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Wednesday, November 26, 2008:
"Broken Wing" by Judith James (2008) - review

Mass Market Paperback: 440 pages
Publisher: Medallion Press (November 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 193383644X
ISBN-13: 978-1933836447

Abandoned as a child and raised in a brothel, Gabriel St. Croix has never known tenderness, friendship or affection. Although fluent in sex, he knows nothing of love. Lost and alone inside a nightmare world, all he’s ever wanted was companionship and a place to belong. Hiding physical and emotional scars behind an icy façade, his only relationship is with a young boy he has spent the last five years protecting from the brutal reality of their environment. But all that is about to change. The boy’s family has found him, and they are coming to take him home.
Sarah Munroe blames herself for her brother’s disappearance. When he’s located, safe and unharmed despite where he as been living. Sarah vows to help the man who rescued and protected him in any way she can. With loving patience she helps Gabriel face his demons and teaches him to trust in friendship and love. But when the past catches up with him, Gabriel must face it on his own.
Becoming a mercenary, pirate and a professional gambler, Gabriel travels to London, France, and the Barbary Coast in a desperate attempt to find Sarah again and all he knows of love. On the way, however, he will discover the most dangerous journey, and the greatest gamble of all, is within the darkest reaches of his own heart.
About 2(?) months ago, KristieJ was raving about a book she'd just read called "Broken Wing" by Judith James. Having experienced the positive power of Kristie's recs before, I gladly added this book to my tbb pile. I got the book about 2 weeks ago, and read it over the weekend. I finished it in about a day. It was fabulous.

The recap:

Gabriel is a bitter shell of a man whose existence as a much sought after prostitute has left him feeling numb. Compelled to help a young boy from ending up suffering the same fate, Jamie has given Gabriel a purpose over the last five years, so it is with almost a feeling of dread he learns the boy's family will be coming to take him home. However upon meeting Jamie's siblings, he's shocked to discover that they wish to take him home as well, as a way of helping Jamie adjust to being in England again with his family.

At first suspicious - Gabriel has been witness to every kind of depravity known to man and isn't one to easily trust a situation, no matter how innocent it may appear - he nevertheless agrees to the arrangement, as it presents him with the means to support himself and one day make something out of his life. He resists any attempts to become close to anyone other than Jamie, but he sees what an unconventional family Jamie has, especially his sister Sarah, who wears men's breeches and is known as the Gypsy Countess. He sees her interest, and he scorns her for it, even while he himself feels drawn towards her.

Sarah is indeed fascinated by Gabriel, the utterly beautiful stranger who risked his own life to protect her brother, but is confused by his cold behavior towards her. She doesn't understand why he constantly pushes her away or tries to turn her gestures of friendship into something ugly and sordid. Gradually, he opens up to her, lets his guard down, and she sees inside to the man Gabriel has the potential to be, if only he'll let himself. She refuses to give up on him.

For the first time in his life, Gabriel knows what it's like to be loved by another. Sarah is so unexpected, and she never reacts the way he thinks she will, and this gives him hope. As he begins to trust in this new and unfamiliar feeling, he begins planning for a future he never thought was available to him. Working with cousin and family friend Gypsy Davy, Gabriel discovers he loves the sea, and is rather good at sailing. And fighting. He's determined not to be beholden to Sarah's brother Ross, and decides to sail with Davy to earn enough to support Sarah, all the while dreaming of making her his wife. But something happens to Gabriel on that last fateful trip, and as desperation and despair set in, Gabriel believes that the life he held so dear is to be denied him forever....

My thoughts:

Wow, where do I begin? I was utterly captivated by Sarah's and Gabriel's story right from the beginning. It's apparent from the first page that Gabriel is a sensitive person, one who feels so much that he has to distance himself, close himself off from the pain. What was left of him was a bare shell of a man. Forced to please the endless parades of men and women who find him irresistible and seductive, Gabriel has never known what it's like to have anyone genuinely care for him, and his only experience in human relations is what he can do for them, whether it's for money or for pleasure. His days are bleak and endless, and it's made him jaded, has deadened his emotions. Yet when a young lad is brought to the brothel, Gabriel discovers a kernel of humanity in his soul, nd he cannot stomach the same fate for the young Jamie that he himself has suffered, and does whatever is in his power to protect the child.
It's heartbreaking to witness what Gabriel does to inflict pain on himself, trying to find some way to feel through all the numbness. His reaction to Sarah and Ross when they come to take their young brother home makes sense: he's only ever known people who want something from him, so when they offer to take him away and bring him into their home, he immediately thinks the worst. He cannot comprehend compassion, the act of generosity that they offer by removing him from the brothel. He responds to any gesture of friendship with a blatantly seductive manner that unnerves the household. The only one who Gabriel tends to care for is Jamie, who's trying to adjust to the old life he doesn't remember, and turns to Gabriel time and again for reassurance.
Sarah is as uncomfortable with Gabriel's coldly hypnotic sensuality as much as she's fascinated by his beauty. I liked that she was an unconventional countess who wears breeches and befriends gypsies, yet was also a bit innocent, despite her scandalous ways. She was experienced enough to have known the attentions of a husband, yet she is rather naive about just what it is Gabriel has become in order to survive. Yet underneath it all, she recognizes something deep inside of him that is agonizingly sweet and beautiful, and she falls completely in love with him.
One of the things I really savored about this book is that the relationship between Gabriel and Sarah is much more intimate because they spend a lot of time getting to know each other in the beginning before professing their love, and finally consummating that love. It was very moving how Gabriel would climb up into her window, exhilarated, counting the moments until he could be with her again, acting like a young man in love. When he reveals all his deepest secrets to Sarah and she still accepts him, he's overwhelmed with emotion.
Of course there comes that pivotal moment (okay several) when their newfound love is tested, and though I knew that there would be an eventual HEA, I was on tenterhooks as I turned page after page, hurting for them both, especially Gabriel, who almost loses faith. But they both made a promise, and despite the odds, it is that promise to each other that keeps them both going. I think that part of the beauty of this novel was the loyalty and trust they had in each other that at times may have wavered but held strong. Despite insurmountable odds, Gabriel and Sarah were once again reunited, and their love proved stronger than ever.
Like many readers have mentioned, it isn't often a book comes along that ends up ruining other books for you for awhile, but this one definitely grabs you and engages you so deeply in the story that it almost hurts to say good-bye. Ms. James wrote an absorbing, romantic and tender love story between two special people who've been shunned by society, yet somehow find their way to each other, and what they build is both precious and unshakable. I will say that this story definitely makes my top 5 romances of 2008, and is an undeniable keeper, one that I will be re-reading time and time again over the years. Just the thought makes me smile with anticipation.
Rating: ***** out of *****

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  1. Ahhhh - need to savour for a sec.

    SQQQQUUUEEEEE!!!! What a great review!! Isn't this one everything I said it was? Huh? Huh? As you know *g* this book really got to me. Both Gabriel and Sarah were such wonderfully written characters. And there was such a sweet innocence to their love for each other wasn't there - especially Gabriel considering his background. I ended up reading this one 3 times in a row and then suffered a major block connecting to books after that since I was still so consumed with this one. You describe the after effects very well!!

  2. Great Review for a great book!

    Oh and I have to add, LOVE the Nathan Camp covers...sigh.

  3. Yay! I loved this book too. It's my number 2 book of 2008. I'm so glad you enjoyed it too!

    You should let Judith know about your review, I know she's collecting them...

  4. Kristie *g* I knew you'd approve. I did have a problem deciding what to read after - I chose "Twilight" by Stephenie Meyer, and it's working for me.

    Barbara, I couldn't agree more. And yeah, I kinda have a thing for NK.

    Kati, I read your review and it was so incredibly compelling that along with Kristie, you were the other person who made me want to read this book. And thanx I'll let JJ know.

  5. I have heard such great things about this book, I have to break down and get it.

  6. SOOO, Happy to hear you loved the book too! It is a great love story.

    Fabulous review!

    My mom is crazy about Nathan Kamp too :).

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