Review: Broken Wing, Judith James

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.

Series?: No.

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.

Published in: on October 15, 2008 at 6:41 am  Comments (39)  
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  1. What a great review!!! I know what you mean. Some of her transitions are a bit clunky and I attribute that to this being her first book. I’m sure she will learn to transition better over time.
    I did a post quite some time ago about how different readers ‘read’ a book. I compared it to ice skating. Many readers are ‘technical’ fans. They can be more objective and see the mistakes that are made on the ice. The other side of the coin is the ‘artistic’ fan. That fan doesn’t give two hoots about the technical aspects of the routine and goes completely how the routine makes them ‘feel’. I think most readers are a combination of both – with a heavier emphasis on either side. For the artistic reader, if a book makes them ‘feel’ good, they will enjoy it but notice the technical errors and it does have a slight bearing on the grade. Same as the other side – a technical reader will be totally taken out of a story if there are technical errors but give the book a bit more credit if it makes them feel good despite the errors that get in the way.
    I’m a rare bird that is totally on the artistic side. The book can be filled with technical errors, but if I’m really “feeling” it – I don’t even notice them. And Broken Wing made me “feel” more than any book I’ve read for a very long, long, long time. Thus the 6 out of 5 :)
    But I do realize that there will be some small issues for some readers. But I also think even the technical reader though, will enjoy this one because she did seem to get a lot of it right.
    And I love what you say about the need for the second part of the book where it’s primarily Gabriel’s story. You explain it so well! Even though he has pretty much healed by the time he leaves, he still has to grow as a person. He led such an insulated life up to that point, he needed to experience more of the world before he could become a whole person.
    My goodness I got long winded didn’t I?

  2. 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.

    Whoa, those are some repetitive sentence structures, and a lot of simulatenous actions, some of which don’t make sense. How can one take a look at the sky and sketch a bow at the same time? And is it really possible to open a door and step inside simulatenously?

    If most of the book is like this, I think it’s probably best that I don’t read it. I would be too distracted by the craftsmanship issues to be able to get caught up in the story.

  3. It’s funny that I noticed some of the technical issues, like the timing and transitions, but not the sentence structure Janine mentions, which, I see what you mean, is repetitive.

    Sigh. I stick by my claim that there are objectively good features of novels, but I retract any claim –deliberate or implied — that I might personally be able to identify them.

  4. LOL Jessica. This is why I say reviewing is subjective. Different things bother different people to different degrees. I think many other readers wouldn’t notice the sentence structure thing either, or would be able to disregard it and enjoy the book immensely nonetheless.

  5. Disclaimer: Haven’t read the book.

    Janine said:

    How can one take a look at the sky and sketch a bow at the same time?

    I didn’t read it that way. He took one last look at the angry sky and then bowed. I guess I’m not seeing where he did both at the same time.

    And is it really possible to open a door and step inside simulatenously?

    I guess that depends on how your mind “sees” simultaneous. I mean, there’s a lot of distance between the threshold and the full sweep of a door during which you can step inside while you’re doing it.

    I would have noticed neither of these, nor, now that they’ve been pointed out, do they bother me.

    I mean, yeah, you can recast as:

    After taking one last look… OR

    He took one last look at the angry sky, then sketched…

    and

    He opened the door and stepped in…

    To me, the original flowed and the recast is flat.

    IMO, these are the types of things they pound out of you in MFAs and critique groups pretending to be MFAs. IMO, all it does is train you to see “wrong” when there is no “wrong.” And then everybody starts doing it “right” and suddenly, it’s just flat and all the same and agents/editors/readers start screaming for something new and different.

    On the other hand, if it was all like the original, then I’d get tired and want a change in rhythm. To me, it’s all about the rhythm of the visual. I need rhythm, the ebb and flow of the language that creates the movie in my head. From verse to bridge to chorus.

    Sorry to mix similes.

  6. I respectfully disagree. Unless I’m mistaken (which is always possible), grammatically “Taking one last look at the angry sky, he sketched an elegant, mocking bow…” indicates two actions being done at once. “Taking one last look at the angry sky” is a participial phrase that modifies “he sketched an elegant, mocking bow.” It functions the same way an adjective would.

    I also think there are a variety of ways to maintain a nice flow of words without indicating that two actions are taking place concurrently:

    “One last look at the angry sky, and he sketched an elegant, mocking bow to whichever almighty sadist ruled the universe.”

    “He tore his eyes away from the angry sky, then sketched an elegant, mocking bow to whichever almighty sadist ruled the universe.”

    “The sky was angry; the clouds swollen with rain. He did not allow his eyes to linger on them, but sketched an elegant, mocking bow to whichever almighty sadist ruled the universe.”

    “The sky looked livid with anger. It was suddenly too much to bear. He glanced away and sketched an elegant, mocking bow to whichever almighty sadist ruled the universe.”

    “He sketched an elegant, mocking bow to the sadist who ruled the universe and had filled the sky with fury this morning.”

    “He sketched an elegant, mocking bow to whichever sadist ruled the universe — the same one who had seen fit to fill the sky with anger, no doubt.”

    Etc. These could be better but I came up with them pretty quickly and I don’t think they’re really stiff and un-flowing, anyway.

  7. I wouldn’t necessarily judge the repetitive structure based on such a short sample. There are valid reasons to emphasize a particular structure for particular passages–or particular characters. If the entire book is composed of that structure, it probably sounds breathless or singsong–but no, I see the second excerpt links actions in several different ways.

    More specifically, Janine, I disagree that that structure (“Opening the door, he stepped inside”) always implies simultaneity. That’s an accepted form, though one has to be very careful with it. “Pausing for breath, he considered the sky” is acceptable in part because the actions are loose: it could be simultaneous (he considers the sky while paused) but could also mean he initiates the pause, then considers the sky. Opening the door is similar: one can start to step while opening the door, or open then step, or both together.

    I do agree that the “Crossing his arms…” sentence sounds awkward and perhaps temporally impossible, because there are so *many* things happening in that sentence. Being casual with the timing works as long as you don’t create confusion over which clauses communicate the action. In the case of that sentence, it’s not only a temporal confusion, though: it’s clunky regardless of timing.

    If we’re going to nitpick, “One last look at the angry sky, and he sketched an elegant, mocking bow” is an improper use of “and” to imply time, and using “then” can sound childish. It’s not easy.

    In the scheme of things, that sentence isn’t one I would change. Tthe original sentence is so compact that I think all the alternatives might do violence to the author’s cadence, flattening it out into something overly detailed for what’s presumably a quick (“sketched”) gesture. I do find the “Crossing his arms over his chest” sentence clumsy; I might recast that sentence and leave it book-ended by the two shorter sentences with parallel structure.

    Anyway, I do appreciate your raising the sentence-level issues. I should perhaps say that I’m feeling a bit cautious about critiquing sentence clarity because I’m not entirely happy with the type sentences I’ve found in romance lately. Perhaps because I read a lot of literary fiction and a lot of older novels, I’m not totally married to the ultra-clear, literal type of writing that seems to be in vogue in romance. I’ve read too many books in the last few years that were very professional and very boring; I’ve wondered whether some of it’s due to the highly prescriptive writing advice I see on author blogs.

    That’s not to say forget about correctness! I’m *extremely* picky about grammar and language, but when an author has sufficient mastery of the basics, I’d like to see more individualism. My most frequent complaint lately is that genre romance has no voice: it’s overly literal and can over-explain mundane detail to the detriment of style. Some of my favorite novels include more impressionistic passages in which I’m not sure exactly what’s happening, but they’re wonderfully referential and evocative. Again, I’m super picky; I’m NOT making excuses for shoddiness. But I’m in a phase of feeling lenient toward quirks in craft, so long as they aren’t too egregious.

  8. Great review Jessica. It is interesting to see a more toned down review of the book after Kristie’s. I got this in the post yesterday and can’t wait to read and see where it will take me….

  9. Janine: *laughing* you are more of a technical reader than me. Now I don’t remember squat about what I learned in grammar lo’ these many years ago but in the sentence in question, in my mind the comma indicates a break;
    “Taking one last look at the angry sky,[pause] he sketched an elegant, mocking bow”
    which allows him to do both though not at the same time.
    The same thing holds with the other example;
    Opening the door, [pause] he stepped inside.
    But then no one will ever be asking me to teach a grammar course!!

  10. Great reveiw, Jessica! I’m going to pick up and read Broken Wing per Kristie’s recommendation, and I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it as well. I love the way the book cover reveals so much about the character and his story.

  11. That sounds so awesome that I’m going to go buy it now.

    I didn’t even get all the way through the post.

  12. RfP,

    I agree that sentence clarity is only one aspect of good writing; however, I think it’s possible to write clear sentences and still maintain a fresh voice. I also see this type of sentence structure in a lot of romances with boring prose so I don’t think it’s any kind of guarantee of individualism, though I do think there is a lot of individualism and freshness present in the sections Jessica quoted (Due, IMO, to the vivid imagery).

    I wouldn’t want to see either clarity or individualism sacrificed, and I also agree that too often, individualism is the first to go. I haven’t read much writing advice on author blogs so I wouldn’t know whether or not that’s the cause.

    Nonetheless, I stand by what I said: I think these sentences do imply simulatenous action.

    I see what you are saying about cadence — I deliberately varied it in my example because I wanted to show that there are so many different directions a sentence can go in, but it’s true that if the author wanted the sentence to be short and quick, then there are fewer choices. Still, the cadence of that paragraph (three sentences in a row beginning with gerunds) did not work for me at all, so if arriving at an effective cadence was the goal, it was not achieved for this particular reader.

    There was some lovely imagery in the sections Jessica quoted; the author clearly has a lot of talent. I’m glad so many people are enjoying the book. I don’t think it would work for me, but it’s not a horse I want to flog.

    Kristie,

    I am actually not that technical a reader most of the time. It’s only when a technical issue is very distracting to me that I’m forced focus on technique. Most of the time, my goal when I read is to get caught up in the story itself, and if I can’t do that, I usually know it within two chapters (and often, less). When that happens, I don’t finish the book, and I don’t review it either, since I don’t feel it would be fair to do so.

  13. I’m not totally married to the ultra-clear, literal type of writing that seems to be in vogue in romance.

    My most frequent complaint lately is that genre romance has no voice: it’s overly literal and can over-explain mundane detail to the detriment of style.

    I’ve read too many books in the last few years that were very professional and very boring; I’ve wondered whether some of it’s due to the highly prescriptive writing advice I see on author blogs.

    As usual, RfP clarifies what I meant. ;)

    Impressionistic, yes, yes, and yes. In fiction, I maintain, it is IMPORTANT to break the rules. You can tell when an author doesn’t know them well enough to do so, and when he does.

    And you know, I can’t help but compare all the “write from your heart” advice to the prescriptions RfP mentions above. I categorically do not believe you can marry the two. You can make your heart-writing better, tighter, but you can’t write from the heart and take every piece of “this is the right way and this is the wrong way” to do things.

    And I’ll tell you where my thoughts on that started changing and it was with Ann Herendeen’s Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander. She does everything “wrong” and I love her for it. Here’s my review of that book.

  14. I also see this type of sentence structure in a lot of romances with boring prose so I don’t think it’s any kind of guarantee of individualism

    No, of course not. Perhaps I should have emphasized that I’m not speaking up in support of that particular sentence structure. I’m not a fan of misusing commas; using a comma for a semicolon, period, or word drives me bats. I can make a case for the two shorter sentences, based on accepted usage and meaning (not only cadence). The middle sentence is the muddled one, IMO, and I’m defending its right to be muddly–but not incorrect. I would clean it up because it’s awkward, but fixing awkwardness doesn’t require that it become simpler or even clearer. That’s the kind of style point I’m anxious not to trample on.

    I like the way your comments and KristieJ’s form a counterpoint on reading styles!

  15. I just had another thought. (Mark the calendar! Two in a day!)

    I think some of this goes back to that “meh” feeling about books or the C grade. On the “What’s Wrong With a C Review on Dear Author, I said:

    while I was cleaning (!), I found about a dozen novels I’d bought and read some time in the last year and didn’t remember a thing about any one of them except that they must have been pleasant reads (aka “C”). I wouldn’t have bought any of those authors again regardless, except by accident, because I didn’t remember their names.

    To which RfP said:

    I’m just reading some new research showing that we tend to forget mixed reactions over time. I’ll post on it tonight when I have a minute. So far, what I’m getting from it is that “meh” books and “mixed feelings” books can end up much the same in our memories. So if a C means “meh”, “mixed”, or “average”, and all those categories blur together in our memories, that just reinforces how blunt an approach grading is.

    To me, the these two issues (the technically correct but “meh” versus the technically flawed but evocative) are inherently tied to the “rules” that have somehow been established by The Mysterious They.

    /rant, although good-natured.

  16. MoJo: “In fiction, I maintain, it is IMPORTANT to break the rules. You can tell when an author doesn’t know them well enough to do so, and when he does.

    Yes, to the importance and to there being a difference between unconventional = ignorance (or carelessness) and unconventional = style.

    Part of my argument above was that I’m not sure you can tell ignorance from style based on a short excerpt :) You can tell if someone’s *utterly* incompetent at basic craft, or sloppy at line-edits. You can’t tell whether she varies structure and cadence deliberately in the bigger picture of the book. (Note: you don’t have to love it even if it IS deliberate. Some listeners hate Wagner’s repeated leitmotifs, but some feel the repeated forms give his music its power.)

  17. I’m not sure you can tell ignorance from style based on a short excerpt

    Oh, of course! I see what you’re saying now.

    There is one NYT bestselling romance author whose work I won’t read because of how she broke “the rules” (in a book she wrote in the early 90s) because, when I first read her, I could tell she didn’t know better. It drive me batty and I couldn’t get past page 50 or something (and I’m a very patient reader). I haven’t read any of her books since, so I don’t know if she got any better or if people just love her too much to care.

  18. MoJo: To which RfP said

    I’m just reading some new research showing that we tend to forget mixed reactions over time. I’ll post on it tonight when I have a minute.

    You’re definitely onto something. When I posted on that research, Jessica commented along similar lines, and I think we hit convergence on a Mary Jo Putney quote:

    the genre has matured and a lot of the plots and characters have been thoroughly, one might say exhaustively, explored. … the problem is compounded by publishers encouraging authors to write only in the handful of settings that tend to sell the best. … it’s hardly surprising that long-term readers are feeling restless. They want the same kind of “hit” that they got from romances when they first fell in love with them… . They want books that have the same emotional fulfillment, but are different enough to feel fresh.

    I would venture that a lot of the “rules” are well-intentioned: they’re based on chasing hits and going with what works. Unfortunately, in a creative field (especially a high-volume field like romance!), “Ain’t broke, don’t fix it” isn’t enough. There’s a premium on freshness. So I see a strong connection to what you say here:

    To me, the these two issues (the technically correct but “meh” versus the technically flawed but evocative) are inherently tied to the “rules” that have somehow been established by The Mysterious They.

    I may not agree as strongly on the technically flawed but evocative side of your argument, as I *am* a stickler about grammar, etc: there are some flaws I can’t overlook. But I agree with KristieJ that sometimes I love a book despite its flaws. Just not flaws in word usage; I can’t forgive those (Cheryl Holt, grrargggggh).

    I’ve been thinking of posting on a few books I love despite themselves. I’ll see if I get a chance soon.

  19. Please may I poke at you a bit.

    affect/effect
    pique/peak/pique
    palate/pallet/pallette

    Oh, and my mostest favoritest one from a book I couldn’t make it through:

    slow-eyed for sloe-eyed.

  20. loath/loathe
    lose/loose

    … and the extraordinary number of authors whose websites offer a “sneak peak”. Click here for surreptitious orgasm? All righty then!

    I’m also tempted to quote everything I said here and here. I’m quite proud of (and horrified by) those choice selections of Cheryl Holt.

  21. Here I was looking at my stats thinking I was having my Best Day Ever (with apologies to Sponge Bob), and now I realize it’s you crazy kids running amok in this thread! D’oh!

    Those are great threads, RfP — thanks for the links.

    I agree that we can’t judge a book’s writing based on an excerpt as short as those I’ve posted. Maybe I just chose poorly because I don’t know what I’m doing. But those passages spoke to me for some reason… the subjective/feelings component was there for me.

    Ok, back to grading. Grrrr.

  22. Pardon our amoking. Discussing words brings that out in some of us.

    I agree that we can’t judge a book’s writing based on an excerpt as short as those I’ve posted.

    Choosing an excerpt is an interesting exercise. I often want to post ridiculously long quotes that might exceed fair use–and scare off my readers. Instead, I usually use a snippet that I hope illustrates a particular point. Ideally a point that fits the general flavor of the book, but… eh. We do what we can.

    I do think short quotes can at least give a feel for the writing. I read them avidly, hoping for clues that the author does something special–or simply confirmation that editing was done.

    BTW, I forgot to say: Back before I had a site of mine own, I commented as iffygenia on SBTB. Hence the links.

  23. I meant to say pique/peak/peek. I had just come from the department of redundancy department.

    And the two most egregious (because they shouldn’t be at all):

    to/too/two
    they’re/their/there

    My pet:

    “All right.” Not “alright.”

  24. What a great discussion! I didn’t think anybody was looking at this genre at the level of the sentence. I’m not a big fan of that bow sketching passage either. And while I agree you sometimes want to repeat cadence for power, here it feels lazy. The simultaneous or not issue is also interesting. I think it’s on the line, in a way, but the main thing with that sentence is that the author isn’t managing the reader’s mind’s eye image at all, letting the reader run amok. Also, opening the door and stepping inside feels awkward to me, too, but partly because it’s the sort of housekeeping that doesn’t need to be in a story at all. He’s already making his way back toward the sounds, the next sentence can put him inside. “The air was moist and seething inside, and smelled of….

    OMG I can’t believe I’m doing this to a writer. Because it’s not a writer’s fault these books get cranked out so fast and edited like this!!

    Anyway, I loved the review. Having just read Windflower, this feels like Cat’s story being written here, which I totally craved.

  25. the main thing with that sentence is that the author isn’t managing the reader’s mind’s eye image at all, letting the reader run amok.

    Well, in at least one case, the author DID manage my mind’s eye and I will submit I’m not the only reader who likes being allowed to run amok in the words on the page.

    In none of the recasts did I get the strong sense I did with the original sentence.

  26. It’s funny how threads come together isn’t it? Today I was listening to programme on radio 4 about how different philosophers have viewed ‘life’ (vitalism, Descartes’ “I think therefore I am”) and it made me think of an essay by DH Lawrence where he says, with reference to novels, that there is only “the quick and the dead”. The quick is alive and bright and the dead is just dead.

    I think this relates to my own most recent post about ‘emotional criticism’ and to your earlier posts about that ephemeral ‘gut feeling’ we get about a book. It’s as difficult to explain what that *thing* is about a book as it is to explain what life *is*.

    And of course, it’s highly subjective.

    I very much liked the excerpt you quoted when I read your review. I immediately responded to the emotional cues: the anger and hopelessness and courage of the protaganist. I was very intrigued.

    When I went back and re-read the quote after reading this highly entertaining comments thread, I must admit that it DID seem clumsy that the author used the same sentence form (with the opening participle) no less than three times (Taking…./ Crossing…./ Opening….). But I didn’t really notice it when I read it the first time because the emotional content of the excerpt was so compelling. Very interesting. I continue to develop my thoughts around this point.

    RfP MUST POST her thoughts on the novels she loves (and I never knew you were Iggygenia!)

  27. Carolyn,

    Thanks for weighing in. I cannot wait to get the Windflower in the mail, BTW.

    Mojo,

    I agree — while I don;t want to reduce the number of excellent RfP comments on my blog, every one of which I am grateful for, I also want to see more review action on her own blog!

    Tumperkin,

    I had exactly your reaction: I put the passage in the review because it was one of the passages that reeled me in to the story, but then after all these highly trained and critical eyes parsed it, I read it again with less enthusiasm.

    I so wish we had something as good at Channel 4 here in the States. Oh, and not to get all professory on you, but Descartes was actually a mechanist, not a vitalist. In other words, he denied the idea that there was some extra animating force over and above our biology. But I can totally see the comparison you are making to the written word, which would never have occurred to me: there’s the written page, the mechanics, and then there’s the sum of the parts, which may be greater, and may have an animating force — despite the technical flaws — to which we respond emotionally.

  28. Jessica – yes I know. The programme was about various philosophers’ take on ‘life’ (including the vitalists and Descartes) and the only point of mentioning it was to explain what prompted me to recall that DH Lawrence quote.

    Pathetic of me to have to clarify that. So vain.

    It was actually on Radio 4, not Channel 4 (TV). You can listed to it here. It’s called In Our Time:

    http://search.bbc.co.uk/search?q=in+our+time&uri=%2Fradio4%2F

    It’s a great programme that covers a mind-boggling range of topics.

  29. Tumperkin,

    So you’re vain and I’m pompous. We make a good team! ;)

    Thanks for the link!

  30. Wow, this was an excellent review for this book. One of the best I have seen. I hope the author does well, because I would love to see more stories from her in the future. It’s been a while since I have read such a moving story.

    ~Barbara

  31. [...] Dear Author asked, “What’s wrong with a C Review?” More recently, a discussion at Racy Romance Reviews involving a book I must get expanded on the conversation at Dear Author (I have a sneaking [...]

  32. I just followed the link on my DA review here, and I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments yet, but I’m just struck by the fact that we both used the word “swath” in a review in reference to the scope of the plot. LOL.

    And ITA with you about the friendship between Gabe and Sarah and the way the book is hero-centric in a new way. Which I definitely think is related to the quest (YA-ish) aspect of Gabriel’s journey.

  33. Robin,

    I noticed that about “swathes”, too, but what else to call it? Ribbons? LOL. That sense of “historical sweep” was unmistakable, and sometimes I love that, as in Outlander, but in this case, it took me out of the story somewhat.

    (OT, but I think I’ll wait a few days before adding the DA review link next time. Usually my reviews come weeks or months (or years) later than the big blogs, so the pingback from RRR doesn’t interrupt the comments. I am very sorry about that. Still learning.)

  34. Jessica, I’m glad you furnished the link when you did, because I hadn’t looked around for other reviews before I wrote mine, but now that it’s posted I want to see what others have said about the book. So I don’t think it’s intrusive in the comments at all.

  35. Okay, now that I’ve read the comments, I might as well weigh in on the skyward look/bow sentence. I agree that the sentence begins with a present participial phrase, but I don’t agree that it’s incorrect in structure (modification). I got the sense that Gabriel was bowing to the sky as he looked toward it, rather than having one action take place after the other. Had the author wanted to suggest the latter, she could have simply begun the sentence with the word “after.” But again, I saw the actions as unproblematically simultaneous.

    That said, the prose in Broken Wing was IMO melodramatic and not always particularly tight or concise. Sometimes that bothered me and sometimes I read past it depending on how engaged I was in the moment of the action.

    More generally, I do think there is a difference between grammatical incorrectness and a certain lack of discipline in one’s prose. Sometimes undisciplined prose can be confusing, sometimes incorrect, and sometimes, IMO, it can be transcendent and brilliant, depending on how it hits the reader. I found James’s prose as more undisciplined than grammatically incorrect most of the time, FWIW.

  36. Okay, now that I’ve read the comments, I might as well weigh in on the skyward look/bow sentence. I agree that the sentence begins with a present participial phrase, but I don’t agree that it’s incorrect in structure (modification). I got the sense that Gabriel was bowing to the sky as he looked toward it, rather than having one action take place after the other. Had the author wanted to suggest the latter, she could have simply begun the sentence with the word “after.” But again, I saw the actions as unproblematically simultaneous.

    I see what you are saying, Robin. If he was bowing as he looked at the sky, then the structure is not incorrect. I’m sorry I misread the sentence and mentioned it at all if that’s the case.

    (Incidentally, what do you think about “Opening the door, he stepped inside”? Do you think those two actions can happen at the same time as well?)

    But I’m glad you agree that the implication of that sentence structure is that the two actions (looking and bowing) are taking place at the same time. It’s probably anal of me, but I don’t agree with Kristie that a comma can temporally separate the participial phrase from the rest of the sentence.

    The thing is that I see writers using that structure as if the participial phrase isn’t acting as a modifier, so I’m not surprised that some readers now read it that way too. IMO it’s become a common grammatical error, and I’ve come across it enough times that perhaps I’ve come to expect it and even (in this case) to see it where it wasn’t present (if Gabriel was bowing as he looked toward the sky — a possibility that didn’t occur to me).

    More generally, I do think there is a difference between grammatical incorrectness and a certain lack of discipline in one’s prose.

    I agree. The author’s choice to use the same structure in three sentences in a row in the section Jessica quoted seemed like lack of discipline to me rather than a grammatical error.

    Incidentally your review at DA today made me think that perhaps I should try the book despite my reservations about the prose.

    As I went back to edit my post, I scrolled up to the original quote and saw this:

    “Opening the door, he stepped inside. Moist and seething, it smelled of whiskey and rum, tobacco and semen.” “It” no doubt refers to the air in the room, but the way it follows the previous sentence seems like an indication (grammatically) that it references the door. Obviously it’s unlikely to be the door that smells of whiskey and rum, etc., but the structure of the paragraph seems clumsy.

    I wonder if, were I to read the book, its content (which is so obviously intriguing and emotionally powerful) would be enough to overcome my inclination to reach for a red pen when I read even small sections of this author’s prose.

  37. Janine, I think you are a more ruthless taskmaster when it comes to an author’s control over his or her prose than I am, that you have a much more conscious and conscientious internal editor than I do, and that you suffer a lower tolerance for less than masterful prose than I do (*especially* for historical Romances). I suspect that you wouldn’t get very far in BW before you got too frustrated to continue. I may be wrong, though, since you do like several authors whose prose I tend to dislike pretty strongly (Linda Howard being first on that list). So I don’t know, honestly.

    As for that second sentence you cite, yes, I think both of those things can happen simultaneously, that one can enter in the process of opening the door. Is that what the author intended? I don’t know. FWIW, though, I read the “it” in that next sentence as referring back to “inside” not “door.” Just my reading, of course, as is my gloss on that first sentence.

  38. This thread is like watching Wimbledon. My head just keeps whipping back and forth but it’s so excellent I want it to keep going.

    Janine, your initial thought was that this was not a book for you, but I don’t see how you can NOT read it now. I would be happy to send along my copy if you want to try it!

    I do think there’s something fairly unusual and original — in attempt if not in execution — going on in Broken Wing, and I am interested in what’s next from Ms. James. It is certainly not the same old same old in historical romance, which is one of the main reasons we are all talking about it despite the reservations.

  39. The thing is that I see writers using that structure as if the participial phrase isn’t acting as a modifier, so I’m not surprised that some readers now read it that way too. IMO it’s become a common grammatical error

    I forgot to address this in my last comment, but I didn’t want to ignore it, because I think you make an important point here, and one that makes me wonder if the shrinking page numbers and commonly stated prohibition against “too many” descriptive words has created this conversion of the participle to something else (and not a gerund or other grammatically sound structure). Then the more common it becomes, the more acceptable/readable the sequential construction becomes and the more it seems grammatically sound to authors and readers alike.


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