Medallion Press, $7.95, ISBN 978-1-93383644-7
Historical Romance, 2008
Judith James’s Broken Wing is easily one of the most-talked about book of 2008. Many people adore it. Well, sorry, folks, but cranky old me is going to be the odd person out again. I think this book has plenty of promise, but yikes, I can only hope that this is a debut effort because it sure reads like one.
Gabriel St Croix is one of the most self-pitying weenie kings I’ve come across. He will use his self-pity as an excuse to behave very cruelly towards those people who are trying to reach out to him. This behavior persists until nearly the last chapter, folks, so he will be a test on how much of a bleeding heart you are. If you take pity on him, you may find him a noble martyr. If you’re any way like me, you may be wondering whether he’s really worth all that fuss.
Gabriel was a prostitute and catamite, as he will remind everyone continuously, raised in a brothel and trained to service all clients that came his way. He meets our heroine Sarah Munroe and her half-brother Ross when Sarah’s brother James went missing and ended up brought to the very brothel where Gabriel was also forced to serve. Gabriel protected James until Sarah and Ross finally managed to locate that kid. Now, James refuses to go with the siblings he barely knows unless Gabriel comes along.
Gabriel refuses to believe that he can be loved or is worthy of kindness, so he will make Sarah fall for him by continuously acting like she’s a disgusting creature who just wants a piece of him like those clients of his in the past. Meanwhile, Ross will go, “Eek, my half-sister is in love with a pervert, how disgusting!” Thinking that he’s now as noble as Heathcliff, Gabriel skips town. Sarah starts wearing her red kimono to skip around the moor, shrieking, “Gabriel! It’s me Sarah! I’m knocking on your window!” Er, wait a minute, wrong movie, wrong song.
Along the way, Napoleon Bonaparte misbehaves and Gabriel learns that, even in Barbary, he can’t stop behaving like an ass. This story is “epic” in the sense that the story takes Sarah and Gabriel out of England all the way to France and then to the Barbary Coast and back, but the fundamental plot – a self-pitying weenie hero and a heroine who understands that he’s a weenie king because deep down, he’s been hurt so he can’t help himself, how sad – is a familiar one.
Yikes, how come nobody warned me that this book features some of the worst point of view switches ever? The author keeps hopping from one character’s head to the next without any warning. Sometimes, there are even hops from a character’s point of view to the omnipresent third-person point of view before switching back to another character’s point of view. As a result, reading this book can be as dizzying an experience as being in a ship with Gabriel in the middle of a storm as he just keeps whining incessantly about how those nasty people in his past keep putting ugly things up his rear end.
Also, the story takes place across a considerable period of time, but the writing doesn’t always clearly show this. There are many moments when I turn the page to realize only a few paragraphs later into that page that, oh, three months have passed since events in the previous page took place. I already have my hands full trying to follow with the constant head-hopping and point of view switches, so I don’t appreciate having to keep track of the passing of time in the story as well.
And Gabriel, oh Gabriel. The author loves putting him through one melodrama after another, to the point that he is never short of reasons to drive Sarah away for her own good. I try to be patient with him, but it’s hard to muster much patience for him when his constant self-pitying and determination to martyr himself follow a predictable pattern. He comes off like the biggest cliché in the story. The author has Sarah treating Gabriel as someone who needs understanding and love to feel whole again. Only, in this story, that particular approach comes off too much like Sarah justifying Gabriel’s constant nonsense by using his past as an excuse for his weenie king antics.
That’s not to say that Broken Wing is an unreadable… oh wait, hold that cliché. I have to say, the annoyances that I come across in author’s writing technique do make this book a pretty hard one to get into. The head-hopping and point of view switches occur too frequently here for my liking. Still, I appreciate how Ms James manages to make this story a little different from the usual historical romances out there. Okay, so I feel that the story is too much like a really over-the-top soap-opera, but the fact that this one tries to be different has to count for something… I guess.