Title: Once a Soldier
Author: Mary Jo Putney
Series: Rogues Redeemed #1
Genre: Regency Romance
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…
Source: ARC from Zebra (Kensington) via NetGalley
I found plenty to like and enjoy in this unusual Regency romance. The setting is certainly not your average ballroom adventure, and neither Athena nor Will are run of the mill historical characters. It’s different, a little more mature in its outlook and ramps up the danger with the spectre of war.
San Gabriel is a small kingdom located on the border between Spain and Portugal, and though the Peninsular War may have just ended, San Gabriel is still reeling from being overrun by French troops. Will is sent to find out what this tiny ally to the British needs in order to recover, while Athena has been quietly holding the country together for her friend the princess.
Will is a calm and competent man, capable of doing pretty much anything he turns his mind and hand to. He’s likeable in a genial way. A bit like Athena. She’s an older woman with a difficult past, thanks to her parentage, and she’s also calm and competent. Much is made of her Amazonian stature, which suits Will as he’s something of a giant. They’re both nice and their romance is nice. I have to admit I didn’t feel a lot of chemistry between them, since Will is patient and Athena is determined to resist (until she isn’t, of course), so their romance to me was quiet and practical. It’s not the sort to sweep you off your feet, but they made a great team and I loved how easily Will accepted everything about Athena.
There is a secondary romance too, which is more full of feelings and romance and being swept away, with plenty of potential angst. Personally, I wasn’t all that convinced by it, as I could see how it would end and found it a tiny bit dull.
The best thing about this book for me was San Gabriel itself and the way everyone went about rebuilding it. I probably could have done without the lecture on how to build a bridge, and it’s clear the author did lots of wine research that again, felt a bit much at times, but I loved the descriptions of the landscape and the solid sense of place this book has.
The action scenes are very well done, full of tension and packed with the emotion I missed from the romance. Even though I knew it had to end a certain way, it still swept me up and I thoroughly enjoyed this part of it.
Which made the overwhelmingly cheesy ending just a touch annoying. It’s all a bit too much sunshine and roses for me, with all kinds of obstacles swept easily aside making all the soul-searching and angst that went before seem like a sheer waste of time. It also brings in a lot of characters from the Lost Lords series, which since I haven’t read all of those books, made the last chapter a bit crowded as I tried to figure who was who and why I should care.
Overall this is a good read, but not a great romance. If you’re looking for a different sort of setting for a Regency, then this definitely offers that, but the romance is quiet and steady and rather grown up. None of which are bad things, especially when combined with the action towards the end. However, if you’re looking to be swept away by a grand love story, this won’t do it.
Once a Soldier is Out Now!
Visit Mary Jo Putney for more details.