Review: Once a Soldier by Mary Jo Putney (2016)

Rogues Redeemed, Book 1

Heat Factor: I was bored by the time they had sex, so…

Character Chemistry: They are both extremely tall. MFEO!*

Plot: So much savior complex

Overall: A slog

Athena and Will are compassionate, courageous, and extremely competent. Both British citizens, they have spent years on the Iberian Peninsula doing various things during the Napoleonic Wars – which were quite ugly down in Spain and Portugal. Now it’s 1814, Napoleon has abdicated (for the first time, anyways) and they’re both ready to head back to England. But first they have a country to save.

Will arrives in the imaginary nation of San Gabriel (a micro-kingdom between Portugal and Spain) to scope things out for the British government. There he meets Athena, who is the companion / governess / advisor for the Princess, who has been ruling for the past year after her father and older brother were seized by an evil French general. Together, they set out to make sure that the country is economically and militarily secure, because they are amazing and no one local would ever think that they need to buy a bunch of extra rice to store to get them through the winter.

My main criticism is not about them saving this country, though. It’s great that Athena and Will are kind and also really good at what they do. The main problem with this book is: it’s tedious. It took me about four times as long as it usually takes me to get through a romance novel of comparable length, because I was frequently bored. (Granted, not bored enough to stop reading.)

In no particular order, here is a list of things I found tedious about this book:  

  • Shortly after they meet, Will and Athena have a conversation where they list out the different types of relationships possible to two people (friendship, enmity, indifference, affair, marriage). Fine. Then they repeatedly refer back to this list – “Already he was thinking of that forbidden fifth category of marriage.”
  • There are two extraneous love stories about secondary characters. One extra love story is already a bit much, but two. Come on. Especially since Will’s batman has no personality, and his love interest does not even speak. I don’t care about these people!
  • Putney goes into GREAT DETAIL about all the things they will do to fix things. Now, details are good. But I don’t need a step-by-step on bridge construction – which is presented as a conversation between Will and his in-love batman so that the batman can show that he’s competent enough to be helpful if he stays in San Gabriel. Ugh.
  • Apparently San Gabriel has the best wine. I know this, because every single character comments on how good the wine is.
  • The reader sees some backstory during the prologue – Will was captured with some other British dudes and then escaped, back during the first battle of Porto in 1809. Then Will narrates the exact same scene, with no added details or information, later in the book, so that he and Athena can have a deep conversation about it.
  • Speaking of deep conversations, Athena and Will decide that the best way to get to know each other is to ask each other a bunch of uncomfortable questions, and then they’ll know if they’ll suit. They do this the second time they meet, by the way. This is the most contrived way of revealing character baggage I have ever seen.  

A final note about this book in relation to other of Putney’s work. This is technically the first book in a new series, about the men who were all held prisoner in Porto and escaped together. The redemption part comes from the fact that they all vowed that if they lived, they would stop being rogues and better their lives. Except what Will needs redemption from is… feeling sad that his first wife died. I don’t understand how that makes him a rogue. Anyways. Will has apparently featured several times as a secondary character in other of Putney’s books, and several characters who have already found their One True Love do appear. However, they play a minor role at the very end of the story, so it feels more like a bonus to dedicated readers than a strong interweaving of stories from a previous series. Therefore: not too annoying.

*Made For Each Other. Go watch Sleepless in Seattle, you heathens.

Buy Now: Amazon

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