A guest review by Jenre
Two very flawed characters and a tightly written plot made this book a fast paced, exciting read with a core of sweet romance.
Eben does what his brother, mob boss Nicky Flannery, tells him, even when he’s not so sure it’s right. Letting Nicky do his thinking for him is a lifelong habit. So is hiding the fact that he’s gay. Then Nicky buys a Hong Kong rent-boy to expand the mob’s escort business and Eben’s life gets a lot more complicated.
Forced into prostitution, Song Xiu is an unsentimental survivor. He takes his pleasures where he can and leaves his clients weak in the knees. Xiu knows he’s hot for Eben’s powerful body, but it’s more than that. Eben’s kind face and gentle touch give Xiu a strange feeling that no amount of sex or drugs can banish. Is this what people call love?
Eben is instantly attracted to Xiu’s erotic beauty, but it’s the sweet young man beneath the glossy surface that he falls for. When he learns Xiu’s story, he begins to wonder if Nicky is really the hero he grew up worshipping, or something else entirely.
An unguarded moment leads to a passionate encounter that rips away all of Xiu and Eben’s illusions. Suddenly the answers to their questions become alarmingly clear. They have one last chance to rescue each other from their broken lives, but only if they can survive Nicky’s retribution.
Those of you who like flawed heroes are in for a treat with this book because both men have some very un-heroic qualities about them. As the book begins our first hero Eben is nursing wounds on his hands from having beaten a guy the previous day. He gets a phone call from his brother Nicky who runs the family gangster outfit asking Eben to go and collect a man from the airport. He tells Eben that the man is an exchange student from China and so Eben heads off to the airport to collect him. In fact Xiu isn’t an exchange student, he’s a male prostitute and a damned good one at that. Not only that, but he’s a heroin addict and when Eben arrives at the airport Xiu has a serious case of withdrawal. It isn’t until Eben gets Xiu to Nicky that he figures out what’s going on, but by then Eben finds he likes Xiu. As the book progresses, Eben is torn between loyalty to his brother and his developing feeling of love for Xiu, until circumstances mean he has to make a choice.
As you can see from the above description, neither hero seems at first particularly ‘heroic’. Eben isn’t the brightest button in the box, but he also uses that as an excuse not to see how much of a criminal his brother is. Eben is an enforcer, and whilst he hasn’t killed anyone yet, he is still used by his brother for beating people half to death. Despite this, Eben is a nice guy when he’s not being told to do his brother’s dirty work, and in fact the only reason he does this is out a a deep sense of loyalty and love for his brother. One of the most interesting aspects of this book is seeing the change in Eben from a gentle hearted, yet clueless man, to someone forced to open his eyes and see – for the first time – how much of bad man his brother is, and how Nicky’s control is making him into someone he doesn’t want to be. I liked Eben a great deal and enjoyed seeing the way he slowly redeems himself.
Xiu (or Shoe as Eben calls him because he can’t pronounce his name properly) is a practised whore whose act is completely undone by Eben’s gentle concern and kindness for him. There were times I didn’t like Xiu very much because by necessity he’s a selfish person. There’s growth for him too in the way that his self-image is altered as the story progresses. It was a brave move on the part of the author to have a heroin addict as a hero, and Xiu veers between the love of his habit and wanting to be free of it. It helps, I think, that Xiu is so upfront about his feelings for his habit, but also that there are specific (and heartbreaking) reasons for his addiction. Xiu is also a good foil for Eben. He’s intelligent but never undermines Eben for his lack of quick thinking, instead Eben gentleness soothes Xiu and Eben unfailing ability to see the good in Xiu brings out a protectiveness that works both ways.
The romance between Eben and Xiu was sweet and charming and a good opposite to some of the darker themes in the book. This meant that those dark themes didn’t overwhelm the story bringing a balance I liked a great deal. Alongside Xiu and Eben is the character of Nicky, Eben’s brother. The way the author had portrayed Nicky was perfect for a Bostonian gangster, especially in the cadence of his speech and his rigid enforced rules. He’s not a nice man and treats Eben badly, but then every so often he shows remarkable love and tolerance for his Eben which saved him from being an all out bad guy and made me understand why Eben is so loyal to Nicky. It was cleverly done. I also liked the character of Rhonda, who managed to combine pragmaticism and a little cynicism with a carefully guarded affection and friendship for Eben.
I don’t have that many niggles with the book but one thing that spoiled it a little for me was the rather unnecessary epilogue. Also I had a few occasions where the plot stretched plausibility a bit – but then again I think that about action films all the time!
In the end, these niggles weren’t enough to spoil what was an exciting and fast paced novel with a couple of flawed and unusual heroes. This has to be about the sixth book I’ve read by this author and she really does get better with each book. I can highly recommend Broken to those who are looking for a book which manages to successfully combine great characterisation with a very romantic story.