12 July 2009

Broken Wing (Judith James)

In early May I threw down the gauntlet to those of us who had not read the much lauded Broken Wing (Judith James).
Abandoned as a child and raised in a brothel, Gabriel St Croix has never know 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 is companionship and a place to belong. Hiding physical and emotional scars behind an icy facade, 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.
I finished reading the book at the end of last month and have attempted to cobble together a few of my wayward thoughts. Where to start? Firstly, did the book work for me? Yes and no. I know I appear to be fence sitting, so I will try to explain. Broken Wing is at its heart Gabriel's story; the story of his path from darkness, despair and hopelessness. The writing is beautifully descriptive, creating a world at once alien and yet at the same time not:
Gabriel crouched on bended knee, hunched against cold stone above an ancient alley fetid with the smell of piss and vomit and cooked sausage. A door slammed in the distance. The sound of cursing, a man's and a woman's, was followed by slaps, screams, and then silence. Far away, the sound of a guitar drifted to him, melancholy in the cold night air.
The world described in Broken Wing I connected too; unfortunately, for the most part, the characters I did not. When we first meet Gabriel, he is simply marking time:
Again and again steel kissed flesh. Not too deep. Now now. Not yet. Dead inside, lifeless and empty, the crimson bracelets offered a needed proof that for now, at least, he was still of this world.
Yet he still attempts to save a child from the fate he himself met:
Then the child had come, and something inside him, something weak and treacherous, had betrayed him. He'd wanted...needed...to protect the boy, to keep him safe and innocent.
As hard as I tried though, I couldn't completely connect with Gabriel...there were fleeting moments, but it was as Font sizethough I experiencing echos filtered and reflected, not the raw emotion I wanted, I needed:
'Gabe? Gabriel'?' Her voice floated above the water, insistent, concerned'. 'Gabe?', a little sharper now, cutting clearly through the hiss and swoosh of surf on sand. He turned slowly in her direction, swaying with the force of the water, confused, as if he didn't recognise her.
I discussed this with Kerry, concerned that somehow I was obviously missing what was right in front of me. We hypothesized that perhaps the author was aware of the target audience and had deliberately not taken that step into detailing the true darkness haunting Gabriel, the darkness that I felt so strongly when I read Melusine (Sarah Monette). Then again, it may be that, this being the author's first book, such detail will be apparent in future novels. I don't know. All I know is that I didn't have the intimate connection with Gabriel that I longed for. The story was fascinating, but...I wanted to reach Gabriel's heart, and I wasn't able too. And I fully accept that it was more than likely me than the book..
There were parts though that tugged at my heartstrings:
He'd even started to believe that maybe she was right. Maybe he deserved to love and be loved as much as anyone else did, but he couldn't believe it anymore.
The second half of the book I enjoyed immensely. I found at times that Gabriel and Sarah were too sweet (for me) when together, so the straight historical feel of the second half was a welcome relief. I loved the rich descriptions, the vividly drawn secondary characters. But I have to admit that Gabriel himself did have (dare I say it? ) Mary Sue tendencies. He was brilliant with horses, languages, musical instruments, tactics...the list is endless. Not that that is a bad thing, but something I noticed.

And I know many have queried why Gabriel stayed away so long - two sentence for me explained it beautifully:
'I couldn't return to you mignonne. I didn't know how'.
However, IMO Sarah was very quick to understand and forgive. Humanity just isn't that patient or forgiving.

Will I read another book by this author? *nods* I think Judith James writes very well...I just don't think I connected with this book as well as others have. FYI -KristieJ has written a wonderful review of Broken Wing here!

The Broken Wing Challenge still runs until the end of July, so you still have *checks calendar* 18 days to go!


  1. Great review! Overall I enjoyed the book but certain points seemed rushed and even though the bedroom scene with Gabriel and Sarah were sweet, I think James overdid a bit.

  2. Thank you Katiebabs :) I really struggled with this review - even though I enjoyed the book, there were parts I struggled with.

  3. OK, I averted my eyes on the review, since I will be reading this later this week! Can't wait to go back (after I write my review) and read all of the other BW Challenge reviews! :-)

  4. 18 days! Hm. Well, I have to honest--I don't think that's going to happen. But I will read it eventually. :) I think I'm going to try to read this one and Melusine back-to-back so I can compare them better.

  5. Orannia - I'm so glad you read it. Even if it didn't work for you on the level it worked for Kristie and me, I'm still grateful to you for giving it a shot.

    You know, sometimes we don't connect w/heroes the way others do. I can tell you, that I feel that way about Dain from Lord of Scoundrels. I know there are many, many readers who adore him. Me? Meh, I care a whole lot more about Lady Jessica. *shrugs* Sometimes it just works out that way.

    Tell me though, since I've heard other readers comment about it, did the separation of Gabriel and Sarah bother you? I'm interested to hear your feelings on that.

    Thanks again for reading it. I'm sorry it didn't work completely for you, but I hope you enjoyed the experience anyway.

  6. Renee - I've been trying to keep my eyes averted from Broken Wing (BW) reviews too :) Hmmm. I wonder if I should post links to all the reviews?

    No worries heidenkind :) I find books and deadlines equal not as enjoyable reading experience. BW and Melusine are in completely different genres, but for some reason when I read about Gabriel I thought about Felix. Has anyone else read both books and, if so, do they think I am completely losing it by comparing the two characters?

    Thank you Kati :) I don't think I did a very good job of explaining why I didn't feel the connection, but you're right - sometimes we connect with characters and sometimes we don't :) And Dain didn't really work for me either, but then again Lord of Scoundrels isn't my favourite Loretta Chase *shock horror*

    The separation didn't bother me. It kind of made sense (Gabriel wanting to be able to support Sarah), but then I was probably looking at it more from straight historical fiction than romantic fiction at that point (and I needed some relief from Gabriel and Sarah together, because they were almost too sweet at times...I'm such a cynic :) Plus...I feel Gabriel needed to test himself without Sarah there (if that makes sense?) He needed to not rely on her (like a crutch)...not that he was but...I don't know. Perhaps their relationship could have become unhealthy if he didn't realise that he could stand tall on his own....OK, now I'm rambling ;)

  7. Oh, and yes I did enjoy the experience :) I'm definitely glad I read it!

  8. Ack! 18 days left!!!!

    As you can probably tell, I haven't started yet! *hides behind Heidenkin*

    I'll get to it really I will! *nervously looks at Orannia* No need to think of "penalties", really!

  9. Good review! You know I struggled with it myself. Gabriel I liked and felt for; Sarah, not so much. I was happy Gabe got his happy ending, but it did seem rushed at the end.

    And you're right, Gabriel was excellent at everything... which seemed a bit remarkable.

    Aymless and Heidenkin...it took a while to read this one for me as well. I put it down several times (for long periods). I don't know why; it isn't the biggest book I've ever read or the most emotional (although the beginning chapters were sad). It's a good story for all my bitching about Sarah ;)

  10. Me, think about penalties? Would I do that to you Aymless? And since I know you're going to the RWA Nationals I think you should be allowed an extension :)

    THank you Mariana. Yes, the ending did seem rushed. I didn't mention that in my review...I think my lack of connection overwhelmed me...

  11. Well, you already know, Orannia, how I felt about this book. While I didn't hate it, I didn't love it. I was particularly disappointed the sense of darkness that I got from the prologue did not seem to come through for me for the remainder of the book.

    On th other hand, I did enjoy the fact that it was essentially Gabriel's story AND the fact that they were separated. Made a nice change to the run of the mill historicals that you read.

  12. Wow I’m really cutting it close to the wire here! As soon as I’m done with my Nalini Singh (Sorry but that’s a must) I’ll pick it up I swear ;op Just to show you how committed I am I’m reading it before my latest Nora.

    How many pages is it? So if I make myself read at least a 100 pages a night (do able) I should finish it in plenty of time. See no sweat I can do this. Ok I’m done with my self pep talk :o)

  13. Review links would be awesome! Maybe (temporarily) in the sidebar?

  14. I need to go and re-read your review Kris - I was trying not to let any review influence me, so I dind't pay enough due diligence...sorry :( - but I think we had a similar response, as least WRT the level of darkness. I'd be interested to see what you make of Melusine *hint hint* As if you don't have enough to read *grin*

    *pulls out poms poms for LeeAnn* You can do it! And I completely understand about reading Branded By Fire (BBF) first. I devoured BBF :) *thinks* About 400 pages I think?

    Renee - I'll work on it tonight :)

  15. *waving* Apologies for the delay--I am missing in action for the duration of RWA but I will be posting my review on time.

    I promise.


  16. Ack - I must have had my head in the RWA clouds when you posted this - either that or I'm totally lost in days.
    I love your summary. Although the book didn't 'hit' you the same way it did me and some others, you recognize the magic of her writing. Just because this book blew me away, I knew that not everyone was going to feel the same, but you describe beautifully what parts of it worked for you and why the parts that didn't - didn't.
    I know some have said they didn't care for the second part - that for them the story could have been wrapped up just as well without Gabriel's 'journey'. And I'm so glad you enjoyed the second part. It was what made the book a standout for me. Others have said they didn't think it was right that he stayed away from Sarah when he got back but again I love your two sentence answer as to why he didn't.
    It was a little rushed at the end and yep - Sarah was too forgiving too soon, but the size of the book was already longer then a lot of romance published today so I'm thinking that's why it was rushed a little too much near the end.
    Thanks for your own challenge on this book *g* and your most excellent thoughts. The fact that so many people are willing to try this one based on my recommendation is humbling in itself *watery smile*

  17. Orannia,

    I read this book and loved it, but I have to agree with some of your points. The biggest issue I had was Sarah. I liked her, but she wasn't on the page much. I never could understand how they'd fallen in love.

    On the other hand, Gabe was amazing. I loved the 2nd part of the book, though it went into some pretty deep and dark territory. Maybe it's because it was just Gabe's story that made it work better for me? I don't know.

    I've got her latest book in my TBR pile, but I'm kind of afraid to read it. It's always difficult when you have an amazing reading experience w/ a writer, but then you don't for the rest. I'm crossing my fingers that I will love this one too. :)

    As for other reading, I cannot recommend Meredith Duran enough. I just read her books yesterday, but I LOVED them. I have no idea why I waited so long to read them. *shakes head* Very sad. :(

  18. Thank you azteclady! Am looking forward to your review!

    (((KristieJ))) Thank you so much. I was really worried writing this review because my feelings were so over the place and I know so many people loved it. And yes, those two sentences about why Gabriel stayed away really struck me hard...he had to find his way back on his own. While Sarah helped him the first time, he had to make that journey on his own.

    Thank you Bridget! I didn't realise Judith James had released a second book - I look forward to hearing what you think when you pick it up. Oh, and I have Meredith Duran's books on my TBR list - I suggested Bound By Your Touch to your library and they've placed orders for all three books! YAH! Oh, will you be reviewing them BTW? *makes note to check*

  19. Hi, my first time here, arrived via KristieJ -

    I felt a lot of the same things as you when I read this book (my thoughts: http://apprentice-writer.blogspot.com/2009/04/non-laughter-twin-reviews-historical.html ). And I ADORED 'Melusine'! I've been trying to get all sorts of people to read the series. Just finished book 3 and need to catch my breath.

    Will I read Judith James again? Oh, yes!