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Broken Wing by Judith James

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Broken Wing

Judith James
Historical Romance
Published in 2008

H/h - Gabriel St. Croix/Lady Sarah Munroe
Setting: Beginning of the Napoleonic rule; probably 1799-1804, spanning from France, England to the Mediterraneans.

Read in Apr, 2012.
My rating:

                                                       [spoiler alert]

This debut book by Judith James is by no means formulaic. I’ve read many of those in my long years of Romance reading and while I loved some of them to bits, others bored me to death. I totally appreciated the storyline of Broken Wing, the historical research JJ obviously done so well and created someone like Gabriel; a man you can’t just NOT adore, love and respect, even though his past was every bit sordid. Varying bunch of emotions gripped me while I was reading it: laughter, tears, shock, dread... I felt I myself was being tortured with Gabriel. But overall, I wasn’t bored once and I wasn’t disappointed, which is where I can truly say that I’m glad that I’ve read this book.

Before I continue with my review, first a few things that bugged me:

1)Somewhat stilted dialogues at times. Didn’t always correspond the actions of the characters correctly IMO. Same goes for the prose structure. But JJ’s writing grew on me gradually and I really didn’t have much trouble getting into the book later. The story was very intense and intriguing; the Historical notations were very interesting so I was more focused on those. I didn’t mind it as much as some reviewers did and vehemently ditched the book on the basis of it.

2)Sudden POV shifting. This bugged me a bit but I waded through.

3)The time frame all through the book was the biggest problem. I wish JJ gave us the exact time-frame, years passing in between. Would’ve been really convenient.

4)The protagonists’ resective ages. Those were very confusing too.

The story starts with a disillusioned Gabriel trying to connect himself with the outer world, sitting on the rooftop of the Parisian brothel where he was abandoned as a young child. He never knew his parents and there was no one who cared for him. Gabriel has never known a little bit of love. No one ever wanted him unless it’s his beautiful face and body. No one was there to rescue him when he needed to be rescued. My heart lurched from that moment, when I found him cutting his wrist and smiling jadedly, just to see if he’s alive. He grew up there and as a pretty child, caught lecherous attentions of some dirty SOBs. One, de Sevigny, bought Gabriel from the madame when he was 14 and forcibly converted him. I feel sick when I think of it; Gabriel was so young and he was made to do things he had no notion about. For about two years, he suffered through this. De Sevigny kept him as a page boy and taught him to read, write, sing, play various musical instruments, riding… most of it to amuse himself when he needed it. He also taught Gabriel things to pleasure him. Gabriel went with it, not knowing the right or wrong and took part in his own ruination (as he tells Sarah in one scene). One day, he ran away. When de Sevigny found him, he tortured him and then passed him on to his other cronies. I can’t tell you how utterly horrible I found it all and felt so much for the poor babe. The trauma of it never left Gabriel. And then he was back at his ‘home’, the only home he’d ever known, to become a trained prostitute who can pleasure both men and women. He lived his life, doing things many of us can’t even imagine and resigned to it. When Jamie was brought in here, somehow Gabriel found a purpose of his ruined, damaged life. He kept the little boy alive and safe from the dirty environment of the brothel. Jamie was a pretty child and Gabriel knew from his own experience what is awaiting him in the future. As Jamie grew up, he once saved him from a lecher and killed that man. It was an involuntary action, born out of his hatred and darkness, of which he was a part of. Then, after 5 long years, Jamie’s family found him and was coming to take him away. Gabriel doesn’t know how he’ll go on when this one little and innocent purpose of his life goes away.

Sarah is called the Gypsy Countess because of her unconventional ways and looks, inherited from her Roma ancestors. She was married at a very young age, forcibly, to a man old enough to be her grandfather. After her parents died, Sarah’s evil uncle became her guardian. Her older half-brother Ross was serving in the military so he wasn’t around to help her or a young Jamie. Because Sarah’s mother descended from Roma ancestry, her uncle couldn’t stand her or even Jamie. Jamie was kidnapped and then sold and somehow landed in that brothel, of which no one knew until now. Sarah left her husband just about a week after her marriage, causing a lot of talk and scandal. The man died soon after, leaving her a rich widow. Then one of their distant cousins, Davey joined her, who is of Huguenot descendant. Davey or Gypsy Davey, as he’s called, is a wild adventurer. He is older than both Sarah and Ross but he’s closer to both of them. But when Davey came into her life, Ross wasn’t here. So he and Sarah formed a strong bond. Sarah was frantically looking for Jamie at that point and without luck, she joined Davey’s pirate ship and spent two years touring with him. Ross came back, took back what was his and hired men to look for Jamie. Their estate borders on a sea shore, nestled against a cliff, with the backdrop of sea and the beach down below, so it wasn’t a big problem for Davey to anchor closer to the house. Afterwards, Ross also would join Davey in his adventures. Davey is a charming pirate, hungry for the finer things in life; be it riches or women. And he appreciates both, takes whatever life presents him with. I did like Davey a lot; his piraty dark good looks, quick wit and charm (minus the womanizing, that I can live without knowing) was very appreciable. And it was pretty obvious that he has a deeper affection for Sarah. He appreciates the strong and vivacious woman she is. Ross was a character I didn’t know well, as I felt it. He was a bit pompous but an essentially good man. Still, we don’t really know much of his life outside this estate or whatever he does whenever he was ‘on business’ in London.

Now that they have found Jamie in a brothel, both Ross and Sarah are much tensed about this and the changes this might wrought in their younger brother. They travel to Paris, only to be surprised again and again. First off, they find Jamie visibly healthy; both in body and mind. He’s doesn’t recognize them but he would leave with them, only if Gabriel accompanies him. Both siblings are perplexed by this demand. Then, on Jamie’s insistent, they meet the male prostitute. One look at Gabriel and his surly demeanor (with dark good looks), Sarah can’t help feel attracted. On her argument and much insistent, Ross gives in.

Gabriel didn’t at all think that Jamie’s family would want to meet him but this grows weirder by the minute. When Ross proposes him to come with them as Jamie’s paid companion, he’s instantly suspicious. He acts hostile, with sharp words and innuendos. But Sarah has already caught his eyes and the money sounded lucrative. With a year-long deal, they make the madame relieve Gabriel of all his duties. Through their travel to England, Sarah tries to make friends with Gabriel but he won’t open up. Sarah knew that it won’t be easy but there is something about him, almost hauntingly sad, makes her reach out to him. If only she knew how to do that! After they’re in England, all settle down. Even Jamie, after sometimes, shows great potentials and it was very apparent that he has suffered no bad effects, thanks to Gabriel. But, it’s the man in question who can’t settle himself down. Gabriel might’ve given up his job but the nightmares of the brothel and what he suffered at de Sevigny’s hands haunt him at night. He can’t sleep well and drinks much. Even though he does his duty by Jamie, he feels he doesn’t fit into the family. His lacking self-worth and depression was clearly visible and saddened me. Sarah tried more than once but thankfully she never gave up, even when he was being rude. They kiss once or twice and Sarah knows he wants the man. But she also knows that Gabriel won’t appreciate her pawing, like many other women (or men) of his past. After a few months, Gabriel starts loosening up though. It was a big step when Sarah invited him to her balcony at night for sky watching with telescope. Gabriel thought she had an assignation in mind. Oddly, it disappointed him but he was willing to accommodate because he wanted her too. He was proven wrong soon after. After this, their relationship improves noticeably and Gabriel was communicating more and more with her. There’s also a shared love of music between them. Gabriel would climb up the big Oak tree that sides her balcony and to her chamber; sometimes to chat with her, sometimes to escape his nightmares and wallow himself into drinks.

Ross was pretty suspicious of Gabriel but he proved all of it wrong. He didn’t engage in any sort of debauchery while residing with them. Gabriel was celibate. After all he went through, sex wasn’t the topmost thing on his mind. Meanwhile, Davey’s ship anchors. Gabriel was already curious to know this man of whom everyone talks about and very highly. After a little shaky start, he gave into Davey’s personality. He always had an interest in the ocean and Davey, after some talks with Ross, was willing to show him around his ship. Gabriel jumps to the chance, training under Davey on his ship. He didn’t know that Ross or Sarah didn’t want him gone anymore but Ross was planning for something that would improve his life and it isn’t ‘privateering’, as Davey likes to call it. But nothing can thwart Gabriel’s interest to work as a sailor and in Sarah. This training gave him some purpose of life and Sarah’s company made him dream. They were becoming closer and it was a lure that Gabriel couldn’t deny. He was madly in love already. I loved the scenes where Sarah ‘teaches’ Gabriel to kiss, since his job didn’t really require kissing. Then there were scenes as Sarah coaxes confessions out of Gabriel, where he can’t but talk about the darkest, dirties aspects of his past. He was always welcomed in her room at night. She made her window seat exclusive for Gabriel, keeping his comfort in mind. I really enjoyed reading these scenes and yet felt sad again and again how Gabriel felt torn into giving in and fought because he couldn’t believe that a woman like Sarah would want ever him. But Sarah wasn’t just another woman! Once Sarah finds out about his wrists and makes him wrist guards. She also sees the whip marks on his back and hips. It upsets Gabriel but Sarah soothes away his fears. And then, one day they just end up making love. Ross wasn’t at home, Jamie was somewhere else for his schooling. These two months of their life was like a dream. They become engaged and would marry soon.

But Gabriel wants to make money. He won’t live off his wife, it’s as simple as that. Soon Ross is home but not at all happy to find the former prostitute fondling his sister. He berates Gabriel. Later, Gabriel talks to Davey about his plan and the pirate agrees. He was very fond of Gabriel already. Sarah isn’t very happy about it but she knows she can’t thwart him. Gabriel sails without saying goodbye but can’t stay away because he felt guilty of hurting Sarah. One night, Davey plans something. Gabriel comes back and proposes to Sarah. She is very surprised and happy; they marry secretly and spend a blissful night in the ship. I still didn’t know what lies ahead of them or how long they’d be really apart, though Gabriel promises to come back ASAP, maybe within the year.

You can say that from here started the second part of the story. It was full of adventures, but mostly with lost ones, with both bleakness and hope. And Gabriel suffers along with it. His raids with Davey went very well and in a few months, he was rich enough. He learned a lot from Davey and was happily anticipating his return to Sarah. Even though Davey helped himself with women (and more women) everywhere they went, Gabriel missed Sarah and wrote her letters. We see some adventures here, with Davey and the crew, on their raids. But, fate struck Gabriel again and proved herself a fickle b*ch once more. On their way home, a storm was brewing. Gabriel fell off the ship while helping a fellow mate. He was badly injured and unconscious for days when he woke up in a middle-eastern slave ship. It was a putrid situation, both the ship and his luck. Gabriel finds a friend in Jacques, a chevalier; unwanted son of a nobleman. He spent his life in adventures, much like Gabriel’s own. Jacques has this amazing humor and undeniably easy-going charm. But soon, when they arrive in their destination, Gabriel was delusional with a raging fever from his infections and stays in the infirmary. When he wakes up, he finds Jacques gone, sold to his new master. The people of the infirmary tell him that he has been sold too and would be going to his new master soon. Gabriel wanted to write to home for ransom but he had no scope whatsoever in this foreign land. As he’s taken to his new ‘home’, at first Gabriel thinks maybe it’s for the best of give in and wait for a chance. He finds Jacques there, one his own, as his father denied his ransom. Apparently it’s been two months already. Gabriel’s jubilation of seeing his good friend dies away at night when his nightmares come to haunt him again, this time for real. My stomach dropped... “Reveille tois, mon ange.” (wake up, my angel) ... think I won’t forget this line, so innocuous and yet brought such terror for Gabriel. A dirty hand on his body and he knows it to be no one but de Sevigny. The old bastard is now a rich man and knew it was Gabriel from the description. He is in slave trading and provides pretty boys to men with his own taste. And, apparently he still has a penchant for Gabriel. Jacques is dumbstruck but says nothing when Gabriel plays the besotted lover to de Sevigny and kisses him on his urging. I was shaking literally, feeling the kind of strength he needed to do this, without Sarah to weather his nightmares. But Gabriel had an ultimate plan. When he was taken to the vile bastard’s rooms and was alone, Gabriel finally shows him how much he ‘loves’ him, by gutting him inside out. The kiss and this murder wrought some drastic changes in Gabriel, shadowing the softer side that Sarah unearthed from within. Later he takes whatever he can from de Sevigny’s riches, rescues Jacques, killing many guards on their way. Gabriel didn’t feel anything but a numbness taking him over.

As they were trying to get out of the city, they meet a band of renegados. When the team leader invites them to join, not knowing their real identity, they do. Used to with rough men, these two had no trouble fitting in. They proved to be very useful and the team-leader takes them to their leader, Murad Reis, formerly known as Peter Lisle, a Scotsman in origin. The Reis is happy to take big, strong and good looking Jacques in but still thinner from his illness Gabriel had to pass a ‘test’ of sort. Remember that I’ve sort of lost track of time here but it was about a yr or so after Gabriel sailed from England. Under the Reis, they worked as hired mercenary, killing for whoever paid them. About 2 more yrs pass by without any luck on escaping. Jacques proved to be quite the womanizer (dimming much of my enthusiasm about him). Only the fact that he genuinely cared for Gabriel and was with him through all these kept me intrigued. Nightmares still haunted Gabriel but he was still celibate, still hoping to see Sarah someday. But outwardly, he convinces himself that after this life, he can’t go back to Sarah anymore. One day, on Reis’s pirate ship, they find a chance of escaping. The escape plan was well organized, loved reading those scenes. They land in Paris where they lived a life full of debauchery, with gambling, drinking and whoring. At least the first two was correct for Gabriel and all three for Jacques, who was shagging left and right. Since he didn’t know about Sarah, Jacques was confused as to why Gabriel doesn’t show interest in either women or men. One day, Gabriel grows tired of all these and asks Jacques to sail to England. He definitely wanted Sarah to find him out but Gabriel thought she’d probably moved on and is married by now.

But for the last two years, Sarah hadn’t moved on. She was still holding to the promise they made when they parted, of waiting for one another as long as it takes. She sometimes can’t really believe that Gabriel is gone forever but she couldn’t give up. On Ross’s pressure, Sarah finally decides to find life again. She makes some plans, for the coming the Christmas and one concerning horse breeding. Ross sends Sarah, alone, to this infamous libertine, Foul...oops Falmouth, to talk about his studs. She meets him while he was having an orgy in his house, comes out drunk with his mistress, fondling the woman shamelessly in front of her. I was so dumbfounded, at first thinking how could Ross send Sarah to this lecherous goat? Then, when Sarah begins to enjoy Falmouth’s false charms, finding him amusing and even let him kiss her once with the intentions of taking it further, I was royally pissed. I mean, really Sarah? Let me assure you that this man had not one good intention towards her whatsoever, even though she was his friend’s sister, her widow status notwithstanding. He at first wanted her as a few days of diversion and then, when he finds he likes her, as his mistress. It disturbed the hell outta me that Sarah was so deliberately blind! Anyway, trouble happens when Sarah couldn’t put Gabriel out of her mind to take it further. Still, she definitely disappointed me here.

When Gabriel and Jacques come back to England and settle closer to Ross’s townhouse (where Sarah was at that moment), their lives were an extension of what they lived in France, maybe even more debauched. We get to see Jacques’s indiscretions all over the place (made me gag for sure). He just doesn’t care whom he f*cks as long as it’s a loose woman. But Gabriel *sigh*, he stays celibate. Soon he begins to grow restless, knowing Sarah is so close and yet so far away. Even though he’s cool about everything around him, men and women alike won’t stop fawning over him. With a lot of annoyance, Gabriel hatches a plan to thwart unwanted attentions; something at first shocked and disappointed me, not knowing the truth behind it. I won’t reveal it since it made the ending all the more appealing.

Yes, that ending was worth more than anything. The scene where finally Sarah and Gabriel come together, opening up about their lost hopes and frustrations, sad times missing one another and the love that never left them. What a scene! Totally loved the words they shared, especially Gabriel to Sarah... I was a melting puddle of tears and wanted to grab and kiss him hard. *sigh* It made me cry for sure. Overall, even though there were glitches and I thought Gabriel and Sarah were kept apart too long for my liking, I appreciated Gabriel’s journey of life and his fights to stay strong. He gets a 5 star alone. It was beautiful, with both darkness and the light. Someday, I hope, JJ would give Davey and Jacques their books because these two need to be brought down to the ground by two fiery ladies. I’m rating this book a 4.5 star gladly.

Favorite Quote:
“I couldn't return to you, mignonne. I didn't know how. But you will admit, I hope, that for a man who didn't wish to be found I've made quite a spectacle of myself. I wanted you to hear of me. It's why I came from France. I couldn't stop myself. I've waited in dread, wondering if you'd come. I've been terrified you would, and terrified you wouldn't. When I saw you tonight I wanted to weep. I was so grateful you came, but I hated you for it, too, because you made me hope again, as you always have, as you always do. It would have killed me if. . . Ah, Christ, love! You were so angry, so disappointed but you'd waited. I had to know. I had to come because without you I have nothing to believe in, nothing to hope for, and... Oh, God, Sarah, when I got here you were wearing my shirt! I've thought of you, and ached for you, and missed you with every breath. All I know of loving, wanting or need, begins and ends with you. I'm so sorry I hurt you and disappointed you. I pray you can forgive me, Sarah. I need you to hold onto. Without you I find this business of living so very lonely and so very hard."

She threw herself into his arms and he clasped her to him, sobbing with relief and need. "God, how I've missed you, Sarah," he moaned, sliding his cheek up and down against hers, mingling their tears. I'm sorry ... so sorry .. . please forgive me, I.. . "There's nothing to forgive. It wasn't your fault. It doesn't matter, not any of it. All that matters is that you're safe, and well, and back in my arms. Don't be sorry, just hold me, love me.”


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