Cover comment: Look closely at this cover: it tells you more than you can imagine about this book, including how hero-centric (but not in a bad way) it is. I never would have picked this one up if it hadn’t been for Kristie(j)’s enthusiasm, but I am so glad I did.
Setting: Napoleanic era (very early 19th century) Paris, London, Falmouth, the high seas, and the Barbary coast (north Africa, especially Algiers)
Heroine and Hero: Sarah Munroe, the “Gypsy Countess”, an unconventional, pantaloon wearing, intelligent, mentally healthy, and loving young widow, and Gabriel St. Croix, beautiful but deeply wounded and socially inept young man, orphaned and raised in a Parisian brothel, trained to service every sexual desire, no matter how sadistic, of both women and men.
Plot: This is an epic, sort of like Outlander, and it’s almost two books in one. Sarah and Gabriel meet in the very first chapter, when she and her brother, Ross, come to a Paris brothel to collect their younger brother, Jamie, who disappeared 5 years earlier. Realizing that Gabriel has protected Jamie, and that his presence will make Jamie’s transition to normal life easier, they invite him to their seaside home in England for one year. Once there, the focus is on Gabriel’s adjustment to post-prostitute life, and his growing friendship with and love for Sarah. Eventually, they are parted again — for a good 125 pages (1/4 of the book) – as Gabriel takes to the seas, and the adventure aspect of the book dominates as he fights to save himself and return to Sarah.
Distinctive Features: This book is really Gabriel’s story, told from his point of view, and he is quite unusual for a romance hero, not fitting in to any of the old categories (alpha, beta, gamma). The romance, while strong, takes place against a very elaborate historical backdrop.
Word on the Web:
The first entry has to go to Kristie(j), of Ramblings on Romance, who loved Broken Wing so much that she not only gave it 6 out of 5 stars (Is this kind of like Spinal Tap’s amp volume dial that goes to eleven?) but emailed me and every other romance blogger out there to encourage us to read it. Her partner in crime, Katiebabs, also is also giving it positive feedback so far.
Rosie, Nobody Asked Me, “a very good book”
Amy C., Romance Book Wyrm, excellent
Barbara, Happily Forever After, 5 of 5 hearts
Anna Vivian, 5 stars
Kati, Romance Novel TV, 5+ stars
Leslie’s Psyche, A
Dear author, Janet, B- (I fully expected some soberness from the DA review. I’m not sure why.)
Amazon.com, 5 stars after 2 customer reviews
My take in brief: Although not everything in this book worked for me, I am really glad I read it, and am excited about discovering this new author.
The Racy Romance Review:
Right away, I was hooked on the plot, the hero, and the writing, and Broken Wing kept me interested all the way until the last — 434th — page. In the Prologue, we meet Gabriel, the hero, sitting outside of the Paris brothel where he has been basically imprisoned since early childhood. His character’s internal conflict is immediately set up: he wants love and human relationships, but feels both that he is unworthy of them, and at that they will only cause him pain. Here are the last few lines of that chapter:
Taking one last look at the angry sky, he sketched an elegant, mocking bow to whichever almighty sadist ruled the universe. Crossing his arms over his chest, shirt wet with blood, rain, and tears, he made his way back toward the sounds of shrill laughter, and the soft moans of men and women in pleasure and in pain. Opening the door, he stepped inside. Moist and seething, it smelled of whiskey and rum, tobacco and semen. It smelled like sex and desperation. He grinned. It smelled like home.
Gabriel doesn’t know it, but he will soon be leaving Paris to live with the family of the young boy he has protected for the past five years. The bulk of the book is spent on Gabriel’s journey from tortured young man to mature loving and productive adult. It doesn’t come quickly or easily, despite the warmth and inclusiveness of his new hosts. James does a great job of communicating Gabriel’s social awkwardness and self-loathing, as in this scene:
They’d invited him to join them, of course, several times; they were nothing if not polite, but he had no desire to perch, awkward and sullen, an ugly cuckoo soiling their nest, spoiling the intimacy of their evening.
It is through Gabriel’s friendship with Sarah that he becomes human again, and their many scenes together, often watching the stars from her balcony, are very romantic. Gabriel has to learn to turn everything he hated to have to use as a whore into something good – his sexuality, his humor, his musical gifts, even his looks, and Sarah sensitively helps him with all of it. In fact, reading this book made me realize that it’s not too common in this genre to watch a true friendship slowly unfold between the hero and heroine, and also, that, while sex is in abundance these days, it’s rare to have so many poignant scenes of platonic caring and sharing with one another. While Broken Wing is an intense book, and things get worse before they get better for Sarah and Gabe, I hope readers will not be put off by the sexual sadism, the bloody battles, etc., because there is a genuine, heartbreaking, and very rare sweetness to be found in these pages.
Sarah is somewhat naive, not realizing at first what an invitation to her bedroom to watch the stars must seem like to a man with Gabriel’s experience of women, and while she has her own semi-tragic back story, it pales in comparison to the personal growth and struggles of Gabriel. She’s spunky and independent and caring and kind and intelligent and endlessly giving and patient: she’s just about perfect, actually, which makes her a lot less interesting (aside from falling in love, her character really doesn’t grow or change), although she’s probably exactly what Gabriel needs.
There are other interesting and well drawn secondary characters especially Sarah’s family, including the somewhat uptight and disapproving Ross, the semi-wild pirate (or privateer, depending on how you view it), Davy, and Gabriel’s sardonic friend and fellow mercenary in Africa, the disgraced nobleman Valmont. Davy eventually takes Gabriel under his tutelage, and this sets the stage for the lovers’ long separation, during which we hear very little of Sarah but instead follow Gabriel out to sea on his many adventures.
I am probably wrong, but I feel like I can understand why the author did this: Gabriel has been buffeted by events his whole life. Indeed, as a hero he is the most passive I can recall. Things aren’t helped by so many other characters referring to him as young, childlike, boyish, lithe and lanky, awkward, and angelically beautiful. Given Sarah’s matching naivete, I almost felt at times as though I were reading YA, rather than romance.
Gabriel’s adventures away from Sarah give his character a chance to do all the things a young man is supposed to do on this kind of hero quest: deal with his childhood, become mentally stronger, and establish his own career and wealth. However (I don’t want to give too much away) things don’t turn out quite as we expect when Gabriel finally does return to Europe, and in many ways his character is back to square one, for reasons I found unclear or at least unconvincing. While Gabriel is tortured, needy and basically a good person, his character did not leap off the page for me.
I felt, all the way through this book, that there was a slight distance between me and the goings on. I wasn’t completely moved as I should have been. I think this was partly due to the author telling us a lot of what was going on rather than showing us through the characters’ own feelings and actions, and that was partly due to her having such a complex and long story to tell. Lines that quickly describe the passing of great swathes of time, like, “they fought throughout the rest of the winter and into the spring, for Mashouda Murad Reis, who fought for the Sultan Mulai Slimane, who fought for control of Morocco…” were common. And sometimes, those time leaps were present in the most intimate of scenes, like Sarah and Gabe’s first kiss, one of those deeply touching scenes I mentioned above:
Not much experienced with kissing, he was nevertheless a sensual man. He’d thought it a curse until this moment. now he surrendered to it, trusted it, softening his kiss as he stroked her lips with his tongue, dragging his full firm mouth back and forth across hers, gentle and slow, then hard and deep. Mouth, tongue, soft whispers and tender caresses, they continued long into the night, drugged and lost in each other.
I remember feeling very jarred out of the moment by the words, “they continued long into the night”.
But it’s also probably just one of those things, that subjective element of reviews I keep trying to minimize or explain away. This book has so much to offer, and I am betting this author does as well. I hope you will give it and her a try.