ONCE A SOLDIER – Mary Jo Putney
Rogues Redeemed, Book 1
A Perfect 10
Five men, four English and one Royalist French—soldiers or spies, depending on one's point of view—are imprisoned by the French in a cellar where they await the morning and death. As they speak of themselves and their lives and what they would do differently if freed, they form a strong bond. I don't want to give a spoiler; just know that they live to call themselves “The Brotherhood of Rogues Redeemed.”
The Iberian Peninsula, 1814
Napoleon has abdicated and been sent to Elba, and one of the former prisoners in that cellar, Major Will Masterson, feels it's time to resign the army and go home where he has responsibilities. There is much to do before things are back to normal in the area, however, and Will is given one last assignment: investigate conditions in San Gabriel, a small kingdom, allies of England, situated between Spain and Portugal. He finds himself leading some of its men home. The bulk of its army is to follow, but right now the country needs leadership. The king and his son were captured by the French early in the war, and nothing has been heard of them since.
Athena Markham's parents were both well born, but Athena was not; her mother never married. Instead, she lived a life flitting from one lover to another. Athena's father never acknowledged her and forbade her to ever name him as her father…or else. As a result, she had a miserable existence. The only happiness she knew was when she visited San Gabriel with her mother. She never forgot her kind welcome there, and when she was old enough and on her own, she went back. The king asked her to remain as governess and companion to his daughter, the Princess Maria Sofia del Rosario Alcantara. That was five years ago, and Athena and Sofia have become fast friends, Athena was able to help her much loved young charge become a leader—the nominal regent being her very elderly uncle.
When Will and the men arrive in San Gabriel, they find much devastation from the French, but Will is very impressed by the young Princess Sofia and, especially, her mentor, the tall beautiful lady with a rifle. He also realizes that the country is vulnerable from marauding bands, whether French or otherwise. He vows to help the friendly people in any way he can.
ONCE A SOLDIER is rich in both plot and characters…a real grabber. Will and Athena are well matched; both are tall, good looking, intelligent, and honorable. While attracted to each other, there are many more important things to think about. That does not keep them from meaningful conversations, though, in which they learn about one another…and themselves. Readers will find themselves absorbed in the story and by the people of the kingdom. One non-local plays an important part: Will's old friend Justin Ballard, a wine exporter now living in Portugal.
One can't help but wish San Gabriel were real so one could see the sights and drink the excellent wines with the locals. Nor can I help wishing we had a higher score than the Perfect 10. ONCE A SOLDIER is a memorable book from the incomparable Mary Jo Putney . . . with more to come about those Rogues Redeemed !