Review of QUEEN OF BROKEN HEARTS by Cassandra King (see her website)
Hyperion, March 2007
Clare Ballenger works as a divorce councellor, helping women find closure as their marriages fall apart, but Clare's own life is not exactly perfect. She lost her husband years before to a hunting 'accident' and has felt guilty ever since. Although two men are madly in love with her, Clare treats both of them as 'friends,' refusing to take their proposals seriously. Meanwhile, Clare's best friend, Dora has gotten back with her husband Son, against Clare's advice. Clare believes that Son can only make Dora unhappy.
Clare's batting average in terms of seeing what's going on around her falls even lower when her daughter's marriage falls apart as well. Still, Clare keeps busy building a retreat center for divorcing and divorced women on land given her by her mother-in-law. There, near the bay, Clare hopes to bring a peace to troubled women that she herself cannot find.
Author Cassandra King writes evocatively of the south, with families who have known one another for generations, instinctual distrust for imported Yankees, still-strained racial relations, and especially a kind of sisterhood. In QUEEN OF BROKEN HEARTS, women are the only characters with any depth--all of the men, including love interests Rhy and Lex, seem to exist only in their relationship to the women of their life. Indeed, Dory's husband Son refuses to go anywhere without his wife, and Clare's final decision between the two men who love her is driven not by the qualities of these men themselves, but by Clare's relationships with other men.
Although King's writing is strong and occasionally highly emotional, I found the story confusing and the characters sometimes unsympathetic. From the very beginning, when Clare ran out from a restaurant rather than face Son, Clare refuses to confront her own wishes and needs--which could have been the basis for a character arc, but if so, it was one King didn't fully explore.
Although QUEEN OF BROKEN HEARTS was occasionally frustrating, Kings writing was strong enough to propell me through the story.
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