Oh wow! The Blacksmith and the Ex-Con was my first book by Jackie North, and if this is the norm for her writing, it certainly won’t be my last!
Everything worked for me in this story. Poor Ellis, completely traumatised from his time in prison, he brought tears to my eyes. Particularly early on, when he expected everyone, and especially Jasper, to start beating him up at every turn. His fear of Jasper’s size and gruff personality was heartbreaking to watch. Jackie North beautifully portrayed Ellis as a man entirely broken by the system: mute, paranoid, over-reactive, and defensive. Watching him relax slowly under Jasper’s care was beautiful to watch unfold. Jasper’s portrayal as a huge hulking presence, gruff exterior, but marshmallow heart was the perfect counterpoint for Ellis.
Jasper opened his arms, fingers on Ellis' arms, pulling him into a hug. He tucked Ellis' body against his own, feeling Ellis' heartbeat slow and then slow, holding him the whole while, not intending to let go until Ellis signaled he was ready to be released into the day. Sometimes, there were no words for such a need, but sometimes the need was clear as daylight.
The Blacksmith and the Ex-Con grabbed me from the first page; every time something went wrong for Ellis, my heart froze for him. I was flipping the pages as fast as I could, wholly absorbed in the story. I knew that ultimately Jasper and Ellis would have their ‘happy ever after’, but sometimes I couldn’t see how it could be possible.
I really enjoyed the secondary characters, especially Maddy and Clay. Leland came across as a bit of a hard man to start with, but we were soon given glimpses of his softer personality. Since Leland was the main character in the first book in this series, regular readers may not have seen Leland as harsh (having gotten to know him already). Still, to the new reader, that is how he appeared, although his kindness kept peeking through, and no one could deny how he softened around Jamie.
This book can be read as a standalone. I hadn’t read either the first book in the series or the book it loosely follows that could act as a prequel; although, I will be going back to read them. I ended up playing a bit of catch up and just letting go of things that required background information. However, these instances were few and were not integral to the story. If you’ve read the first book, you will understand the inside jokes and references, but it didn’t affect my enjoyment of this story at all.
The Blacksmith and the Ex-Con was a lovely hurt/comfort story that, even though it was intensely emotional and painful (in sympathy with Ellis) to read at times, it never felt overwhelmingly heavy or depressing. There were too many light scenes, particularly between Jasper and Ellis, and the addition of the ‘Frontier Girls’ added lightness to the story.
It was a passionate romance between Jasper and Ellis. Broken but surviving, Ellis needed Jasper’s care, support, patience, understanding, and love. Yet, he was never weak; he was fiercely protective of Jasper, despite Jasper being the physically more imposing of the two. They gave the other what they needed, and it was marvellous to experience.
You couldn't make someone want you to stick around, you couldn't force them. But Ellis found he wanted to try.