Every once in a while, if one is very lucky, they read a romance novel so lyrically written, so wonderfully conceived, so thoroughly researched, so full of interesting and different characters, it practically ruins reading for them for a few days, or weeks, or months. I very much fear that this will be the case for me after reading BROKEN WING by Judith James. I requested this book at the recommendation of KristieJ, a wonderful and sensitive reviewer whose blog, Ramblings on Romance, is a delight for those who love romance. Kristie was so moved after reading the book that she emailed practically everyone in her email address book with the insistence that we all run out, buy, read and go forth and spread the word about BROKEN WING. I immediately wrote Marisa and requested the book, which I was lucky enough to receive on Friday. I’ve spent the weekend immersed in England, France, the Barbary Coast, Algiers and piracy.
Gabriel St. Croix is a prostitute – he has been most of his life. Recently he’s begun protecting Jamie, a young boy sold to the house of ill repute where Gabriel lives and makes his living, such as it is. Gabriel has found that his only reason for living or surviving is to protect Jamie, who has become his family. Thus, Gabriel is quite disconcerted to hear that Jamie’s well-to-do family has come from England, after conducting a three year long search, to take him home. Jamie has very little recollection of his family, and absolutely insists that Gabriel accompany him home. So it is that Gabriel and Lady Sarah Monroe meet and find themselves living together in uneasy company.
Sarah is fascinated by Gabriel. He’s well read, an incredibly accomplished musician, and a closed off and bitter man. Yet she can’t seem to resist her attraction to him. Despite his razor sharp temper, which he occasionally takes out on her, she continues to try to get to know him. Sarah herself is quite a hoyden. She suffered through a very brief marriage to a much older man who had to good sense to die very shortly after their marriage leaving her a wealthy widow who cares very little for what society thinks of her. She wears breeches; she rides horses, has sailed with her cousin, a privateer, and generally does as she pleases. And for now, she wants to get to know the mysterious prostitute who has agreed to come and live with her.
For his part, Gabriel is, at turns, confounded and drawn to Sarah. It seems that nothing he does offends her, despite some incredibly boorish behavior on his part. She is as smart as anyone he’s ever known, and has no qualms about asking intrusive and impertinent questions. He’s fascinated and soon finds himself becoming very close friends with Sarah. When she finds that he is an insomniac, she invites him to her chambers to join her in stargazing. And they talk of everything, and nothing. Soon their platonic friendship has become something more. He finds himself having both lustful and loving thoughts that she reciprocates fully. Gabriel begins leaving his previous life behind. He becomes comfortable with Sarah and her family. Sarah introduces him to Davey, her cousin, who is a privateer, and soon Gabriel discovers a deep love of the sea. Davey teaches him everything about ships, sword battle, and yes, piracy. As Gabriel and Sarah become closer, he realizes that he must make his fortune in order to be the kind of man that he needs to be to marry her. He agrees to leave with Davey to make his fortune. He departs practically without saying goodbye to Sarah, and almost immediately realizes his mistake. He convinces Davey to turn the ship around, and he steals back to the house in the middle of the night, and asks Sarah to come to the ship so that they can be married before he goes. She happily agrees and they have a wonderfully passionate night before he takes off.
You’d think that would be the end of the story, but no indeed, it’s only the start of it.
Gabriel is one of the most deliciously tortured heroes I’ve ever read, he’s at turns angry, nasty, sweet and loving. And almost every moment the reader spends with him is a revelation. There is absolutely no question as to why Sarah falls in love with him. Who wouldn’t adore such a complex and flawed man? Sarah herself is a terrific foil for Gabriel. She’s also brilliant, and has a very well developed spine and a sense of humor. She doesn’t put up with Gabriel being nasty to her, and persists even when he’s cold and closed off. The secondary characters are wonderful, from Sarah’s concerned and protective older brother, Ross (who could do with his own happily ever after), to Davey, their pirate cousin, to Valmont, who becomes Gabriel’s confidant, comrade in arms and family.
The settings are exquisite and thoroughly researched. A good portion of the book happens in post Revolutionary France, and the tidbits and details that James includes many times made me pause to absorb them.
Many regular readers know that The Windflower by Tom and Sharon Curtis is my all time favorite romance. As such, I don’t invoke their names lightly, but the lightness of the prose and the wonderful wit and depth of the characters strongly evoked the Curtises for me. It is the highest possible compliment I could give an author. I am beside myself waiting for Ms. James’s next book, which I hope will be just as luscious and wonderful.