Title: Broken Wing
Author: Judith James
Year of Publication: 2008
Length: 440 pages
Genre: historical romance
New or Re-Read?: New
Rating: 2.75 stars
I seem to be in the minority in preferring Libertine’s Kiss to this.
The theme of Broken Wing is pretty much there in the title. This is a story of emotional damage. Gabriel St. Croix has grown up in a brothel, every bit as abused as that would indicate. Sarah is an eccentric noble lady searching for her kidnapped younger brother, who has ended up in that brothel. Gabriel’s been protecting him from the worst of the atrocities, and so when Sarah comes to retrieve her brother, the kid wants Gabriel to come along as well. So he does, setting off a chain reaction of improbabilities.
Broken Wing is perfectly acceptable brain fluff, and I totally appreciate James’s willingness to go to dark places. That said, this particular trope is just not up my particular tree — I’m not a big fan of hurt/comfort scenarios. If you are, however, you’ll eat this book up with a spoon. Gabriel is definitely a broken bird in need of healing, and a lot of the book focuses on his internal exploration and development. He’s dealing with abuse, he’s internalized it, he self-harms — unusual fare for a romance novel, to be sure, and as in Libertine’s Kiss, I like that James breaks the mold. I just don’t enjoy the particular way she breaks it as much here. Some of the dialogue also verges on the ridiculous — these characters who supposedly have so much trouble opening up and dealing with their emotions are awfully effusive and flowery in their language. It’s hard to imagine anyone having some of these conversations, much less characters as emotionally damaged as these.
I do love James’s exploration of unusual aspects of history — the diversion into Barbary works particularly well to open up the usually somewhat claustrophobic, London-centered world of early-19th-century romance. The book is set just a touch earlier than typical romances, Napoleonic rather than Regency. The trouble is that James sort of bends the rules of the world to the straining point of credulity. Both Gabriel and Sarah act in ways that either just plain don’t make sense or that would never be considered remotely acceptable, yet everyone else in the world just sort of goes along with it. As a result, there’s a lot about the book that just doesn’t ring true, despite the psychological depths she plumbs.
Overall — I wasn’t enthralled, and I doubt I’ll ever feel particularly moved to re-read. It just isn’t my thing — but I know it’s a lot of people’s, so I don’t want to condemn the book for anyone who enjoys these tropes more than I do. I’ll look forward to more of James’s work in the future, though — since I liked her third book better than her first (still haven’t read the second and can’t decide if I intend to), I’m choosing to believe that she’s improving as she goes along, and that I’ll enjoy whatever she puts out next.