My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Rachel L. Demeter’s Finding Gabriel promised something dark and bada$$. Even comparison to books like Gaelen Foley’s Lord of Ice and Judith James’s Broken Wing were made. Then there was the $0.99c release sale, so no wonder I grabbed it when it was released!
Both Lord of Ice and Broken Wing are straight 5 stars books, aptly deserved as I absolutely loved both. However, Finding Gabriel, IMO failed to deliver what it promised. Yes there were quite a lot of dark and depressing matters in the story but they never worked out the way I wanted them to. Since this was my first book by the author, I went in totally blind and felt the unadulterated shock of disappointment. I’d go into my full review later but first, here is what happened in a nutshell...
Colonel Gabriel de Laurent has seen it all, done it all in his 30 yrs. life. Born in a noble family, he wasn’t supposed to serve Bonaparte but he went to the army when tragedy struck his family down and there was no one left to mourn him. After his parents had passed, Gabriel married the girl he was betrothed to quite dutifully, being the only heir to their legacy. Both were young (late teens) and totally inexperienced. And they didn’t suit at all. Soon, after the birth of Lisette, their only child, Gabriel and his wife drifted apart. There were numerous affairs on both sides. From what little shown in the story made me feel that both were to blame equally for their failed marriage. When not submerging into the charms of his next mistress, Gabriel was drinking away. His wife was depressed, resentful, always looking for the next lover, never finding the peace that eluded her in her own marriage. And that brought trouble at their home; a jilted lover who wanted revenge. I won’t go into the details but Gabriel lost his whole family on one single night, in a quite gruesome way. He would’ve died himself had he not killed the perpetrators equally brutally and left home, never to return again. His conscience, the urge to be a good husband and father, came a little too late... there was nothing left to do anymore.
The guilt of that event alone was enough for Gabriel to awake in a whole different world; a world of pain, misery and darkness. He joined the cause at the call of his leader, Bonaparte, with the sole intention of dying. He wanted death to embrace him, even expected one battle or the other would grant him his wish. However, it seemed that fate had other plans. Gabriel was badly injured numerous times, yet he never had what he’d wished for. He won many battles, earned promotions and many medals, yet he was miserable. As if life wanted him to suffer away when he wanted it all to end. So when Bonaparte finally came to power and Gabriel found himself without a purpose for going on, he decides he’d end it all himself. Since death won’t come to him, he’d forcefully bring it onto himself.
Think you guessed where this is headed to... He tried committing suicide following the old tradition, by a bullet to the mouth. Actually, the story opens up with the haunting narration of Gabriel’s misery and his intentions, then finally the pulling of the trigger.
The narratives then take us one Ariah Larochelle, who lives on the edge of poverty, in a small house, with her younger sister, Miriam and only daughter, Emmaline. Emma is 6, and ill, which keeps Ariah awake at night, fearing for her little girl’s life. Her husband Jacques has gone to fight the same war and hadn’t been heard of for over 3 yrs. Ariah is still holding onto a shred of hope that he’d return, but somewhere in her heart she knew that he may never. I wasn’t at all sure how much Ariah loved or felt for Jacques, however, soon the hints were given that something bad has happened to her in the past which still haunts her to this day. And I kept feeling that Emmaline was the result of it. It was just a gut-feeling that I couldn’t deny.
On one dark, wintry night, Ariah goes for a walk to keep her mind off of all that miserable thoughts about Jacques, her little girl and her own future, and finds something, or someone, who’d change her life forever. At first, she thinks it’s a corpse that has floated down the freezing waters of Seine and got stuck on the shore. It wasn’t anything unheard of, especially considering the situation. However when she comes closer, a grizzly scene welcomes her. A big man in a military coat, all wet in this freezing cold water. Further investigation reveals that a part of his face is half-shredded, torn. One of his cheek bones were shattered, as were the muscle around it. Toothless gums were exposed, blood still trickling down that severe wound. Ariah thought that the poor soul had already perished, but her curiosity won’t let her be. Additional investigation reveals that he’s still breathing albeit very faintly.
This causes Ariah to break into actions. Despite being scared and totally unprepared for a situation like this, she enlists the help of Miriam and brings the stranger home to take care of him. They knew it wasn’t a good idea, that he may die anyway and leave a big mess behind. How are they going to take care of a man of that proportion? How will they hide the corpse once he’s dead? That alone can bring a world of trouble to their door! Worse still, what if he gets well and prays on them instead. After all, he’s a complete stranger! But what keeps Ariah going was not only the man’s coat and medals which pointed him to be someone of import but also the fact that the good side of his face. It was so beautiful that one could weep when they look at the devastated wound on the other side. Ariah felt an urge to know this man if possible.
Against all her misgivings and logic, Ariah is very drawn to the stranger, so she forges an iron will. She’ll see him through to the end, if it comes to that. She also requests an elderly doctor, who was kind enough to treat Emma and was sort of a father figure in her life, to check on the stranger. The doctor does but warns them all the same; this man may not make it. But Ariah is adamant to not only to take care of him, but also, to satiate curiosity to know why he was driven to commit suicide. If anyone knows fear and darkness, it’d be Ariah herself. Had she finally found a kindred spirit after all these years?
Soon Gabriel wakes up in a strange room, with strange people in it. The pain of his wound and the misery of knowing that he’s still alive overcomes all his emotions. No wonder he was angry! Even then he’d always notice Ariah and be irrevocably drawn to her ethereal blonde beauty. It takes sometimes for her to get through to him but when she does, Ariah finds herself more and more attracted to Gabriel’s mysterious personality and his dark looks, the wound notwithstanding. She also feels guilty of not being faithful to Jacques but she knew by now that he had probably perished in the war.
Ariah was orphaned quite young. She knew Jacques even before her father died. They had a friendship of sort. However that changed when she met another boy and somehow ended up with him. This whole part of Ariah’s past was quite vague, as was her initial relationship with Jacques when they were children. Now this new boy, a couple of years older than her, was called Geoffrey. He soon made himself as Ariah’s protector. They seemed to be quite close, thick as thieves. They actually were living like thieves, running the streets of Paris together, stealing loaves of bread and such. Until one day, when Geoffrey’s thinly veiled depression overcame him. Life began to seem meaningless and Ariah’s attitude seemed too uppity for him to endure anymore. He felt she didn’t appreciate him and his efforts enough. She didn’t show it enough when she should! Geoffrey had already planned a future with her, deemed her as “his”. So when he’s spurned he just snaps. I didn’t think Ariah had no feelings for him but she wasn’t ready for something more intimate. She was young and immature, only 16 at that time. And what happens afterwards erased any feelings she may have had for Geoffrey. All she could do was to run away again, this time to forever get away from him.
In the next years, she’d met Jacques again. The cool, reserved and shy Jacques; also a genuinely beautiful person inside and out. He may not have oozing good looks and charms but he’s not bad to look at either. Jacques accepts everything and marries Ariah while she was pregnant with Emmaline, accepting her as his daughter. Ariah knew deep inside he may have had his reservations, though he’d never say it out loud. I never knew how intimate they were, or if they’d even consummated the marriage at all. Ariah had never felt anything more that gratitude towards Jacques. Oh she had deluded herself into thinking she loved him, but it never went that far. Poor Jacques! He had always loved her, since the beginning; who kept waiting for her to reciprocate until the day he went away to war.
Back to the present... Gabriel not only makes friends with the family, the family dog but also Emmaline. Pretty soon, as he heals, he becomes an integral part of this little family, and he can barely keep his attraction to Ariah in check, though the scar on his face reminds him everyday what he has to live with for the rest of his life. And that Ariah may find him despicable to look at. But she’d just laugh it off and encourage their mutual attraction, which at one point, turns into sex; the only way they thought they could comfort each-other. By now, Gabriel has opened up about his own life and his secrets, also admitting that he knew Jacques but had no idea if he’s still alive or not. Ariah still feels guilty but she dreams of moving forward with Gabriel if possible; to make a new life with him since they had no other family to speak of.
The shy, stuttering Miriam also finds a match in a charming coach driver, who charms her off her feet quite soon. Emmaline seems to be improving already and always cheerful now that she has a father figure in her life again. When Jacques went away she was still a baby. She missed him but Gabriel’s presence seems to have fulfilled that void. It seemed things for them were looking well until one day... Jacques returns home; wounded, haunted by PTSD and all alone. If he thought his life was upside down while he was fighting for his country, now he finds that the life he’d left behind has also changed irrevocably. There was no way to hide the fact that his Colonel has invaded his family. He also probably had a good enough idea of what was going on between Ariah and Gabriel though, as usual, he didn’t make any assumptions or throw accusations.
At this time, we find Ariah’s past once again coming to the forefront. Geoffrey returns with his dark, twisted thoughts. It seemed he has never snapped out of that jilt and depressive state, which had become worse in the past few years. He’s still obsessed with Ariah, still thinks her his... only now he’s angry as hell. He wants revenge that she’d simply left him to suffer all alone. Yes he was deranged, there was no denying that. But God, if I hadn’t felt really sad for him too!
If that wasn’t horrid enough, we return to Ariah and Jacques and my heart broke for him when I found him begging her to comfort him from his nightmares, only to be spurned. No she didn’t spurn him outright, wasn’t being rude but she was cruel nonetheless. Her posture, the guilt on her face... it had no loving feeling but pity, which made it all clear to Jacques. He simply knew things would never change between them, that she’d never comfort him when he needed her. What made me particularly angry was the fact that Ariah didn’t even bother to try! She was already in too deep with Gabriel, which I understood, so Jacques was just a hindrance to her happiness. She tried to fake happiness at his return, but her heart was not into it at all but to not even try a bit for Jacques’s sake? And thanks to the author, that was taken care of quite soon as well in the most heartwrenching way possible. Geoffrey swoops in and acts on the first stages of his “revenge”, by taking Jacques out of the way. For me, his death was one of biggest blows of this story.
I’m gonna try and chronicle a few points in the story that bugged me since the beginning:
# The first thing that hit me on the face was the stilted, lifeless narrative. There was no fluidity in the writing, to say the least. It wasn’t my cuppa and I thought could’ve used a good editing. There were some typos as well. I waited for the writing to grow on me (sometimes it does, as it happened to me in other books) but it never did until the end.
# The chemistry between Gabriel and Ariah was quite non-existent. Or it may have been the fact that there were just too many miserable things going on for me to find and appreciate any chemistry between them.
# This brings me to the point of all those miserable incidents, dumped one after another, to make it a “dark, angsty read”. They just felt forced and out of place.
# Gabriel’s horrendous facial wound. The wound was narrated throughout the story so vividly that it send a chill down my spine. I would applaud the author for giving me the visuals of how his cheek looked like with that wound because it was quite graphic. The amount of paragraph invested in describing said wound made it look like she was very devoted in telling us how “dark” this incident was and just how much we should feel for Gabriel’s plight. However, the healing process of it was TOTALLY glossed over, as if it was some minor flesh wound that healed without any problem. Really? At that era when there was no facial reconstructive surgery available, let alone antibiotics? He just healed in the matter of a month, so much so that he was eating and talking without any problem at all. Laughing and kissing Ariah too, already trying to leave it all behind? I simply couldn’t bring myself to believe it. Not one whit! There was a GAPING HOLE on his cheek for crying out loud! Freakin’ tell me how it healed, I wanna know! :o
# Jacques’s horrible death, as I’ve already mentioned. No, no... simply NO! It was not well-done. He was such a good man, he deserved better. I mean it’s a novel, the author could’ve given him someone to love and be loved in return, and not just remove him out of Ariah and Gabriel’s way so ignominiously. WHY bring him back at all, introduce this kind soul to us, only to kill him off? To create more “angst”? If so, it royally failed! Wasn’t he better off dead? I despised that scene I narrated above, cursing Ariah in every name I could think of, as much as I hated the scene of his murder. I cried for him. It made me so despondent that I can’t even begin explain! After that, I left off this book for a long while and would’ve DNF’d if I was one of those peeps who do that. By then, there was nothing much left for me in the story anyway.
# Geoffrey didn’t feel like a justified “villain” to me. Too much of an easy mark, too predictable. Think he could’ve been the hero of a dark erotica in his twisted thoughts and obsession over Ariah. LOL But that’s just me. I don’t think I have to tell you that he also met Jacques’s fate later in the story.
But above doesn’t mean I didn’t like anything about the story. It was a very rare find to have an entire romance novel set in France, complete with French H and h. I liked reading the description of that specific era, during and after the French Revolution. And I adored any scene with Emma. She was a little bundle of joy and energy when she got over her illness. But that was just about it. Think I would’ve appreciated more scenes of Miriam and her coach driver together with glimpses of their courtship.
Overall, I didn’t see the comparison and all throughout, felt that the storyline had much potential but....... *sigh* It had everything I should’ve LOVED– a wounded, tortured hero, his salvation the “angelic” heroine and a darker themed romance– yet I spend the first half trying to adjust to the writing style and connecting with the characters, the second half disliking everything, including the writing style.
Even though I won’t personally recommend it, I’d still ask you to read it if you can and judge for yourself. After all, the things that bugged me here may not bug you at all. That’s where we’re each our own. 2 stars.