Judith James – “Broken Wing”

16 Nov

GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: Medallion Press, 2008

WHY THIS NOVEL: This post on Kristie (J)’s blog. It’s a new quest!

The back blurb:
“Abandoned as a child and raised in a brother, Gabriel St. Croix has never known tenderness, friendship, or affection. Although fluent in sex, he knows nothing of love. Lost and alone inside a nightmare world, all he’s ever wanted his [sic] companionship and a place to belong. Hiding physical and emotional scars behind an icy faรงade, his only relationship is with a young boy he has spent the last five years protecting from the brutal reality of their environment. But all that is about to change. The boy’s family has found him, and they are coming to take him home.
Sarah Munroe blames herself for her brother’s disappearance. When he’s located, safe and unharmed despite where he has been living, Sarah vows to help the man who rescued and protected him in any way she can. With loving patience she helps Gabriel face his demons and teaches him to trust in friendship and love. But when the past catches up with him, Gabriel must face it on his own.
Becoming a mercenary pirate and a professional gambler, Gabriel travels to London, France, and the Barbary Coast in a desperate attempt to find Sarah again and all he knows of love. On the way, however, he will discover the most dangerous journey, and the greatest gamble of all, is within the darkest reaches of his own heart.”

Broken Wing is Gabriel’s story. This is clear from the back blurb, this is clear from the prologue. It’s the moving story of a man who has nothing to hope for and who has nothing he can decide on his own for most of the time in the story. It’s the story of how he overcomes that and starts living. Meeting Sarah is what makes Gabriel start living. She shows him that even in his most powerless state as a prostitute in a brothel, he choose to do something good – protect Jamie, her brother. Sarah is Gabriel’s hope. And so it’s rather tragic that when he finally can do something on his own, he feels he betrayed her with his action.

Sarah is an unconventional heroine. She’s free in her manner, speech, and dress, and she’s able to see beneath the surface and behind Gabriel’s walls. She takes everything Gabriel eventually tells her in stride, even if it’s more than she initially imagined. I liked that she’s resolved to go on after she has to assume Gabriel dead. But other than that, there is not much more or much change to her character. Sarah’s (nearly) perfect, even her unconventionality seems quite conventional for romance heroines IMO, and always giving, but she clearly is right for Gabriel and what he needs.

Sarah’s and Gabriel’s relationship develops slowly, as seems fitting for a character with Gabriel’s background. There’s no sexual healing here, the focus is more on the emotional side of things. Gabriel and Sarah are friends for quite some time before they are lovers.

Breathless, careful not to misconstrue, he accepted, lying gingerly beside her above the covers, an arms length away. In this intimate and rarified atmosphere, he told her that Davey was in love with her, and she called him a muddle-headed fool. He complained of her arrogant older brother, and he described with enthusiasm the feeling he got from the bloody and controlled dance of violence, metal, and mind Davey was teaching him. (113)

They have some lovely moments together and I liked the “kiss thing.”

Aside from that, I especially enjoyed the scope of the story. Broken Wing isn’t a story that happens in a few days, a few weeks or even a few months. No, it’s a few years from beginning to end, and the time is needed for this kind of story. I also liked the “star imagery” used in the story. It’s there at the beginning, it’s there when Gabriel and Sarah first connect, and in some way it’s there in the end, with Gabriel’s dazzling life in London.

So there is much to like in this novel. But I also had a few niggles. First, I thought Gabriel appeared much too unscathed for what he went through. He has a curious (but endearing) innocence in some things and his adjustment to his new life and his relationship with Sarah, albeit slow, came rather easily. Secondly, he doesn’t want to take Sarah’s brother’s money, he wants to earn it himself so that he can say he supports Sarah on his own (which is recommendable). But he sees no problem doing this with smuggling or stealing from others? Hmm, I guess it’s all right because mostly enemies are the victims. Thirdly, I had trouble understanding Gabriel’s behavior at the end.

The biggest distraction, and what influenced my enjoyment of this novel the most, is the way it is written. It’s very descriptive and overall, there’s too much telling for my taste (which is probably one of the reasons why I thought Gabriel’s recovery and adjustment rather easy) and I was tempted to skip. Things were often told rather than shown and passages like the following quote are quite frequent:

When Davey returned, they went to see him, dancing and playing around the campfire on the shore with him and his crew, whirling and twirling and reeling under the stars, like happy children. They didn’t announce their future plans to Davey, having decided to wait and tell Ross first, as was proper, but their intimacy and excitement were obvious, and if Davey had any misgivings, he didn’t let on. (217)

The last part of the sentence reads like a narrator intruding on the story (happens quite often). Often, explanations follow when something was shown. And there is also a bit more head-hopping than I like. For example the following quote:

He regarded her ruefully. He had loved her since the first time he’d seen her, awkward, and gangly and dressed like a boy. He’d been angry, hurt, and lost, grieving his parents and enraged at their meaningless deaths, a stranger in a strange new world. She’d made him laugh, joined him enthusiastically on his adventures, imagined him a great hero, and made him feel welcome when he’d thought himself completely alone. He’d never told her how he felt. He’d been waiting for the right time, and now it would never come. (244)

appears on page 244 and is in Davey’s POV. On page 243, it’s Sarah’s POV, and on page 245, it’s Gabriel’s POV (leaving aside that I thought the quoted paragraph rather unnecessary/too long for the place it appeared in the story). One reason for the telling is certainly because of the scope of the novel, but even with that in mind, the balance didn’t quite work for me.

Because of all that, the writing appeared awkward in places and as a result, the story didn’t flow smoothly enough for me to really pull me in. I know that much of this is a question of taste, like is my unease with frequent POV changes for example. As the quotes probably show, it’s not the writing itself I have trouble with, it’s the accumulation of passive and telling parts. It kept me distanced from the story and the characters, lessening the impact the story could have had and my pleasure in reading it (and also partly the final grade).

For someone without the same “hang-ups,” there is an intense story to be found in Broken Wing about a love that is meant to be and a man in search of his sense of self-worth. Broken Wing certainly is something different from what you get in most historicals published today. It reminded me in parts of Laura Kinsale’s The Shadow and the Star and Laura Leone’s Fallen from Grace. I’m glad Medallion took a chance and published it, and even with my “hang-ups,” I was glad I read it.

Would I recommend this novel? Yes.

Would I read this novel again? Maybe.

Grade: 3,5 / 5


4 Responses to “Judith James – “Broken Wing””

  1. Kristie(J) Sunday, November 16, 2008 at 8:38 pm #

    *laughing* I know not everyone is going to be smacked upside the head like I was by this book. Part of me (the part that got smacked )wonders why on earth not *g*, but the realistic part of knows there will NEVER be a book that everyone agrees on.
    So I see your qualms on this one – the part that can distance the lover of this book ๐Ÿ™‚ agrees with you. Technically it does have flaws. It does have some awkwardness to it.
    But I was too caught up in Gabriel’s story to really notice them.
    As for the way he behaved towards the end – I think Sarah was his lifeline. He needed her to see himself through her eyes and he had been separated from her for so long, he went back to his old pattern of thinking – something he had lived with most of his life.
    So you wrote a very good review!! *chuckle* much more objective than mine. And you did a good comparison with The Shadow and the Star and Fallen From Grace – two books I adore.

  2. Taja Sunday, November 16, 2008 at 11:25 pm #

    You’re very kind, Kristie. ๐Ÿ™‚ I just hope that with my talk about why this novel didn’t work quite like it did for you, it’s also clear that there are quite a few things I did like! It’s not that I sat there wondering how on earth you could like it so much. I could see its appeal. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Finding a book that speaks to you is a reason to celebrate. I have my fair share of books that have technical flaws and I still love them. Who cares about the flaws then?

    About the ending – you make a very good point. There’s his feeling that something died inside him when he did what he did (real smooth LOL) and there’s the way he lives after he arrives in London. He couldn’t possibly think that Sarah wouldn’t hear from him with a life style like that and which I saw as his way to call out to her. I got all that. What I didn’t think of is, as you said, that “he needed her to see himself through her eyes”. I really like that and it makes sense. I mean, it’s there the first time, like the Jamie thing I mentioned. Thank you.

    The Shadow and the Star and Fallen from Grace – like them both a lot.

  3. Jace Sunday, August 30, 2009 at 8:25 am #

    This is a fantastic review! I get your qualms, especially the “telling” instead of “showing”. Too much “telling” irritates the heck out of me – I need to remember this aspect when I decide to read this one later.

  4. Taja Sunday, August 30, 2009 at 4:42 pm #

    Jace – thanks!

    Readers seem to either they have problems with the amount of telling in the story or they don’t. I hope you’ll like it despite it. You never know if you don’t try. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Let me know what you think when you’ve read it!

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