Rating: 4 stars
Buy Link: Amazon | All Romance
Animosity between the karate and aikido dojos bring senseis Asbjorn Lund and Sean Gallaway together in the strangest way. Asbjorn, of the karate dojo, needs to share resources with Sean’s aikido club and the only way to achieve this is through Sean’s cooperation. Asbjorn joins Sean’s aikido dojo in order to figure out a way to achieve his goal and both men are intrigued by each other from the beginning.
Asbjorn and his friend Nell are grieving over the death of Nell’s husband, the former karate sensei “Tiger,” in a motorcycle accident. Asbjorn had Tiger-sensei to ground him and he made him the man he is today. More of a closet case than in denial, Asbjorn is struggling to adjust to life outside of the military. He also refuses to let his emotions out and properly grieve for Tiger.
Walking home one night, Sean hears a young man in distress down an alley and intervenes. Successfully incapacitating two of the three individuals, the third manages to escape and Sean is heralded as a hero, much to Sean’s discomfort. Soon after the alleyway incident, Sean is brutally assaulted in a home invasion by the man from the alley who escaped. Unable to defend himself, even with all of his martial arts training, Sean feels a deep sense of shame and doubt about everything he has ever been taught, and for everything he has taught his students. The assault has a secondary consequence; Sean pushes Asbjorn away, feeling smothered by the over-protective former military man.
Although he is traumatized, Sean’s ego won’t let the perpetrator, “Joe Green,” get away with the assault on the young man in the alley or himself. Joe threatens Sean and maintains an ongoing, menacing presence in Sean’s life.
Even with the assault overshadowing the men, Sean and Asbjorn feel a building attraction. With Asbjorn’s background and stunted emotions, coupled with Sean’s assault, a fledgling relationship may not be able to survive and grow. Sean testifies against the two original assailants, as he vowed to do, but Joe is still on the loose, dogging every step Sean makes. With the help of the police, Sean lures Joe into a sting operation but his pride and desire for revenge could put him and the operation in jeopardy.
The beginning of Breakfall was challenging and had a lot of characters who, in the end, were inconsequential to the big picture. Pavelle used so much aikido and karate terminology that I felt lost and decided to just go with the flow and simply disregard anything I could not figure out contextually. If you are a fan of martial arts or participate in them, you can judge the accuracy, but, from my uneducated perspective, I just did not have the time to search the web for everything that was referenced.
That being said, the further I got into the story, the more invested I became. I grew to truly like the characters, their strengths and weaknesses, their irrational fears and grand hopes. There are a staggering number of players and all of them exhibit enough depth and differentiation to make the world of Breakfall that much more realistic. The events also spanned a few months and Pavelle incorporated small details periodically, which helped to maintain a deeper continuity to the story.
Asbjorn thinks he is in love with Sean but just can’t bring himself to say the words. Instead, Asbjorn vows to be there for Sean, help him get past the assault. Their lack of experience with men — Sean for the first time ever, and Asbjorn, for the first time openly — shows us the perceptions of men who are just out of the closet and how those perceptions of a gay relationship can wreak havoc, and create challenges in a budding relationship. Two proud alpha males make for a hell of a dynamic and a whole pile of faulty assumptions are the result.
All of the relationships within the story were either solidly established, based on shared history, or in the case of Asbjorn and Sean, evolved gradually with twists, turns, and the occasional bump in the road. As far as secondary characters go, Nell seriously rocks, the “zap you with some white stuff” is beyond funny, impressive, to say the least, and, well read it for yourself and be in awe of Nell.
This is the first time that I have considered a dead man as a key secondary character, but since his life and death have such a profound effect on the story and survivors, Tiger needs to be addressed. So many things keeps coming back to him, what he did, how he lived, who he interacted with. It felt like there should be a prequel with Tiger and Nell as the MCs, so much of the story revolved around them.
Since this is the first book of a trilogy, Pavelle took a lot of time to address Sean and Asbjorn’s slowly growing relationship, making it clear that the men want each other, but don’t know how to express their wants and needs to each other. Usually, there is a central point of conflict near the end of a novel, but in Breakfall we keep getting hit with situation after situation that lead up to a cliffhanger that guarantees I will be getting my hands on book two as soon as it is available.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.