Title: Broken Wing
Author: Judith James
Genre: Historical Romance
Before I get into the review I just wanted to thank Kristie at Ramblings on Romance, etc for posting about this new author and her new release. It was fun to get excited about the arrival of a book. And yes, she was right. It was wonderful... and now for the review.
As a child he was left on the doorstep of a Parisian brothel. Taken in and taught to pleasure both men and women, Gabriel is a creature of sensuous beauty and literally a product of his surroundings. He knows many ways of how to give pleasure but finds little of it for himself. He chooses rather to numb himself with alcohol and keep his emotions locked deep inside.
Gabriel has lost interest in life and his feelings are buried so deep physical pain is the only way he is reminded that he is still alive. When Gabriel is nearly without hope a young boy is brought to the brothel. With Jamie, Gabriel has a renewed sense of purpose ~ to keep what happened to him from happening to Jamie. Five years pass, Gabriel and Jamie have formed a relationship of sorts. Both needing each other in different ways to stay alive. Then Jamie's brother and sister, Ross, the Earl of Huntington and Lady Sarah Munroe, find him and come to take him home. When Gabriel is asked to accompany them back to England he agrees to spend a year helping Jamie adjust to being home again. Thus his new life begins but it ends in a place he could never have imagined.
Judith James takes the reader on a journey with Gabriel from Paris to England to the Mediterranean Sea and the Barbary Coast. The story starts in the late 1800's, ten years after the French Revolution. Napoleon Bonaparte is coming to power, pirates and privateering are as common on the seas as war on the land. France is recovering from the Terror and England is well, England. The description of the land, the buildings and the people of the time give the book a genuine historic feel. Add to that some historic figures and the setting is complete.
Gabriel St. Croix, the hero of our story, is anything but a typical hero. Yes, he is gorgeous with an innate sensuality. While his age is never stated he is often referred to as "lad" or "young man". I got the impression he was in his early 20's. His sexual experiences are many and varied but his life experience is very limited outside the brothel environment. So when he journeys to England with Sarah, Ross and Jamie he is treated to a host of new experiences. One such is on board the ship that takes them from France to England. He is a natural sailor and shows a keen interest in all things nautical.
Once arriving in England Gabriel must deal with being treated differently than he was in the brothel. No longer treated as an object he is now treated as a person. Someone with feelings, opinions, likes and dislikes. This may seem like a wonderful thing but for Gabriel it is something that causes him difficulty. It's not in his scope of experience. Trust is also a big issue for him. The ability to trust is completely foreign to him. He is always waiting for something bad to happen, for the good to come to an end. He must learn how it feels to be treated with kindness and respect. That is where Sarah comes in.
Lady Sarah Munroe, the heroine, is neither a typical heroine nor a typical woman of the time period. When she was sixteen she was forced to wed an old man and was fortunately widowed shortly after. This happened around the same time her parents were killed in an accident and Jamie disappeared. It was an extremely difficult time for her.
Sarah enjoys dressing in britches, voicing her opinion and is known as the Gypsy Countess because of her gypsy ancestors. She lives an unconventional sort of life ~ traveling and being friends with privateers and not caring what society thinks of her. She has some experience with the world and enjoys developing friendships with a variety of people. She much prefers interesting people to the snobs of the ton. When she meets Gabriel she decides that in return for his keeping Jamie safe she must help him get out of the life he's been living. There is an attraction but she treats him as a person, a friend. She refuses to use him in the way he had been used and abused by others.
"I'm just so confused, Gabriel. I'm trying to do the right thing and I don't know what that is anymore. It's not that I don't want you. I do! I dream about you. I imagine... Look, you call yourself a whore, as if that's who you are. How can I show you how wrong you are? How can I truly be your friend if I use you as everyone else has? Damn it, Gabe, you're such an innocent!"
"Innocent!" He was so shocked his mouth hung slack and open. page 189-190
At first Gabriel keeps himself distant from Sarah and Ross. Choosing only to spend time with Jamie. Slowly Gabriel spends more time with Sarah and they gradually develop a relationship. They find they enjoy spending time in each others company and feel at ease with one another. Eventually they fall in love.
Gabriel thinking of how Sarah sees him...
"She saw him clearly, if in a different light than he saw himself." page 213
This says so much as to how Sarah not only sees him but treats him.
Gabriel also meets Gypsy Davey, privateer and captain of a ship. Cousin to Sarah, Ross and Jamie, Davey agrees to teach Gabriel about seamanship and takes him under his wing. Gabriel feels he needs to go to sea and make his fortune so he can support Sarah. He refuses to live off of Sarah's money and so he leaves with Davey, promising to come back to Sarah. She, in turn, promises to wait for him for however long it takes.
Gabriel's journey back to Sarah is not a smooth one in any way. His past comes back to torment him and leaves him broken and in despair. He becomes a mercenary and gambler, living like the ice cold emotionless man he was before meeting Sarah.
This story is really more Gabriel's than Sarah's. She is a critical piece but she is the constant where Gabriel is the evolving, changing character. One thing I really liked was that they didn't jump into bed right away. Given Gabriel's background and the fact that they were attracted to each other it was a pleasant surprise. What Gabriel needed more than anything was a friend. That's why it was so wonderful that Gabriel and Sarah became friends first, then lovers. Gabriel needed someone to talk to, feel comfortable with. Someone in whose presence he could simply be.
Sarah was the catalyst that helped Gabriel release his old self and become his new self. Jamie was Gabriel's first real friend. He said that he protected Jamie because it gave him a purpose. The friendship with Jamie pulled Gabriel from the edge ~ Jamie is the one that cracked the ice and Sarah is the one that broke it completely.
The secondary characters of Ross, the Earl of Huntington and Davey are well developed and given enough page time to leave an impact yet not detract from the main story. They are interesting enough to possibly warrant their own stories. There is also a character that Gabriel meets later in the book that certainly left an impact on me. I won't say much but I have a feeling he would make a wonderful hero. I wouldn't be surprised if he got his own book too.
Overall this was a beautiful story of love and trust. I'm looking forward to reading more by Judith James.