Broken Wing
by Judith James
(Medallion Press, $7.95, R)† ISBN† 978-193383644-7
The new year starts off with a wonderful novel by a promising author. Broken Wing is an engrossing historical romance with an unusual hero who may make some readers uncomfortable, but Iím betting most will take Gabriel St. Croix squarely to their hearts and never let go.

The story opens in a Parisian brothel.†A wealthy English brother and sister have come to reclaim their long-missing younger brother, James, who was kidnapped five years earlier.†Ross, the Earl of Huntington, and Sarah, the widowed Lady Munroe, are overjoyed to find young Jamie is safe and unharmed.†Jamie doesnít remember them and refuses to go with them, however, unless his friend Gabriel can accompany them back to England.

Gabriel St. Croix is a prostitute.†Abandoned as a child and raised in the brothel, he has suffered unspeakable degradation at the hands of both men and women, but he took Jamie under his wing and protected him from harm at his own expense.†Cynical and remote with everyone except Jamie, Gabriel is stunned when Ross and Sarah offer him passage to England and a yearís stay in their home, plus ten thousand pounds, if he will come with them and help Jamie acclimate to his new life.†The money is a way out of the brothel at last and he accepts, though he privately vows to keep his distance from the family and the unconventional Lady Munroe.

Sarah and Ross share a background that puts them outside the pale of the ton.†They are half-siblings, but Sarahís mother was a part-Gypsy, which infuriated their fatherís family.†At the time of her parentsí death, the older Ross was missing in the war and was being searched for by an old family friend, a privateer named Gypsy Davey. Sarah, left in the hands of an avaricious uncle, was married off to an elderly nobleman and Jamie disappeared. Sarah escaped from her husband, managed to find Davey, and spent two year aboard his ship searching for Ross, during which time her husband died.†Tracking Jamie to Paris completes the reunification of their small family.

Sarah senses that Gabriel is a good man at the core, and he is drawn to her like a moth to a flame.†At the same time, Gabriel is deeply ashamed off his past and throws up walls around him to keep Sarah out.†Fighting his attraction to her, he strikes the posture of an insolent whore and is dumbstruck when Sarah sees right through his facade.†Gradually Sarah breaks down his defenses and helps to ease his torment.†Neither of them has ever known anything resembling a romantic love, especially not of a sexual nature, and when they finally do become lovers itís almost overwhelming for them both.

Itís been ages since Iíve encountered such a tormented hero.†All too often in romance these days, the heroís angst hangs on a background that turns out to be pretty inconsequential, making the reader impatient and wishing heíd have the spine to just move on.†Not here. Gabrielís past is every bit as vile as it appears, and the author doesnít hesitate to make that very plain to her readers.†Sarah, who sees that Gabrielís innate goodness has been fighting to stay alive throughout the years of debasement, is the perfect foil for him.†

The second half of the book is Gabeís story, as the lovers are parted and he must find his way back to her.†Along the way, he meets up with a man who might well be a central character in a future book, and rights a few wrongs as well.†The story captivated me from beginning to end. I couldnít put it down.

Judith James has a fine writing style, tinged with emotion without being overwrought or flowery.†Her plot is thoroughly researched and the historical detail really helps to enhance the story.†The action moves from Paris to England, then to Algiers, back to Paris, and winds up in London, and each locale has interesting details to bring it to life.

The developing romance between Gabriel and Sarah is beautifully plotted.†James is wise to know that it must develop over time, and she gives her characters room to grow and develop.†Gabriel doesnít fall in love with Sarah at first sight; it takes many interactions over time before he can even think of the possibility of loving her, but the time isnít wasted.†We get to know them both as they learn to understand one another.

Judith James just moved onto my auto-buy list, and I hope she has a companion novel planned, because sheís created an interesting secondary character in Gabrielís friend, the Chevalier de Valmont and he could easily carry his own tale. Broken Wing is a rich, emotional read with two wonderful lead characters and an utterly satisfying romance.†Itís the best historical novel Iíve read in the past year, hands down.†I canít urge you strongly enough to find your own copy and add it to your keeper shelf.

--Cathy Sova

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