It's Always Been You
by Victoria Dahl, historical (2011)
Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-0484-4


Ten years ago, Aidan York and Kate Hamilton were deliriously ecstatic in the throes of infatuation. You know how it is: they thought they were each other's best friend, pimples were dimples, and everything was just swimming... until they actually argued over her father's refusal to let them marry and they both walked away in a huff. She was sent to marry some bloke in Ceylon, he drowned his sorrows in a bevy of willing women, and they both blamed the other person for making them so miserable. Today, they meet again by chance. She runs a store, he's a playboy bore, and this time, it's forever more. Okay, that's really awful, but I never claim to be a poet.

I like what Victoria Dahl is trying to do with It's Always Been You. The reasons for the separation first time around were pretty childish, but then again, they were young and foolish back then. In fact, both characters are still not that wise when they meet again ten years down the road, and this story explores the ups and downs of two flawed individuals as they try to pick up the pieces of their broken relationship and start all over again. Ms Dahl is not interested in pointing fingers or making the guilty party grovel here, as there is no clear case of one person bearing all the blame here. Both Aidan and Kate are crippled by pride still, believing themselves to be the wronged party, and it takes awhile before they realize that they have to put the past behind them to move on. And even then, it takes a while for them, especially Kate, to understand what putting the past behind really means. They both have plenty of issues about the other person, so it's not so easy to just pick up from where they left off.

The thing is, the author also introduces some minor subplot involving Kate being a possible fugitive from the law, and that is when things become tad silly. Kate is so passive when it comes to this subplot that she comes off as someone who loves playing the victim way too much. Also, she refuses to come clean with Aidan about her life in Ceylon. This may make sense in a way, since she has problems trusting Aidan again, but in the end, it doesn't make sense because she is willing to have Aidan back in her life and even in her bed. Her reluctance to tell him the full story comes off as a plot device to keep the conflict going long after it has outstayed its welcome. In the process, poor Kate looks like a silly fool.

It's Always Been You, therefore, is a mixed bag. With the author's conscious and careful effort to create a complex love story here, this one could have been really good because Ms Dahl is doing a good job there. However, the author also has Kate behaving silly for the sake of conflict, therefore compromising Kate's character in the process. It's like a handsome man with a big red pimple on his forehead - I know he's so easy in the eyes, but yikes, I can't look away from that pimple. That's how I feel about this book - I do like the finer aspects of this well-crafted tale, but at the same time, it's very hard to overlook the flaws that hold back this book from becoming even better.

Rating: 82


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