her time there may be too much for someone that triggers easily.
This book is one of the few that I’ve read over and over. As a matter of fact, I forgot how much I loved it and just how easy it was to read. I “accidentally” read it again before undertaking this review. I only meant to look up a few details and I got sucked into the story. Just like that. It touches on a lot of subjects that are close to my heart. Poverty, persecution by the religious conservatives, coming out, and feeling unworthy in a new love.
I’ve been Rye and feel something for her. I understood her pride, her inadequacy when it comes to dating someone you perceive to be out of your league. I also love fantasy, and the sweet happy ending that comes with a great love story. Broken Wings gets all my recommendations and elicits all three responses in my checklist. #Think #Feel #Discuss
Excerpt from Broken Wings by L-J Baker
Bag after bag disgorged expensive, fragrant, and exotic fruit, vegetables, spices, and sauces. Rye’s anxiety soared apace with the estimated price. The last bag was from a butcher. She peeled back paper wrapping to reveal three large fillets. They looked fresh, succulent, and with just the right traces of fat through them. It looked suspiciously like ferret meat.
“Holly and I weren’t sure what to get,” Flora said. “So we picked what looked nicest. It’s ferret. According to the butcher, it won’t need hours of preparation or marinating.”
Rye shook her head and reverently set the package on the table. Her gaze darted across the other raw materials of the dinner. Possum milk cheese. Yellow moss. Lavender honey. Silver fern fronds. Roasted raspberry seeds. Dried white Cabbage Tree berries. Almighty King and Queen of the Fey, she had never had ingredients like this before. This was going to be the best meal she’d ever prepared.
“If there’s anything else you need,” Flora said, “I can fetch it. It’s no trouble.”
“Um. Thanks.” Rye squeezed around the table and knelt to rummage in her tiny cooler. “Holly, did you eat the last of the kahikatea seed paste?”
“No,” Holly said. “You won’t get a sensible answer out of her now, Flora, until we sit down to eat. She goes into this trance-like state where her eyes go blank and you expect her to start dribbling at any second. Sometimes it can be hard to spot from normal Rye, but trust me, I’m an expert. She’s in cooking frenzy. If we’re really out of luck, she’ll start singing.”
Rye did sing, and hum.
At one point, Rye turned around and saw Flora leaning in the doorway. Flora smiled. “You really enjoy doing that, don’t you?” Flora said.
Flora sidled around the table and slid a hand into one of Rye’s back pockets. “You look very sexy wearing that tea towel tucked into the front of your pants.”
Rye’s gaze snapped between both doorways as she eased away from Flora. “Not here.”
“What’s wrong? Oh. Holly’s in the bathroom.”
Rye peered down the hall. “She’ll be out soon, then.”
“Rye, I’m missing out on my Fifth Day fuck because of Mission Holly,” Flora whispered. “You aren’t seriously intending to deprive me of a quick smooch and grope?”
Rye’s wing buds tightened. She glanced between Flora and the bathroom door. “It’s not that I don’t want—Fey. Here she is.”
Rye stepped away to pretend to look for something amongst her modest collection of second-hand recipe books on the cooler. She heard Flora sigh. Later, while Flora and Holly talked in the lounge, Rye opened the plate cupboard and rediscovered the glossy magazine. Frond Lovage was out and loud for all to see. She didn’t have to worry about what would happen to a gay woman who got deported back to Faery. Or the equally nightmarish possibility that she had put her little sister into the position of being the one to provide the testimony that would condemn her to the fairy priestesses as a lesbian. Frond Lovage would not have denied Flora kisses.
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781933110554
- Publisher: Bold Strokes Book
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There is really nothing quite like this fantasy-meets-real world situations type story, but I’ve always found Jane Fletcher to be an excellent fantasy read. You can start with The Exile and the Sorcerer (The Lyremouth Chronicles 1).
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