by Judith McNaught
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Suddenly orphaned and alone, Victoria Seaton sails the vast ocean, eager to reclaim her heritage at Wakefield, the sumptuous English estate of a distant cousin, the notorious Lord Jason Fielding. Bewildered by his arrogance yet drawn to his panther-like grace, she senses the painful memories that smolder in his eyes. When he gathers her at last into his arms, arousing a sweet, insistent hunger, they wed and are embraced by fierce, consuming joy -- free from the past's cruel grasp. Then, in a moment of anguish, Victoria discovers the treachery at the heart of their love . . . a love she had dreamed would triumph not just once, but always.
Sorry, but this blurb is a bunch of lies. Plain and simple.
TRIGGER WARNING : RAPE, swearing & violence in general
► One thing I’m certain of is that this book isn’t a romance. No. It’s a sickening portray of a relationship where abuse in all its forms is romanticized, including rape.
What kind of abuse? Please chose! Be my guest! Rape? Physical violence? Psychological harassment? Just fucking chose because it contains all those and more.
➸ As I write, Once and Always has an average rating of 4.22 on GR, with 7,149 people who think that it’s a romance worthy of 5 stars. You can’t imagine how much this fact scares me and I’ll try to explain why in this review.
This is going to be quick : I will spare you the plot which turns rounds and rounds in circles endlessly, the characters not willing to quit making idiotic decisions because really, it’s not even the matter at hand. Just know that this story is filled with more dumb twists and misunderstanding nonsense than a vaudeville show. To sum up, a young American woman, Victoria, arrives in England shortly after her parents’ death to be taken care of by Charles Fielding, a lifelong acquaintance of her mother. But the old Duke has an hidden purpose : to marry her with his illegitimate son, Jason. What interests us here is the relationship between the two ‘lovebirds’ (throughout this review, you can safely take my quotations marks as sarcasm).
From their first meeting, Jason keeps threatening Victoria each time he thinks that she is going to go against his wishes, invariably congratulating her by a “Good Girl” if she ends agreeing with him. No matter how perfect she is portrayed to be, how interested he is supposed to be in her ‘refreshing’ behavior, it remains that his behavior shows something else entirely.
● She’s sick? Oh, poor thing, he’s going to give her some med. Nice, you say?
“Drink it,” he said calmly, “or I’ll pour it down your throat”
● The guy has really a way around words. Not conviced?
“I’d like to wring your neck,” Jason said, half-seriously, but he grasped her arm as she asked.”
I suppose that I should be happy to know that he doesn’t fully means that now should I?
➸ I could go on and on and on about his propensity to be a bully, but perhaps the most sickening fact in all that is that we only began to scrape the surface of the issue. Just take a look at his reaction the day after their wedding :
“Jason stood in the gaping hole of the doorway, his face white with rage, his voice hissing between his teeth. “Don’t you ever bare a door to me again as long as you live,” he snarled. “And don’t ever threaten me with divorce again! This house is my property, under the law, just as you are my property. Do you understand me?”
Victoria nodded jerkily, mentally recoiling from the blinding violence flashing in his eyes. He turned his heel and stalked out of the room, leaving her shaking with fear“
Not to mention that he just crashed the door to come in. More generally, we are witnesses to so many scenes where he commits acts of violence against her that it doesn’t comes as a surprise that she is scared to death by him. The fact that this behavior can be identified as expressions of passion sickens and infuriates me. No man (or woman, for that matter) has the right to resort to harassment in order to obtain someone’s affection. The concept itself is so CRAZY and OFFENSIVE that it makes me want to hurl.
From his earlier behavior, you might expect that he doesn’t improve when it comes to the sexual development of their relationship. Sadly, you wouldn’t be wrong. Basically, he physically forces her to give him their first two kisses.
“This is what would happen!” he snapped suddenly, and his mouth crushed hers in a fierce, brutal kiss that was meant to punish and humiliate her. (…) Her struggle only seemed to make him angrier, and the kiss more painful. (…) Victoria saw something primitive and terrifying flare in his eyes as his hands tightened on her arms. She jerked back, a scream rising in her throat, but his lips covered hers, stifling her voice with a demanding insistence that stunned her into immobility.”
But surely after this kiss she has to KNOW that the guy is a violent asshole, right? RIGHT? Of course not, what do you think? She excuses him, fucking daydreams about it (because that was so passionate you know) and even more, feels GUILTY for it, first because she thinks that it’s a normal behavior to have (the girl is so naive that’s not even funny) and then because she is afraid that HE will think less of her because she LET him kissing her. I mean for fuck sake! It’s obvious from the start that she never AGREED to this kiss, and the way the woman is shamed for HIS action shows an undercurrent of blind ill nonsense that maddened me. So she says nothing, because “perhaps she would only look a fool if she made an issues of it”. So, what does he do? Why, he does it again of course!
“A harsh laugh escaped him. “I like you too damned much!” he whispered bitterly, then pulled her head down and captured her lips in a demanding, scalding kiss that took everything and gave nothing in return. Victoria struggled in appalled, frightened earnest, bracing her hands on either side of him and shoving hard, trying to free her mouth from his. Jason swiftly plunged his fingers into the thick hair at her nape and twisted hard. “Don’t struggle!” he said through clenched teeth, “you’re hurting me.”
“You’re hurting me, Victoria chocked, her lips less than an inch from his.
Now tell me at what fucking moment I am supposed to swoon. Just fucking TELL ME. Am I supposed to be aroused after this? Am I supposed to root for them? Tell me for fuck sake! I’m lost! Because the only emotions that got through me were disgust and rage. But don’t fucking worry, because after THAT kiss, she says, 2 pages later, “Perhaps he would despise her for letting him kiss her”. I’m sorry WHAT? What in the world is that supposed to mean? He FORCED you!
Sadly, things don’t stop here. You know how much I despise when rape is used as a plot device or background to make a girl in need of ‘fixing’. I hate that. But it’s nothing, I say NOTHING, in comparison. Jason actually RAPES her on their wedding day. She is terrified because she’s a virgin, she says NO, and he fucking rapes her. I don’t care if they made a ‘bargain’ to give him a son, she had no idea what that meant, and even if she had, it’s a rape nonetheless.
[they are fighting before] “Visions of blood and terrible pain roared through Victoria, adding their horror to the nausea the wine was causing. “I don’t want to!” she cried piteously.
“We made a bargain, and as long as we’re married, you’ll keep it,” he whispered as he pried her stiff thighs apart. Victoria whimpered as his rigid manhood probed boldly at her, but somewhere in the depths of her stricken mind, she knew he was right about the bargain and she stopped fighting him(*). “Relax,” he warned bitterly in the darkness above her, “I may not be as considerate as your dear Andrew, but I don’t want to hurt you.”
His vicious mention of Andrew at a time like this cut her to the heart, and her anguish erupted in a scream of pain as Jason rammed into her. Her body writhed beneath his, and tears poured from her eyes in hot, humiliated streaks as her husband used her without kindness or caring.“
(*) Is that meant to make it okay? I don’t care if she stops fighting, she is obviously forced into this, so yes, that’s a rape. The fact that he doesn’t know that she’s a virgin (don’t get me started about their ridiculous misunderstandings) doesn’t make it okay either. Just remember that the day after, when she comes to ask for a divorce, he threatens her.
What you need to know is that despite her naive personality and her propensity to excuse Jason for his behavior, Victoria sometimes realizes that it’s not normal and that she deserves better. Each time it happens, there is someone to tell her that she’s wrong and that she must give him time to open to her. Excuse me but that’s fucking BULLSHIT. I swear, each time I heard the old Charles Fielding or the Captain reassuring her and telling her that she had to be patient, I wanted to throw up. I think that it’s no need to prove further that Jason is a psycho. So, no, I certainly don’t want to read things like this :
“You’re wrong,” Captain Farrell said with gentle finality [that’s after the rape]. “Jason has needed a woman like you since the day he was born. He needs you to heal wounds that are deep, to teach how to let himself love and be loved in return. If you knew more about him, you’d understand why I said it”
Excuse me what? She awes him NOTHING. It follows then a description of all the hardships Jason had to face in his past but you know what? I DON’T FUCKING CARE, because it excuses nothing. It doesn’t make it okay. NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE. I won’t endorse that wicked belief that condones violence under the pretext of a hard life.
More generally, in this book the women are either portrayed as sluts who throw themselves at Jason, greedy bitches who only want to take advantage of his wealth or as well, Victoria, pure and perfect virgin who knows everything from shooting to playing piano. Just give me a break.
As I said at the beginning of this review, this is not a romance, and the only satisfying way it could have ended would have been everything but a HEA. Sadly, as you might expect, they have their HEA. I apologize for the length of this review but it felt important to me to explain exactly why I’m giving it 1 star and why I’m appalled that this book is considered as a great romance by many readers. Never, ever let someone tell you – or even imply – that violence is forgivable. It isn’t.