Zebra, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-4092-7
Historical Romance, 2016
Mary Jo Putney kicks off a new series, Rogues Redeemed, with Once a Soldier. The prologue in this one sets the stage for the series: a couple of guys meet and break out of a French prison in Portugal during the war with Napoleon, and they bond over the fact that they are all awesome and are going to be in a series together, squee. Oh, and there are also some yammering about them wanting to set some things to right when they get out of the prison – which they of course do – so I guess that’s where the “Redeemed” part of the series title comes in. Oh, and try not to cringe, but these blokes call themselves – are you ready? – the Brotherhood of Rogues Reformed. And they actually like that name, so I don’t know what to say.
In this one, the spotlight is on Will Masterson. When Napoleon surrenders, he is in Spain, still with the army. Now that it looks like the good guys have won, he is set to go home and lead his life of gentility again, but you know how it always is: one last mission, please. In the small kingdom of San Gabriel, the royalty is in tatters. The only heir to the throne is the princess, as the king and the prince are currently missing, presumed dead. With bandits and such circling the neighborhood, probably waiting to swoop in and take over, it is up to Gabriel – alone, of course – to go and survey the situation there.
Meanwhile, the princess is being assisted by Althea Markham, an English lady who currently tutors the princess while running the whole place on behalf of the guy in charge, an elderly uncle of the princess who is sinking deeper into dementia. So, there we go: an English dude and an English lady, the two great hope of some European kingdom. Aren’t we glad that England is so concerned about the sovereignty and independence of other countries in this world! Clearly, if the rest of the world had been wiser and remained content to be part of the great British empire, we’d all be cavorting in an Utopian paradise today.
Once these two meet, the story then… just happens. No, really. I half-expected dramatic moments of hooligans assaulting the bastion held by the good guys, or political intrigue left and right, but what I get is basically a story in which two absolutely flawless and capable characters wander around talking about themselves while the adoring natives of the land give thanks to them and praise the heavens that these two munificent English saviors are here to save them all. Really, I’m not exaggerating that much – every scene in this story seems to be designed to tell me how awesome these characters are.
And perfection is boring to read. Will is a master engineer, who can speak in many languages and can kick ass too, while Athena can shoot, rule, tutor, and more with amazing efficiency and capability. How did these people manage to be this multi-talented? Well, they just are, basically. When the villains do remember to show up, they are so outclassed and out-amazing’ed by the main characters that there is hardly any suspense to be had as a result.
The conflict in the romance is a pretty dull one too. Athena – whom, by the way, is described as an Amazon so often that I really hope you like reading that word many, many times – is illegitimate, so she believes that she and Will can never marry. Naturally, she will never subject him to the dire, horrid fallout, so she must nobly resist all efforts by him to give them a happily ever after. Again, yawn.
Once a Soldier is too cleanly written to be considered a bad read, although I’m tempted quite often to dock off an oogie due to the constant repetitive descriptions of Althea’s height and supposed not-so-pretty features (in her view, that is; Will thinks she looks and is perfect). But nothing interesting happens here, just two singularly perfect people having what is basically a long walk in the park while admiring the scenery and collecting adulation from the people they interact with. I’m so bored as a result.