Sara’s Review: Once a Soldier by Mary Jo Putney

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I’m excited to be part of the tour for Mary Jo Putney’s newest novel. My thanks to Tasty Book Tours for allowing me to participate in this event and to Zebra – Kensington Books for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest review. If you’d like to see all of the blogs involved in this tour, please click on the banner above! =^.^=

Once A Soldier_cover

Rating: paw3

Publisher: Zebra – Kensington

Date Published: June 28, 2016

Series: Rogues Redeemed #1

Goodreads Description:

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…

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Review:

For my first foray into Putney’s writing, I’m going to admit that I may have picked the wrong book to start with because while I really wanted to like this book, and while there were some aspects that I enjoyed, the majority of the story was just an okay read for me. That being said, I’m definitely going to read more of Putney’s titles and continue with this series in particular because I’m curious to see what happens to the other rogues I met at the start of the book, and I truly do think that Putney is a great writer when all is said and done. While this may not have been the book for me, I definitely think that fans of Putney’s novels will enjoy this story and I encourage fans of historical romance to give this book a try.

As I’ve said, this was an okay read for me. I didn’t completely love it, but I didn’t entirely hate it, either. While I liked Athena and Will, they didn’t strike me as exceptionally memorable characters when all is said and done. I couldn’t really connect with either of them and I felt as though their relationship was rushed. It would have worked for me had there been an attraction with a slow buildup that lead to a steamy climax, but Will instantly set out to make Athena his regardless of whether she was interested in him or not. This left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, and it turned me off to their relationship rather quickly. Plus, I just couldn’t see them having the kind of relationship that would have resulted in a happy marriage in the end. Having said that, the relationship between Sofia and Justin was perfect. I had a lot more respect for their relationship than I did for Will and Athena’s. Theirs was an almost impossible love, it was sweet in their realization that they were attracted to each other and flirted when they could, and I really wanted them to find a way to end up together. I only wish that I had just as much interest in Will and Athena’s relationship, but it just wasn’t there. I could respect Athena’s strength and fierce devotion to the people of San Gabriel, and I admired Will’s military prowess, but I think Putney could have done so much more with these two.

And having said that, the other problem I had with the book was how much of the story focused around saving San Gabriel rather than the characters themselves. The amount of focus on military strategy, politics, and the like was not what I would have expected to find in a romance novel, even a historical romance novel. It shifted so much of the focus away from the development of the characters that is actually added to their lack of memorability and caused the story to drag periodically. It’s not that I didn’t care about the kingdom and its people, but I really would have preferred more focus on Will and Athena’s relationship thus allowing for more of a connection with them and belief that they were genuinely falling in love with each other rather than the sudden lust and rush into a relationship which I felt they experienced.

Now, I don’t want anyone to think that I didn’t enjoy some parts of this book. As I said, I loved Sofia and Justin’s relationship. I also loved Sofia herself throughout the book and found her to be a sweet, mischievous young woman. Her meddling at the end which resulted in Athena confessing her feelings for Will actually made me laugh, and I loved how she quickly stepped up to take her place as queen even though she had never thought that she would one day take the throne. She was a fun character that I would have loved to have seen a separate book for. I also rather liked learning about the history of San Gabriel and found the world that Putney built to be a strong one. I loved her blending of reality and fiction. I could believe that San Gabriel was a real place and the myth that Putney pulled from regarding the creation of San Gabriel was fascinating, I just would have preferred less focus on the military side of things when all is said and done, though I enjoyed the scenes where the kingdom came together to celebrate the repairs made to the land around them and the return of their men from the war. No matter how dire their situation was, the people of San Gabriel were certainly strong and quick to look at the positive side of things rather than the negative.

So all right, I realize that this review makes it sound like I actually didn’t like the book, but I really did find it to be an okay read. There was enough in the story to make me want to keep going and see what would happen with everyone, and I’m happy I kept with it because I ended up liking the book and the characters toward the end. There was also enough here to make me want to continue with the series, and I really do plan on reading some of Putney’s other books in the near future. I think this book would appeal to a great many readers and I definitely would recommend that folks give it a try for themselves and make their own judgements on it. I always say that what doesn’t work for one reader may be exactly what another reader is looking for. So give this book a try and let me know what you think of it in the comments below when you’re done. I’m willing to bet that most of you will end up enjoying it when all is said and done.

Excerpt:

The tunnel was lined with damp stones and the part Will could see in the dim light slanted upward with horizontal grooves on the bottom to provide traction to anyone crawling through. His eyes narrowed as he evaluated it. An average-sized man could fit in there, but Will was broader than average. Keeping that thought to himself, he said, “Now it’s time to discover if this goes all the way to the surface.”
“And if there are rats, scorpions, or dead bodies,” Duval said dryly. “I’ll go first. I’m not so large as you great hulking Englishmen, plus I speak the French of a native if I emerge outside and encounter a soldier.”
“Those are good reasons.” Will gestured at the tunnel. “Good luck!”
“I don’t envy you going blind into that tunnel,” Gordon said as he offered the Frenchman a curved, broken piece of pottery. “This isn’t much, but it might be useful against those rats or guards.”
Duval accepted the impromptu weapon with a nod of thanks. “I shall return to tell you what I find.”
Will was sure that he wasn’t the only one praying for success as Duval climbed into the tunnel and began to crawl forward on his belly. The four remaining men waited in silence, listening to the faint sounds of Duval inching upward. He muttered a French curse or two at different times, and then the sounds faded away completely.
“It must be a long tunnel,” Gordon said. His gaze was on the floor, concealing his expression.
“The longer it is, the better chance we have of leaving safely.” Chantry rubbed at his side. “I’ve cracked a rib or two. I didn’t think it was worth binding them when I was going to be shot, but I’d better do something or I won’t be able to crawl.”
Gordon stripped off the shabby greatcoat he was wearing. “I’ll cut this up for the binding.” He used another piece of broken pottery to saw the heavy fabric into strips.
They all worked together to bind Chantry’s ribs, the activity a welcome distraction. Will had just tied off the last bandage when they heard sounds in the tunnel.
A few moments later, Duval’s head emerged. “We are saved!” he said jubilantly. “The tunnel ends in an old stone shed that is one of a cluster of outbuildings. When I looked out, I saw no soldiers near. It is raining, so wise men stay inside.”
As Will helped the muddy Frenchman get his feet safely on the ground, Hawkins said tersely, “Then it’s time we made our escape. Chantry, will you be able to make it up there with your cracked ribs?”
“What’s a little pain compared to fast-approaching dawn?” Chantry replied with a twisted smile. “I’ll make it.”
“The rest of you go first,” Will said. “If the tunnel is too narrow for me, I don’t want to block anyone else from getting away.”
Duval frowned as he studied the width of Will’s shoulders. “It will be difficult but not, I think, impossible. Perhaps you should remove your coat and shirt. A small difference might be enough. I will carry your garments up the tunnel for you.”
“Good idea.” By the time Will had removed his coat and shirt, Gordon, Chantry, and Hawkins were crawling toward escape. Chantry gasped with pain as Hawkins helped him up into the tunnel, but he didn’t complain, just started inching doggedly upward.
Duval wrapped Will’s garments in a tight, flat bundle, then used his cravat to tie them to his lower back. “The tunnel is tight and somewhat damaged in places, but I do think you will be able to get through. I will not be far ahead. If you get into trouble, call. We will find a way to bring you to freedom.”
Will had his doubts that would be possible, but he appreciated the sentiment. “If I become impossibly stuck, for God’s sake, get away! There’s no point in all of us dying.”
“I am not so easily dismissed, Masterson,” Duval retorted. “I shall see you on the surface.” He climbed into the tunnel and began working his way up again.
Will took a deep breath, then followed. He was not fond of confined spaces at the best of times, and the climb out through stifling blackness would haunt his dreams for years, assuming he made it out. Even without his coat and with his bare torso slick with water and mud from the damp, there were times he thought he was lethally stuck. He learned how tightly his shoulders and chest could be compressed, and it was barely enough.
The tightest place was the very end, where the tunnel opened into the shed. After two attempts, Will grimly accepted his fate. “I can’t make it,” he said flatly. “Leave without me.”
“You damn well will make it!” Gordon retorted. “Back up a couple of yards and cover your head while we widen this hole.”
Will summoned enough strength to back down a few feet and wrap his arms over his head before debris began falling on him. It took only minutes before Gordon said, “All clear!” Then he extended a hand into the tunnel.
Grateful for the help, Will managed to crawl the short distance out onto a cold, muddy floor. He lurched to his feet, then pulled on the shirt and coat Duval had carried for him, grateful for any slight warmth.
“Quickly now,” Chantry said. “The night is almost over and we must get away. We’re in luck. The building to our right is a stable and Hawkins has liberated five horses. I know roughly where we are and can lead us to open country. As soon as we step outside, we must be swift and silent. Ready, Masterson?”
After Will nodded, Chantry opened the door of the shed. The heavy rain made the darkness almost impenetrable, but Will could make out the shapes of the horses just outside. Hawkins had managed to bridle and saddle the animals, after stealing them.
The men swiftly mounted, Hawkins helping the injured Chantry into his saddle. They saved the largest horse for Will. Chantry led and set the pace, a slow walk so as not to attract attention. Will was sure the other men shared his desire to gallop away at full speed, but he knew Chantry was right to be cautious.
Occasional lights started showing in windows as people rose to begin morning chores. But the houses thinned until finally they were out of the city. Chantry increased their pace to a trot, then a canter. Cold, wet, and uncomfortable as the ride was, Will much preferred it to the escape from the cellar. If he was shot now, at least he’d die free.
By the time they’d put several miles between themselves and Gaia, the sun had risen and the rain had ended, though it was still heavily overcast. Chantry led them into a protected thicket and came to a halt. With effort, he dismounted, one hand rubbing his ribs. “Time for us to go our separate ways, gentlemen.”
The other riders also dismounted, gathering in a circle as they held their horses. Looking up at the sky, Gordon murmured, “I never thought a wet, cold day could be so beautiful. Knowing I should be dead adds savor to the morning.”
“We all contributed to our successful escape,” Duval said pensively. “Facing death creates an interesting bond of brotherhood, does it not?”
Indeed it did. As Will looked at the faces of his companions, he realized how unselfishly they’d worked together. He knew almost nothing of any of them, yet he truly did feel a sense of connection from shared danger. “Though we may be self-proclaimed rogues, you’re all men I’d like at my side in any future tight places.”
“Rogues may be more useful in tight places than honorable men,” Hawkins said, amused. His voice turned serious. “Facing death was simple, but now we face hard reality again. How many of us will attempt the redemption we discussed? I intend to.”
Gordon gave a twisted smile. “I’ll make a start at it.”
Chantry looked gray-faced from pain, but his voice was firm. “I said I would take up my long-neglected responsibilities, and I like to think I’m a man of my word.”
Duval sighed. “What is done can’t be undone. Perhaps there can be reconciliation, if not redemption. I should make the attempt.”
After they had shared a dark night and imminent death, it was strange to think Will would not see any of these men again. Strange and wrong. “If this war ever ends,” he said tentatively, “perhaps those of us who survive may meet again in London and exchange lies about our heroic deeds and redemptions.”
“The Brotherhood of Rogues Redeemed!” Duval said grandly. “I like the idea, but we shall need a point of contact in London for sending messages so we might find each other.”
Will thought a moment. “Hatchard’s bookstore in Piccadilly. I know the owner.” In fact, Will was a major customer. “I’ll ask him to keep any letters he receives that are addressed to the Rogues Redeemed, and that they can be read by any of us that call at the store. I’ll give him the names we’re all using tonight.”
Chantry grinned. “Because we might be lying about our identities? I like your suspicious mind.” Wincing from pain, he stretched a hand into the center of the close circle of riders. “May we meet again in more auspicious times!”
Will clasped Chantry’s hand. The others did the same in a five-way handshake that made their agreement somehow more real. When they released their grips, Will swung back into his saddle, thinking he was grateful to have met these men in these circumstances.
He hoped they all survived to meet again someday.

About the Author:

Mary Jo Putney - 2013 photo1-credit Marti Corn

Mary Jo Putney is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has written over 60 novels and novellas. A ten-time finalist for the Romance Writers of America RITA, she has won the honor twice and is on the RWA Honor Roll for bestselling authors. In 2013 she was awarded the RWA Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. Though most of her books have been historical romance, she has also published contemporary romances, historical fantasy, and young adult paranormal historicals. She lives in Maryland with her nearest and dearest, both two and four footed.

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Posted on June 28, 2016, in Book Reviews. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Thank you for sharing your review.