Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Across the vast ocean sailed Victoria Seaton, a free-spirited American beauty left suddenly orphaned and alone. Eager to claim her long-lost heritage, she was amazed at the formal elegance of Wakefield, the sumptuous English estate of her distant cousin...the notorious Lord Jason Fielding. Sought after at plays, operas, and balls by London's most fashionable ladies, Jason remained a mystery to Victoria. Bewildered by his arrogant demeanor, yet drawn to his panther-like grace, she came to sense the searingly painful memories that smoldered in the depths of his jade-green eyes.
Unable to resist her spitfire charm, Jason gathered her at last into his powerful arms, ravishing her lips with his kisses, arousing in her a sweet, insistent hunger. Wed in desire, they were enfolded in a fierce, consuming joy, free at last from the past's cruel grasp. Then, in a moment of blinding anguish, Victoria discovered the shocking treachery that lay at the heart of their love...a love she had dreamed would triumph...Once And Always.
I love Judith McNaught's books, she's a favorite of mine, although this is only the third one I've read by her. Her heroines always get my sympathy, there is loads of angst, and the heroes are usually these big, bad, tall, dark and handsome hunks that are Alphas - my favorite combo most of the time. Yet, Once and Always went a little too far with the big bad hero theme and I had my likes and dislikes with this novel. Jason, the hero, was too much on the cruel side for my liking and Victoria, who was charming with an independent streak while in America, came across as overly trusting and naive in England - almost TSTL, which grated on me over time - she really had to smarten up for me to really admire her. Still, I grew to love these characters over the course of the book, but can I call this one a favorite? No, but it was still entertaining despite some flaws.
Regarding Jason, he took some getting used to. He was cruel, dark and cold, but I enjoyed seeing how he gradually thawed towards Victoria. Jaded from a previous marriage to an unfaithful wife who is then responsible for the tragic death of his son, he - understandably - has a lot of emotional distrust towards women and cannot bear to love again. Plus, he has a tendency to jump to the wrong conclusion - a typical McNaught heroic trait. Big, bad hero jumping to the wrong conclusion and not giving the heroine a chance to explain herself and she not realizing he's jumped to the wrong conclusion until it's too late. He hurts her, but she forgives him in the end and makes him promise never to do it again.
I'm not a big lover of tortured heroes, although Jason won me over eventually. I loved his slow smiles towards Victoria as he gradually falls for her. My heart leapt at the same time hers did. I disliked him when we are first introduced to him, he really comes across as a stinker. Yet, as we get his backstory it becomes clear why he is so mean and rude and just plain awful to be around! Again, I'm not fond of the excuse of blaming it on his awful childhood, but it explains a lot and makes the reader more sympathetic towards him - and we see how Victoria "tames" him and makes him whole again. A take on the Beauty and the Beast theme. Victoria is adorable in many ways, a perfect foil for Jason's brooding, disagreeable persona. I also enjoyed the way she tamed the wild dog she finds in the woods - a nice parallel to Jason. I liked Victoria with her titian hair and blue eyes (if I read it once, I read it a million times), but sometimes it was unbelievable she could be so dense! I rolled my eyes one too many times.
One particularly glaring incidence in which Victoria's TSTL naivete drove me nuts was leading up to their first time making love. This is ordinarily the "big moment" the reader is waiting for in a romance. Victoria is a virgin, and it was a major disappointment and not a pleasant experience for her! Again, this is not unusual for McNaught's books, she often favors this kind of scenario. The hero thinks she's not a virgin and lo and behold she is! Yet, he misunderstands her because she's so naive about sex that she makes him believe she has already lost her virginity to her fiance in America. Yet, it's too late by the time he rams into her! Ouch! I don't know why McNaught does this to her heroines, for it's far from romantic, but it creates loads of angst.
Through most of the book, Victoria is under the impression that her fiance, Andrew from America, is going to come and retrieve her from England and take her back home to America and marry her. He has been off abroad in Europe and was away when her life changed so drastically. Of course, we know Andrew is never coming because his mother (who doesn't want him marrying her) never sent on her letters letting him know her parents have died and she's been packed off to England. Victoria holds out for Andrew for a long time until she inevitably falls for Jason. She knew his mother was not for the marriage - couldn't she figure out for herself that giving the mother her letters was a BIG mistake? Then, she receives a letter from the mother telling her that Andrew has married someone else. Hello? When will she learn not to trust this mother? Everyone else seems to doubt her - but Victoria is just too good and trusting! Grr! When the fatherly Duke (a side character who wants her to marry Jason, his real son) finds out that Andrew really didin't marry, he conveniently doesn't tell Victoria the real story. Jason and Victoria both resist their attraction to one another at first, but love triumphs and they eventually marry once Victoria's heart mends from her loss of Andrew. By the time Andrew does actually show up after they're married - better late than never - I was disappointed there wasn't more of an ending with him. He just walks away into the mist, never to be seen of again. I wonder whatever happened to him? Granted, all hell breaks loose after he leaves, but I would have liked to have seen more of an aftermath in his regard.
After that episode when Andrew comes and goes, Victoria flees the house when she learns the truth that Andrew hadn't married someone else and that the truth had been kept from her. Victoria rides off and is mistakenly taken for dead by drowning in a nearby river (though no body is ever found). Yes, it was far fetched that everyone thought she was dead in the first place (again, jumping to conclusions!) but I loved it how she came back and once she and Jason were reunited, I enjoyed their playful banter as he stalks after her, following her up the stairs to their bedroom... who doesn't love being chased into bed? Delightful!
Overall, not my favorite McNaught, but it was still a great story with tons of emotion, pain and soul searching by both hero and heroine. A hard to put down book all the way up to the very last page! There were a few loose ends that I would have liked to have known more about, like what happened to her sister? And is there a story about their friends, the nice young couple that befriend the newly married Victoria? As always, I did enjoy this romance and Jason's transformation from the brutal beast of a man to a wonderful human being and winning the love of his life - once and always.