HomeReviewsInterviewsStoreABlogsOn Writing

Broken Wing, by Judith James

Broken Wing

Ms James’ debut novel, Broken Wing is a historical romance set during the Napoleonic wars. The action covers a number of years and countries, mainly following the fate of its hero, Gabriel St Croix.

I first fell for this title because of Kristie(J)’s review. She has a way of making people crave whatever she has loved. However, around the time I got a copy (courtesy of Ms James herself, through a giveaway at Romance Novel TV—if memory serves *wince*) I happened to read this review by our very own Super Librarian. Yikes!!! Conflicting reviews ahoy, both from people whose tastes I trust!

So I put it on the TBR mountain range, knowing that sooner or later I would just grab and read it. Then orannia came up with a nifty little challenge and… here we are.

Here’s the back cover blurb:

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 is 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 has 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.

I must say that the first two paragraphs are pretty close to the first few chapters. The last sentence of the second and the entire third paragraph are… well, misleading is the best I can say.

This novel feels much like one of those beloved sagas of the late 80s, and while it really doesn’t cover all that many years, the scope is such that it feels as if it should span decades. There is a lot of telling rather than showing, probably because there is comparatively little dialogue and a little too much introspection.

While I found Gabriel’s character compelling, there was a tad too much there—too much damage, too much angst—and in the last hundred or so pages he started to seriously annoy me with it. He is indeed an unusual hero, and, particularly in the first half of the book, I enjoyed the tension of not knowing whether or not he was truly salvable.

Please note that I didn’t say “redeemable” because, as far as I’m concerned, he was never in need of redemption. But there is something broken in him, and for quite a while it’s not clear whether he’ll be able to overcome it, or live with it.

Sarah’s introduction (first paragraph, Chapter 1) has what has become a favorite description for me:

“It was widely rumored since that she dressed as a man, consorted with pirates, and counted among her numerous lovers her own half brother, Ross. All but the last charge were true.”

Sadly, she didn’t live up to it. I liked her well enough, but I felt her to be much less rounded than, not only Gabriel but some of the secondary characters. Indeed, for the first half of the novel I thought that both her brother Ross and their cousin Davey had more depth (even if they had a fraction of the page space) than she did.

My main problem came with the excessive repetition. A character would think something once, and a few paragraphs later, think the same thing again. And a chapter later, again—almost verbatim. For example, Sarah “worried that what he needed was a friend, not a lover, and feared that he would come to see her as another in a long line of people who had used him” something like four or five times in a couple of chapters.

Still, I was intrigued enough by the characters—mainly, as I said, Gabriel—, or rather, their circumstances, to continue reading and then…


Yup. Totally and completely unable to trudge on.

See, this book is just a bit over four hundred pages long, but at a point just past two thirds, I felt closure. It wasn’t perfect, but—as far as I’m concerned—the internal conflict separating Gabriel and Sarah had been solved and the external conflict wasn’t momentous, important, big enough to keep two reasonable adults apart.

As you can imagine, I was not a happy camper when that turned out to be exactly what happened. Still, I soldiered on for some fifty or so pages more, growing ever more impatient with the story. At that point I put the book aside for the time being, with the intention of picking it up a week or two later… which didn’t happen because I left for DC and forgot the book in Florida *wince*

I have since finished Broken Wing and found myself struggling to write a review that did my feelings justice, without spoiling the novel for other readers (I am going to discuss more of my issues with the novel over at orannia’s blog—she will host a discussion starting on July 31st), but my two main problems with it were a) detachment, and b) telling instead of showing.

What I mean by detachment is that I mostly felt like an observer, never very much invested in any of the characters. The only real exception to this was, interestingly, in the prologue, and in some letters found late in the second third of the book— unsurprisingly, both of these instances involve Gabriel and only Gabriel. Since I mainly read for the characters, regardless of genre, this was disappointing for me.

As for the telling, it appears in two forms. First, as I mentioned, there’s a helluva lot of introspection, during which the characters examine everything that has happened to them before (thereby telling the reader), over and over and over again. The other form of telling is when long stretches of action—in one case a full year—are narrated in the course of a handful of pages, through a succession of paragraphs that basically say, “this happened, and then this other thing, and so they decided to do this, and they did it, and then…”

In the end, because there were some intriguing aspects in the book—the hero’s background, for example; some fighting scenes late in the novel, and a few other bits, including the sheer scope of the story—the grade turned out to be higher than all my griping may make it seem.

Broken Wing gets a 6.5 out of 10 (and I’ll duck from Kristie(J)’s wrath behind Wendy)


As part of the Broken Wing Challenge, I’ve decided to add links to my fellow… erm… brave knights (damsels?)’reviews. So far we have:

Lisa Marie Wilkinson
Maria Lokken


  • I did enjoy reading Broken Wing, especially those scenes where Gabriel learns how to kiss, even though it may seem a bit realistic with him climbing into a young virginal woman’s bedroom window. But something was missing with Gabriel and him being so tortured. Perhaps it is a bad case of telling not show. At some points I felt he wasn’t written too dimensional enough.
    Overall, I would give this a solid B.


  • I was very disappointed in this book after all the hype it received. It just didn’t live up to it at all. I found myself enjoying more the scenes where Gabriel was AWAY from Sarah, than when they were together.


  • Mireya
    July 30
    1:07 pm

    It’s funny because the more reviews I read the less I want to read this … the blurb didn’t interest me at all off the bat, which is why I started reading the reviews. There are certain reviewers that I read because my taste clashes with theirs and I know that 99.9% of the time they love something, I am going to hate it… they loved this book so that was it for me.


  • I really enjoyed reading your thoughts, AL. I think I find myself judging a book based on scenes. If there are scenes that I really, really loved, then other parts of the book that may not have set well with me will be over looked. That may not be good when it comes to reviewing, but I think most people do personal reviews. I thought there were some amazing scenes between Gabriel and Sarah that I just loved and they made me weepy. So even though the middle was a bit long where Gabriel is off finding himself and then his behavior when he arrives back in England, I overlooked because I liked other things. I figure most books have things that I would like to have been different so I’m not overly critical. I like the way you break things down. It’s done very respectfully!


  • Ultimately, for me, it was the writing style. All that telling and not enough showing kept me from getting truly “invested” in the story or the characters. Also, I got extremely annoyed with Gabriel during the latter half of the novel especially after I felt Sarah had practically beaten him over the head with the fact that 1) she loved him 2) she didn’t care about his past life and 3) she loved him.

    But I totally “get” why so many readers love this book and why the story works for them. Really, I do see it.

    I am going to read Judith James’ next book, Highland Rebel, which is due out September. While Broken Wing failed to move me, I think the author has some good ideas and certainly she’s offering something “different” in the historical romance universe. Which makes me more than willing to give her another shot.


  • Glad to know I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. I loved the premise, expected to love the story, enjoyed the first part and almost completely lost interest in the latter half to the point where I was skimming. It felt like one of those movies where you think you’re coming to a satisfactory conclusion then, surprise, there’s another 40 minutes. (I’m looking at you Australia)
    I also agree the female protag felt underdeveloped, but that wasn’t her fault. With all the drama that was Gabriel, how could the other lead compete with that?


  • I enjoyed Broken Wing immensely and I’m looking forward to reading Highland Rebel. Judith James and I are both Medallion Press authors and we appreciate the support we’ve received from bloggers because MP is a small press whose releases often fall below the radar.

    I’m doing a little promo on my own here…I’m issuing this challenge to any bloggers who read and review books online: if you will send me an e-mail via my website, I’ll send you a free, signed copy of Fire at Midnight for review.

    This offer is limited to the first TEN bloggers who respond to this challenge, and you must agree to review my book online within one month. (I’d invite more than ten of you, but I pay for my own books and postage and I’m budgeting for this as part of my promotional effort).

    Fire at Midnight has received good reviews (you can check out the reviews on my website), and I’m interested in some other reader opinions. I will take the risk that some of you will hate it and publicly say so, but there’s a chance some of you will enjoy the book and will be willing to say so online.

    To accept my challenge, please send me an e-mail via my website and provide the address where your copy of the book should be mailed. The first ten bloggers who respond will receive a free book!

    Lisa Marie Wilkinson


  • Thank you azteclady! That was a fantastic review! Introspection! I’ve been trying to name ‘that’ for ages.


  • Oh No!! Say it isn’t so!! This one was almost a DNF for you? *weeping copious tears*
    Seriously though *g* Not everyone is going to love the same book. Even one of the most loved romance books going – Lord of Scoundrels has it’s detractors and readers who just didn’t enjoy it – and just pointing out that I’m NOT one of them – I love it. But I do admire your fortitude in continuing with it. And I’ll be at Orianna’s tomorrow too – when I can duck in there from work that is.
    So AL, *chuckling* no need to duck – although come to think of it, if there was a reason, Wendy is so much taller then both of us so she would hide you pretty good 🙂


  • Ms Wilkinson, I am sorry to say that I cannot promise to review within the allotted month–I’m so far behind my review commitments (self-imposed as most of them are) that it’s just scary.

    I do wish you a great response and *crossing fingers* that all of the people who do participate fulfill their promise in a timely manner.

    orannia, any time, m’dear 😉

    Kristie(J), oh no, it wasn’t close to DNF–I cannot read more than two thirds of a book and then not finish it, that would just kill me. But yes, the last part was way less enjoyable than the rest of the book (for me)

    As I said in the review, I am looking forward to discussing stuff in more detail during the actual discussion at orannia’s.


  • AztecLady,
    Thanks for your comment, LOL. I completely understand about the timeframe. I said a month, but I wasn’t intending to be all that strict about it. My book is selling well, but what I find happening is that it’s languishing in many TBR piles and I was just hoping to start a bit of buzz (hopefully good rather than bad, I realize this could backfire on me).

    I find that readers do pay attention to bloggers, even more than they do some of the well-known review sites. FIRE AT MIDNIGHT has received mostly excellent reviews, but Medallion’s distribution channels cannot compete with the large NY houses and I was simply trying to come up with a creative way to promote my little entry into the world of published novels.

    Would it help to announce that Judith James read my book and sent me an e-mail that she’d loved it and it was on her keeper shelf? It’s true, and I’m darned proud of that fact! I cannot wait to read Highland Rebel, and my own TBR pile has been growing rapidly based upon blogger recommendations, so I completely understand your concern about my “review in one month” stipulation.

    I do have another release coming out soon (STOLEN PROMISE) and I will have more ARCs available for that one than I did FIRE AT MIDNIGHT, which should be a great help!

    Have a wonderful weekend!


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment