My rating: 3 of 5 stars
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.
This is a tricky book to review. I love McNaught's writing. It's elegant and joyful but also clean and quick where need be. Her romance novels feel like so much more than most books from this genre. They have true substance; they have true stories. The plot is still propelled by romance, but there are intricacies that make McNaught's writing incredibly rich.
Once and Always is no different in this aspect. But as with a few other McNaught novels, I had trouble with some physical violations that were deemed permissible in this book. Rape will never be pretty. But I have seen it dealt with deftly, and carefully, in other novels. In ways that say, "Yes, this character is flawed. You don't have to like him. But rape is a reality, and this book recognizes that it is wrong." This was not done in Once and Always. There even seemed to be some victim-blaming. It just wasn't done well.
And it's a shame. Because, in many other ways, Once and Always is a beautiful novel.
I also felt like there were some undertones of racism in this novel. Though that may be a murkier subject since the racism was directed towards Indians in a Victorian period setting. So racism was a definite reality. And this book didn't seem to be condoning racism. But it didn't really seem to condemn it either.
We also need to remember that this was written in 1990- over 20 years ago. I wasn't born then, so I can't really say much regarding cultural context. Perhaps anti-racism and anti-misogynistic sentiment wasn't as strong then.
We just need to remember that we've moved beyond that. And we don't want to go back. So as well-written as this book is, be aware of the flaws it contains.
If you've read McNaught before, what are your thoughts?
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