My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Debut author Ramona Flightner’s Banished Love was an interesting read. Neat in writing and storytelling with interesting setting and characters, this book had it all. While I was reading, I could hardly tell that I was reading a debut author!
I would recommend this story for anyone who is looking for something different than the usual. The story is told from first person POV, of Clarissa’s. I’m generally not fond of that perspective, but I can sincerely say that the author pulled it through so well that I could connect with Clarissa, be it in her rebellions, through her distress or happiness.
Banished Love is set in the turn of the century Boston, in the midst of the industrial revolution and the raise and upheaval of the modern ideologies. The mention of modern machineries and the women’s right movement at times take the center stage in the narratives. Our heroine, Clarissa, in fact is a budding suffragette herself. She’s also more educated than what society deemed a woman should know back then, which is nothing more than housekeeping and rearing children. Clarissa is also a half-immigrant, blacksmith father Sean being an Irish immigrant. There were plenty of things that she wanted to do to change the lives of women around her, issues she wanted to be addressed and heard. But when it came down to it in the story, it was for her rights as a woman and her own happiness that Clarissa had to fight about.
Clarissa has been teaching in a poor children’s school for a while now. This, she considers not only as a source of an income, however meager it is, but also, something of an ‘identity’ for herself. He father has been supportive of her seemingly radical POVs, much to her new step-mother’s chagrin. Clarissa’s mother passed away some years ago, leaving her with her two elder brothers, Patrick and Colin. The widow, Mrs. Smythe, at first, entered their family as a helper and a well-wisher. She patiently waited for several years before fishing out a marriage proposal from Sean. Now that they’re married, her true face is becoming clearer each day. Mrs. Smythe is highly ambitious; a simpering, very shallow and super annoying woman. She’s also devious and tries her best to make Clarissa’s life hell by telling on mixed up, convenient versions of Clarissa’s daily activities.
Clarissa is considered clumsy because wherever she goes, she either breaks or fells something or someone. This felt like such an anomaly for a smart and intelligent girl like her that at times I couldn’t believe that her family members would have a good laugh on her account! Unfortunately that is how she and Gabriel, our H, meets; an ‘accident’ that leaves him injured. The story actually starts with that introduction, leaving me agape, at the same time, muttering ‘Er, what was that?!’
Gabriel comes from what is deemed to be the ‘lower echelon’ of the society. His father was an illiterate yet hardworking man who did his best to take care of his family; his three sons and his wife. Gabriel’s parents’ marriage was unequal. His mother hails from a rich family having pretty high and mighty status. It was a love match (I gathered his father was extremely handsome, if Gabriel or Richard are any indication). Even though his mother’s snooty family ignored them for a long time, Gabriel’s parents were happy to be together, even if they were poor. His mother made sure that Gabriel, Richard and the youngest, Jeremy were given education. But things changed on a fateful night when their parents died in a fire, leaving them not only orphans but also entirely destitute. His aunt Masterson, sister to his mother, takes them in ‘out of charity’, to show the society that she’s a very nice and giving woman. But the reality was anything but. Gabriel and his brothers were never shown an ounce of affection or sympathy. Though they were fed and given education, they lived rather like servants. The mean woman has never approved of her sister’s marriage and took her vengeance by treating their sons abominably.
Gabriel didn’t want this life. He was constantly looking for a way out. At the age of 14, he met a cabinet maker who filled the void of a father in his life. He also trained him in cabinet making. Gabriel worked hard to be the best so that he can work independently and move out from his aunt’s house, taking his brothers with him. This wish of his did come true, but with a price. When his mentor died, his aunt spread vile rumors about him, hinting at him murdering the man. For a long time, Gabriel suffered the brunt of a judgmental society who didn’t bother to find out the truth, rather believing in someone who is a peer to them, and majority of his clients were those wealthy peeps. So, the work order from Mr. Martin, Clarissa’s uncle, comes as a surprise and a gift. The day he was working at Mr. Martin’s clothing shop, a regular haunt for Clarissa to avoid her stepmother, is THE day they meet for the first time.
Even with the so-called disaster, I liked how Gabriel still zooms in on Clarissa and she, probably for the first time in her life, comes to sense a man in a way only a woman does. Gabriel’s intense stare, even if he was calling her “Ms. Calamity”, makes her wonder about the attraction. It was never like that with Cameron, her ex-fiancé, who jilted her at the altar, not only breaking her heart but also ruining her reputation. She never thought she’d ever feel anything for any man after how callously she was treated two years ago. Yet Clarissa finds herself entirely infatuated by Gabriel.
One thing leads to another, and Clarissa begins to feel that attraction giving way to something deeper. When she finds out Gabriel returns her affections, she can’t but give into this. Some unexpected help comes from Uncle Martin, who has already decided that a hard-working and honest man like Gabriel would be good for her. His work order was not only for a cabinet but also for a bookshelf for Clarissa’s classroom. He gives Clarissa the responsibility to check up on Gabriel’s progress. Gabriel gets the instruction to ‘consult’ with Clarissa on his orders. Gosh, that was such an obvious set-up that I began smiling to myself. Clarissa couldn’t have been happier! Her cousin, Martin’s daughter, Savannah also helps Clarissa’s meetings with Gabriel at his workplace.
Clarissa meets Richard too and is, again, taken off-guard by how good-looking the brothers are! Jeremy, at that time, was in the army and so, he was mentioned a couple of time but never makes an appearance. Regrettably, at one of Gabriel’s meeting with her at her school, a past between her good friend Florence Butler and Richard, comes into light. Florence is a poor and orphaned girl and has been teacher in the same school as Clarissa. They’re also good friends, which is why Clarissa becomes worried at Florence’s reaction to Gabriel’s visit. She seemed hurt and worn out but Florence doesn’t satisfy Clarissa’s curiosity on what took place. Neither does Gabriel. Clarissa kept guessing at it for quite a while in the story, until one day, Florence felt strong and confident enough to confide in her. I must say, that story got me intrigued.
A few kisses thereafter lead to Gabriel asking for Clarissa’s permission to start courting her. But this happiness of finding a man who cares for her no matter what doesn’t come without its own problems. And there were plenty. At first, she and Savannah begin having debates over how women should behave and the women’s rights that many, including Savannah, thought were ridiculous. This leaves Clarissa frustrated because it was all too apparent that Savannah was trying to make her pretentious fiancé happy. Before Savannah’s engagement, both cousins had a camaraderie and agreement on suffragette ideas. But things were changing. Savannah’s fiancé is as rich as he’s shallow-minded. He can’t stand Clarissa because he thinks she’s not worth his attention- one, for her ‘lowly’ social status and two, of course, her radical ideas. He hates that she ‘feeds’ her ideas to his ‘perfect’ fiancée and takes every opportunity to poke and jab at her with his barbs! Once, Savannah even engages in an almost quarrel with Gabriel, who lets her know what he thinks of such insipid women that society so likes to mold them into. Though Savannah leaves in a huff, Clarissa can’t help falling in love with Gabriel even more.
Apart from Gabriel, Richard and Colin’s support, Clarissa finds a friend in another elderly suffragette named Sophia Chickering. My review would be incomplete if I didn’t mention her. They meet rather awkwardly but come to form mutual respect for each-other, which soon turned into genuine affection. Losing her loving husband to war at a very young age, Sophia’s life became a journey of ups and downs. She had the comfort of money but that didn’t deter people for trying to weigh her down. But she survived, and she sees something in Clarissa that gives her hope for the future. There was that scene of ‘Sophia in action’, or so to speak, when one day she stops by at Clarissa’s and meets Mrs. Smythe. She already had some idea about the woman and my God, I just loved how supportive she was of Clarissa and the way she handled the whiney woman!
I admired almost every character in this book and enjoyed their interactions. Most were down to earth, nice everyday people, only if you can ignore going high up the social ladder and the arrogance that dripped down from it. I already mentioned some of the characters, there were also Clarissa’s aunts Betsy and Savannah’s mother, Matilda and brother Lucas.
Gradually, Gabriel begins opening up about his own life to Clarissa. His sad life-story seems to engulf her as well. She couldn’t help shedding tears, just as I couldn’t. I loved every single of their little meetings. Those were innocent, only comprising of a little touch, a look or a smile. It was more than apparent that Clarissa is the hope and the happiness to Gabriel’s rather dreary existence. I would’ve thought a handsome guy like him would have women at his beck and call but Gabriel was no womanizer. And after meeting Clarissa, there would never be any other woman in his life. Clarissa also understands just how much his Aunt has ruined his life, or tried her best when she couldn’t entirely. The cool and calm Gabriel becomes edgy and angry every time he sees the woman. Clarissa also takes a vehement dislike towards the woman.
At one point, Clarissa’s ex-fiancé Cameron returns to torment her. This guy begins popping up everywhere, making her life miserable. His reasoning for abandoning her was so laughable that I could see why Clarissa had no interest in him anymore. Either way, for me, his jerk-a-sh!tty behavior should’ve been enough to decide that he’s worthless, no matter how good his social standings are. When he finds out Clarissa’s interest in the town cabinetmaker, he begins forcing Clarissa. She becomes afraid that if this goes on, her father would probably forbid her from going to the school, which means she probably can’t take those chances to see Gabriel. But Clarissa’s father and brothers are angry too, and they want nothing to do with Cameron. They try to protect her but Cameron seems to find ways to have her alone and unawares. It took Gabriel’s intervention to put the guy off.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, Clarissa’s step-mother begins becoming a nerve-grating little b!tch. Good GOD! Can’t tell you how many times I went from eye rolling to STFU b!tch to I’m so gonna kill this b!tch!. This woman begins finding out ways to ‘show’ Clarissa that she’s in control and Clarissa should accede to that. According to her, a good girl of an upstanding family would never do or say the things Clarissa is doing or saying. At first, she tries to stop her from teaching. Then she tries to stop Gabriel’s courting of Clarissa, bringing up Cameron repeatedly, because to her, he’s so much the better prospect than some nobody like Gabriel. She goes as far as to invite Gabriel’s aunt in her house knowing Gabriel would be there, creating an unpleasant environment all over. This Masterson woman took sick enjoyment by casting her gloomy and mean nature everywhere she went, Mrs. Smythe being her blind (and stupid) follower.
Though most of her attempts went in vain, including demeaning Gabriel to Clarissa’s family so that the courting stops, Mrs. Smythe finally wins. After Savannah’s marriage, Gabriel and Clarissa become more serious about their relationship. He was getting more orders thanks to the gorgeous cabinet he made for Mr. Martin as a gift to Savannah. But, soon, his aunt starts circulating the old rumor of him killing his mentor once again. And that fateful visit when Gabriel was in attendance, the b!tch also, very snidely, tells everyone present, including Clarissa’s brothers and father, that she has been to Gabriel’s workplace unattended. Seems like the woman finally remembered Clarissa from her sudden meeting to torment Gabriel couple of months ago. Mrs. Smythe kept giving smug looks at her when Sean becomes really angry at this revelation, talking about the ‘reputation’ of the family.
Once Masterson is gone, Sean explicitly forbids Clarissa from seeing Gabriel ever again. It was so depressing to read Clarissa asking her father since when did he start caring about what other people think. This wasn’t an issue in her home before. Now, it pretty much suggested that no matter what, Sean IS influenced by his wife. With a new baby on the way, he probably is caring more about his ‘new’ family than his grown up children from the first marriage. At least that’s what I thought, and tried imagining what Clarissa must’ve felt. Without Colin, she’d probably be alone in her quest for acceptance and independence. I already knew she hated the kind of tasteless, flashy redecoration that Mrs. Smythe was doing throughout the house, changing the safe heaven that reminded her of her mother. I felt absolutely heartbroken for Clarissa because quite a few times, she expresses just how she dislikes this but there’s nothing she can do about it. Now it seems, her only other ‘safe heaven’ is also about to be lost to her.
Their separation was killing me, so was the letters Gabriel was writing to her. By the remaining page numbers, I knew the book would end soon, yet I saw no forthcoming resolution to this mess. Then, one day, Gabriel stops by to tell Clarissa that at last he’d decided to leave Boston and start anew somewhere else as he’d realized he can never escape the Mastersons while he’s here. Clarissa’s heart is shattered once again. She’s feeling the loss of him already, loneliness creeping back in as it did after Cameron’s desertion. But Gabriel keeps holding her and telling her he’d never forget her, that he’ll return for her ASAP. But that doesn’t calm Clarissa down, nor does it entirely soothe away her pain.
I totally hated the train scene, not because it was done badly but that the book ends right afterwards. I wasn’t expecting this cliffhanger when I started reading. I was SO looking forward to Mrs. Smythe getting the ‘b!tch-in-your-face’ and definitely, the much deserving HEA for Clarissa and Gabriel after what they had to suffer throughout their relationship. Damn, there wasn’t even any love scene. The author note tells me that “Reclaimed Love” would be the continuation of Clarissa-Gabriel’s story. Thought it certainly made me happy, I was rather bummed by the fact that the book won’t be out till this Fall. *sigh* But I guess, there’s no other way around it. 4 stars.
I received this review copy of Banished Love from Goddess Fish Promotions as a part of the Banished Love VBT (Feb 21, 2014) in exchange of an honest review. For more, visit my blog Punya Reviews...