Once He Loves
by Sara Bennett, historical (2003)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-051970-3


This book suffers from too much drama. People here don't just grieve, they emit a banshee wail and collapse onto the ground. The heroine isn't just stupid, she's dramatically dumb. The hero doesn't just hold himself culpable of sins, he makes also a melodrama out of his blues. Unfortunately, Once He Loves takes itself too seriously to be considered campy, so no campy funny story today, it's just Ms Bennett mistaking overwrought drama as compelling storytelling.

Briar wants revenge. Since this is a dramatic story, let me put an exclamation mark just to get into the mood. Briar wants revenge! There, isn't that better? She blames Radulf for murdering her father and tossing her and her sisters into a life of poverty. So today, her plan is to sleep with Radulf and tell Radulf's wife. Heh heh heh. Of course, how she, a brainless nitwit, is going to seduce a man who is devoted to his wife is something she never considers. She's too busy panicking - ohmigosh, ohmigosh, I'm gonna have sex! - to even think of asking the man his name. So she sleeps with the wrong guy.

Don't laugh. This is supposed to be a touching, dramatic story. Really.

I don't know about anybody else, but if I'm going to sleep with a bad guy for revenge and I slept with the wrong guy and had multiple first-time orgasms out of it, I'd say, "Oh, nice, but sorry, hon, you're the wrong guy. Now that we are done, can you direct me to the real Radulf?" I mean, really, big freaking deal. I'd even toss in a free encore since the wrong guy is so good in bed.

But not Briar. This is a calamity! She slept with the wrong guy. She. Slept. With. The. Wrong. Guy! She is doomed! She weeps. How can life do this to her? How can it be so cruel to her? (Of course, we're not supposed to wonder whether poor Lily, wife of Radulf, is going to be heartbroken or if Lily even deserves the nonsense Briar is thinking to inflict on her.) Never mind. Ivo de Vessey, the man she slept with, recognizes her and decides to take care of her. This guy is another idiot. He is that "silent, all-knowing, never telling" type who hogs all secrets unnecessarily because he made himself the new martyr of the universe. He won't even tell her if she's in danger. And since Briar is an idiot who won't know danger if it runs over her in a clown car, that makes him the root of my suffering. Die, Ivo, die!

The villain is unbelievably nasty, the characters talk in overwrought speeches bordering on purple, and of course, Briar wins the award as the brainless fruitcake of the year. She believed in a wrong mission, slept with the wrong guy, got knocked up without even knowing it, and generally did all the wrong things. And of course, she just has to be a romance heroine. Lovely.

Rating: 63


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