Release Date: June 28, 2016
Synopsis: 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. . .
Warning: Potential Spoilers!
Once a Soldier starts off Mary Jo Putney's new Rogues Redeemed series with a bang. The hero is Will Masterson, who also played a minor role in several of Putney's Lost Lords series. Will is the sort of hero you love to read about: quiet, quick thinking, strong, loyal, and focused. The kind of bedrock man you know can be relied on when things get tough. Which is good, since things are tough through most of the book! We first meet Will and several other men who will become the Rogues Redeemed Brotherhood in a basement, captives of the French and about to get shot as English spies. The intensity of their escape sets the tone for the rest of the book. When Napoleon abdicates and the war ends Will is ready to head home until a fellow Rogue asks him to do one more small mission. It seems simple: help a small band of soldiers from the tiny country of San Gabriel get home, make sure the country hasn't fallen apart during the war, report back and then he's free to go back to England.
Entering San Gabriel the soldiers are shocked at the damage a marauding French general caused over a year ago and Will meets Athena Markham- an Englishwoman acting as companion and advisor to the temporary ruler of San Gabriel. From the moment they meet- and she points a gun at him- he's smitten. Athena is equally attracted to Will, but values her independence and has enough ghosts in her past that she sees no way their relationship can have a happy ending. Athena is Will's equal in every way, and it was great watching Will accept that fact from the beginning and Athena struggle with realizing that he's genuine- both in his acceptance of her abilities and his love.
Will suddenly finds himself with multiple missions: help San Gabriel rebuild after the war, defend it against a French general who plans to take over the country, and convince Athena that she should marry him. As the book progresses and we learn more about each of their pasts, the reader is completely convinced that these two people are fated to be together. But of his three challenges, Athena is going to be the hardest one to win!
It was also a new and enjoyable angle to see the aftermath of the Napoleonic War in such a close up fashion. What the tiny (fictional) country of San Gabriel and its people go through would have been similar to rebuilding troubles across Europe. Although there are some great books dealing with the different troubles soldier returning to England dealt with after the war, I don't think I've read any other in this genre that using the devastation and rebuilding in the Peninsula as the background for the story. It helped give the book a new, fresh angle and challenges for the characters.
I loved the characters in this book- even minor characters jumped off the pages and San Gabriel itself becomes a vividly portrayed character in Putney's characteristically lovely writing style. The pace stays fast throughout the book and keeps you on the edge of your seat from first to last. I was only sorry when the book ended! However, I am sure we will see Will and Athena cameo in future books in the series, just like a few Lost Lords cameoed here.
Putney manages the difficult task of raising the bar set by her Lost Lords series, and now the only question will be how she will continue to improve as this series progresses. I look forward to the next book to find out! Readers familiar with Putney's work or those discovering her for the first time will love Once a Soldier.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.