on June 28, 2016
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As heir to a title and great wealth, Will Masterson should have stayed home and tended his responsibilities. Instead he went to war. Now, after perilous years fighting the French, he intends his current mission to be his last. But all his plans are forgotten when he arrives in the small mountain stronghold of San Gabriel and meets her.
Knowing herself to be too tall, strong, and unconventional to appeal to a man, Athena Markham has always gloried in her independence. But for the first time in her life, she finds a man who might be her match.
Two of a kind, too brave for their own good, Athena and Will vow to do whatever it takes to vanquish San Gabriel's enemies. For neither will back down from death, and only together can they find happiness and a love deeper than any they'd dared imagine...
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
I enjoyed Once a Soldier, in part because I always enjoy Putney’s historical romances for their blend of solid history and unlikely-but-believable stories, and in part because both Will and Athena are so easy to like and connect with. The book feels much like the Lost Lords series in tone, and no wonder: Will Masterton is a Lost Lord.
In fact, he’s Damian Mackenzie’s legitimate half-brother. We met Will earlier in Nowhere Near Respectable. That links the Rogues Redeemed series to the Lost Lords series, and Will and Athena do interact with several of the characters from the Lost Lords books, if only briefly. Ballard, who is mentioned occasionally in the Lost Lords books but rarely seen, is the hero of the secondary romance in Once a Soldier, so Putney gets to marry off the last two school chums in one fell swoop before introducing a new cast characters in the next book. (Don’t worry if you haven’t read the Lost Lords books, though; this one can certainly stand on its own.)
I’ve read several romances recently in which the hero is singularly devoid of flaws, and Once a Soldier fits that mold. Will is honorable, loyal, caring, and remarkably unsexist for a man of the early 19th century. I kept waiting for his flaws to surface, and they never really did. He makes mistakes here and there, but nothing significant within the romantic relationship. Frankly, he doesn’t really fit the “rogues redeemed” idea, for all that he thinks he does. In case you can’t tell, I liked him very much.
Athena has a much less conventional background than Will, and more obvious emotional scars. She’s strong, capable, and confident, except when it comes to romantic relationships. Her influence, intelligence and determination are one of the main reasons San Gabriel has survived the Napoleonic Wars as well as it has. She’s altogether admirable, and I love it that Will is not intimidated or turned off by Athena’s rather unconventional strengths, but appreciates her for who she is.
San Gabriel, the fictional state where the majority of the book takes place, is a delightful miniature country — about the size of Liechtenstein, or even smaller. To be honest, it comes across as overly idealized, almost a fairy-tale country: beautiful and charming, but not quite real. . . rather like the novel itself.
I can’t help feeling a little nostalgic for the emotional depth and richness Putney instilled in Thunder and Roses and her other Fallen Angels books, and some of her other early works. This book, like the Lost Lords series, feels a little lighter, even when the characters are in serious danger. I can’t quite pinpoint the cause, but I find myself missing that sense of vivid realism. Nonetheless, I truly enjoyed Once a Soldier, and I’m definitely looking forward to the sequels!
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Clean Sweep ARC Challenge (May 2016)