Between Orannia's Challenge and Kristie J's tireless promotion, it was only a matter of time before I picked up Broken Wing by Judith James. As it happens, I was offered a review copy so of course I jumped on it!
The book has been out for quite a while now and if you'd like to see a long, long list of reviews, do check out Kristie and Kati's sidebar at Ramblings. Most reactions have been positive, ranging from "pretty good" to OVER-THE-FREAKIN'-MOON.
I think one reason this book falls out of the ordinary fare is in its scope. In my opinion, it's equal parts adventure, coming-of-age, and romance, and in many ways reminds me of a more old-fashioned genre-less mainstream novel.
I think most people by now know the basic setup -- Gabriel is sold into prostitution as a child, and escapes as a young adult by grace of the heroine and her family, because he has been instrumental in protecting their young sibling. Broken Wing shocks the readers' sensibilities with its graphic portrayal of the cruelty and hopelessness of Gabriel's life up to the opening moments of the book.
I liked this book very much, though I didn't fall into the paroxysms of delight that its most ardent supporters experienced, and sticklers for the rule that the romance must be the main focus of the book may have more trouble with it. I'd recommend it, but be forewarned that it is not at all light or breezy. I did think it dragged a bit here and there but overall a great read.
"Do Go On," you say...
Well. If you insist. I've skimmed quite a few reviews and I could probably do nothing more that string together eight or ten paragraphs from my favorite reviewers along with a lot of head-bobbing. But where's the fun in that? So, since there are a huge number of excellent reviews out there already, I'm just going to ramble a bit about some perhaps slightly random things that this story stirred up for me.
First off, I particularly liked the way that the interest in star-gazing brought the hero and heroine together. My all-time favorite bit:
He came often after that, no longer hesitant of her welcome. He stayed for hours on her balcony, watching the stately dance of constellations as they spun slowly overhead. It struck him that there had always been other worlds surrounding him, just outside his reach, unexpected and unseen.
However, it was a little disappointing to me that after bringing them together in such a deeply romantic way, the whole astronomy/stargazing thing was more or less dropped once the Big Adventures got going. There were a few things like that, little threads that I found especially moving or interesting that were dropped without too much ceremony.
Right from the beginning, there are hints that this is a different kind of romance. Even the cover of this book looks more like an old-fashioned adventure than a current romance. Compare:
If you're a romance purist, you might not love this story. My feeling though, is that it really is a HELLuva good story, and without the sexual nature of Gabriel's harsh past, would be very similar to the classics like Treasure Island or Robinson Crusoe. In fact, the story that it most reminded me of is A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter. It's a bit obscure, I think, but I discovered GSP around 5th or 6th grade and devoured as many as I could find. In this book, Elnora was raised by an emotionally damaged single mother. The story takes us through her high school years and into a romantic HEA, so it's sort of a cross between young adult and romance.
Do You Ever Wonder
...about things like cutting, that seem to be a recent phenomenon, but then you think, they probably aren't recent; they probably just weren't much spoken of before a certain time. Some things like Aspergers' Syndrome,* I think we only recently have the language and the tools to see them as a type of pathology vs. someone being unintelligent or willfully ass-hole-ish.
I was first introduced to the problem of young people cutting in the early 90's, when my roommate's son was diagnosed. One lay explanation that I got from people who loved him was that cutting was a way of "making the physical pain match the emotional pain" that he was in. Another, with more physiological roots, is that the rush of endorphins act as an anaesthetic -- and I can believe in the 19th century, that might be far preferrable to pain remedies available from the medical community. The song Iris, by the Goo Goo Dolls came out around that same time frame, and the line "you bleed just to know you're alive" always had particular meaning when I thought about my roommate and his family.
Anyway, I just wanted to say that I have certain curiousity about how things like this were handled before doctors and professionals had any frame of reference to help, and I think James presented a sensitive and shall we say, sufficiently believable scenario here.
*I bring up Aspergers' because The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie is high up on my TBR list.