Rating: 4.5 stars
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Jack lives a poor and lonely existence in his small village. Shunned because of his red hair, even his family is indifferent towards him and Jack’s only “friend” is his cow Inga. Years ago, Jack was involved in a relationship with Adair, the baron’s son, but in hindsight Jack sees that Adair was only using him and Jack was quickly dropped when it was time for Adair to find a wife. For years Jack has dreamed about making his way to a new land and getting away from the people who hate him. But the path is almost impossible to cross, especially considering Jack has no money. And each year he imagines what it would be like to climb the beanstalk that grows to the sky and find the treasure that is rumored to be hidden there by an evil giant.
When Jack’s financial problems take a turn for the worse, he finally summons his courage to tackle the beanstalk in search of the gold. At first it appears that stories of the evil giant are true, but then he finds it is really just a man, Rion, who guards the castle. Rion is the last of his family, tasked with spending his days protecting the treasure from the evil Outsiders below. He has been taught to hate and fear the others, that they are dirty and evil and only want to take from him. And he is determined to protect his family’s legacy at whatever the cost. When he encounters Jack attempting to steal the gold, Rion assumes he is like all the others.
But somehow the men end up making a connection with one another. They find they are both lonely outsiders, living with the fear and hatred of those around them. They have both been taught to believe the other to be something horrific, but instead they find each other to be good, caring men who just want love and companionship. Jack and Rion quickly fall for one another, spending blissful days together in the castle in the sky. But although Jack would love to spend his life with Rion, traveling the world and doing good deeds, Rion feels the burden of his family obligations and a life together seems to be impossible. Added to that, danger comes from the land below, threatening Rion and the life he has built. The men must work through their problems and find a way to be together before their enemy defeats them both.
So obviously this story is a take on the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale. I was so excited to read this one as we can find Cinderellas and Beauty and the Beasts all over, but this is a story I have never seen translated into romance. I think the authors did a great job taking the flavor of the traditional tale and building this story from it. We have a lot of the key elements from the original — the evil giant in the castle in the sky, the magic beanstalk, the hidden gold, and poor Jack with his beleaguered cow. But from there the authors expand the lore, creating rich back stories for each of the men, especially for Rion, who is only a monster in the original tale. The story is nicely developed with a lovely feel good ending, capturing the magic of a fairy tale while still keeping enough elements of a more traditional story to keep it grounded.
I really like the way we see the similarities in these two men, each brought up alone, living with fear and hatred from others. Each has his own misconceptions of the other that must be cleared as they open their minds to the ideas that they stories they have heard are not true. I liked that they were kindred spirits of sorts, finding that one person who truly understands them. At the same time, the authors also show us a key difference that leads to their conflict. Jack is able to put aside his past hurts and wants to move on with his life. He is not interested in revenge for the way the villagers treated him. He just wants to get away and make a new life for himself. But Rion still feels honor bond to uphold the family legacy, to create the fiction of the evil giant hording the gold to taunt the people below as punishment for past misdeeds. It is hard for him to realize that it is time to put that aside and live for himself and what will make him happy. So I enjoyed this bit of conflict and the sweet way it all resolves.
So this was a really fun story. If you enjoy a good fairy tale, I would definitely recommend this unique take on Jack and the Beanstalk. I found it really well done and it left me with a satisfied smile on my face as the men headed off to their happily ever after.
Cover Review: This style cover doesn’t always work for me, but I really like this one. Maybe it is hunky ginger Jack…