Note: This is a re-post of a blog I originally published last year. I joined the re-read challenge issued by a group of bloggers and am posting my review of Judith James' Broken Wing.
I’ve always been a fan of the tortured hero. Not only from the perspective of a reader witnessing the redemption of the hero as he battles to triumph over his personal demons, but also as a writer interested in the study of craft. For generations, writers have used their skill at portraying the soul in torment to create heart-wrenching stories with unforgettable characters.
“Broken Wing,” the debut novel by author Judith James, contains one such memorable tortured hero in the form of Gabriel St. Croix, a young man who was grown up in the tawdry environment of a Parisian brothel. Gabriel has learned to insulate himself completely from the world around him in order to protect his soul from the endless parade of strangers who want only his body. Beneath Gabriel’s harsh, cynical, often uncivil exterior beats the heart of a good man who cannot bear to see a child abused in the manner Gabriel has been abused. Gabriel takes it upon himself to protect the young boy Jaime from predators who would debase and ruin the child. In doing so, Gabriel sets in motion a chain of events that will eventually lead to his own salvation when Jaime’s widowed sister Sarah comes to liberate her brother.
“Broken Wing” is an engrossing love story with themes of redemption and the power of love at its core. While some readers might find the subject matter unsettling, the author has navigated Gabriel’s dark world with sensitivity and compassion. From the moment Gabriel and Sarah first set eyes on each other, the spark of attraction between them is palpable. Even when Gabriel is consistently rude and deliberately shocking, Sarah remains undaunted and increasingly curious about this unfriendly stranger who suffered untold hardships and new humiliations in order to spare her brother the same fate Gabriel has experienced.
There are no false notes in this story; the relationship between Gabriel and Sarah unfolds at a believable pace, with scenes of revelation and tenderness that are heart-breaking yet thoroughly engaging as Sarah slowly reveals the sensitive, tender man beneath Gabriel’s gruff, wounded exterior. Sarah’s initial feelings of gratitude over Gabriel’s rescue of her brother yield to deeper emotions as Sarah realizes that Gabriel’s exterior is an artifice built out of self-loathing. It is Sarah who is able to make Gabriel see himself as she sees him; convincing Gabriel that he is greater than the sum of degrading experiences forced upon him during his short life. In the end, Gabriel is redeemed through Sarah’s love, earning “Broken Wing” a permanent place on my keeper shelf.