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Book Review: Once a Laird

Returning home from years abroad working as a mixture of a spy/antiquarian, Kai Ramsey Is not quite ready to assume his position as Laird of Thorsay islands. But time waits for no man. So ready or not, when his grandfather dies, Ramsey must assume the position anyway. To make matters more complicated, the old Laird’s assistant happens to be the sister of the woman that Ramsey had loved and lost years ago. When he left Thorsay, Signy had been no more than a young girl. Now she’s a woman. A woman who has the ability to cause Ramsay’s heart to race. But it seems like she doesn’t feel the same way.

Signy doesn’t know what she feels towards Ramsey. There’s anger there, to be sure. Anger over him not being there when her sister needed him most. Anger over his ability to travel and see the world while she’s stuck. Anger over him not being there to help run the islands. So much anger. But there’s something else too. Something she can’t quite give voice to, but that draws her closer and closer to him.

Is the past going to stand in the way of Signy and Ramsey’s future? Or is there something even more malevolent on the horizon?

I have an interesting relationship with Mary Jo Putney’s works. She’s one of those authors whose stories I’m either going to absolutely love and adore, or they are ones that I’m going to get really really frustrated with. And I never know which is going to be which. The author has a writing style that I love, and she creates very interesting characters who for the most part I really enjoy. She’s also not afraid to tackle difficult subjects. But every so often she’ll create a scenario, or a character, or a plot point that just lands badly for me. And unfortunately that’s what happens in this book.

So this looks to be the conclusion of the Rogues Redeemed series, which is a spinoff series of her Lost Lords series. Thankfully, you don’t need to read the previous 12 or so books to understand this one, although it would help. That said, this book is the most standalone and features the least amount of characters from the previous books. Point of fact, the first mention of any importance of any of the previous characters in the books doesn’t come about until about the 75% mark. So if you’re looking to see your old favorites and interactions with previous characters, you’re going to have to wait a bit.

I’ll be honest; I haven’t read all of the Rogues Redeemed series, so I was confused coming into this book as just to who Ramsey was. It’s not revealed until about 85% of the way through the book what his name was when he was part of the prisoners in that basement during the peninsular wars. I don’t know if it’s meant to be a surprise, or if it was just a slip, but I don’t feel comfortable revealing who he was because the reveal happened so late. Sorry.

However as with all of Mary Jo Putney‘s works, there are often very difficult subjects and subject matters that are tackled in the text. And this book is no exception. I need to provide trigger warnings for the following: miscarriage, death in childbirth, parental death, guardian/parent death on the page, animal injury, period appropriate sexism, implied parental abuse, Implied parental sexual assault, period appropriate colonialism, and others I might be missing. Please use care when reading this book and make sure you’re in a good place before doing so.

On to my thoughts!

I’m conflicted and frustrated with this book. There are parts of it that I really liked, like I liked parts of Ramsey learning how to be a good Laird. But at the same point I felt that the stakes were very very low and the big conflict and the sword of Damocles hanging over Ramsey‘s head regarding his lairdship is solved in a manner that I found really unsatisfactory. It came out of nowhere narratively. And while it could have made sense, it wasn’t built up to appropriately, at least in my opinion.

I also liked that Signy had her own goals and drive. She wants to leave the island and study under a particular artist to learn to be a better painter. That’s a great goal! My problem is that her character arc of wanting to leave the islands and pursue her own destiny isn’t handled well. It would be a spoiler to get into it, but I felt honestly angry and very let down by how her character arc is handled. It was frankly misogynistic and she lost all of her agency. Also this is once again a situation where the female character has to give up her hopes and dreams for love/the hero. It bothers me.

It also bothers me how plot points were solved in some ways too quickly and then others seemingly forgotten until they were forcibly shoehorned back into the narrative. Additionally, it was very clear who the villain was going to be and what the conflict between him was going to be, and so there was no surprise and no tension. That was the problem with this book. It was well researched and I liked the world Putney created but when it got to the plot, I was underwhelmed. The book just really felt in a weird way super low stakes and any time there was any hint of rising tension it got solved just way too quickly; so the book felt one note in a weird way.

The writing style is still very good. And very readable if you like Putney‘s other work, which I do. It’s pretty clear that she’s setting up a new series probably centered around these islands which are based off of the Orkney Islands in Scotland. Thankfully they are fictional which means that you aren’t getting into some of the weirdness with it. And the reality of what it was like to be an archaeologist/antiquarian in that time period is fairly accurate. While it might feel anachronistic that the amount of care that Ramsey shows to the dig sites, there were archaeologists/antiquarians who did show the same level of care: for example I can think of a specific Island up in Norway that was explored in the 1830s and has meticulous notes on it that are as good as today’s.

The romance between Ramsey and Signy also frustrated me. I didn’t like how pushy Ramsey was towards Signy and while he said he was going to respect her wishes his actions said otherwise. I also felt that Signy got over her antagonism toward Ramsey way too fast. I liked the characters I didn’t necessarily like them together. It was frustrating.

In all, this is a book that I would recommend if you are a fan of Mary Jo Putney and you are a completionist. It’s also one that is definitely going to appeal to lovers of old school romance. That said, the book didn’t land for me the way I wanted it to.

Two and a half stars rounded up to three.

I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley

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