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Goat Heads and Sand Burrs, P. Kirby's Reading Blog

The good, bad, and fugly books I've read.
You Only Love Once - Caroline Linden 3.5 It's a pity GR doesn't let you use decimals, because I do think this is a touch beyond a 3, which is my code for "okay, but forgettable." There was a lot to like about You Only Love Once.

Angelique is a spy and sometimes assassin working for a shadowy arm of the British government. When Angelique was just a baby, her nursemaid smuggled her out of France just before an angry mob captured her parents, a count and countess, and hauled them off to the guillotine. Consequently, Angelique believes in what she is doing, seeing it as a means of insuring the stability of her adopted country by keeping insurrectionists and other malcontents in line. At nearly thirty, however, Angelique is starting to tire of the game. She decides that her recent assignment, finding an Englishman who absconded with a chunk of money from the American government, will be her last.

Nathaniel (Nate), an American, has come to London to apprehend Jacob Dixon, the man who stole thousands of dollars from the U.S. and in the process ruined a friend of Nate's. He is annoyed to be paired with an English agent, especially one who appears to have her own agenda and who thinks he's an amateur.

Further complicating matters is the fact that Angelique has been given the secret directive to kill Dixon, while Nate is determined to take Dixon back to the U.S., alive and kicking.

What I liked about You Only Love Once: Angelique. First, Angelique is presented as a strong and capable assassin and secret agent. This doesn't change when Nate arrives on the scene. Angelique doesn't start shedding IQ points like a white cat on a black sweater, just because she's falling in love. Better yet, Nate likes Angelique because she is dangerous and smart. And while he gets protective and a bit alpha-male-ish, he doesn't take over the show. He respects Angelique and even lets her come up with "the plan."

Better yet, the characterization doesn't fall back on "Men are from Mars, Women from Venus," sexist gender stereotypes. The narrative makes no attempt to soften Angelique, none of the usual, "yes, she's an assassin, but she also loves kittens and works in a soup kitchen feeding the poor." This character isn't Snow White and she doesn't apologize for that. (There is one spot where Angelique worries that Nate will be disgusted by the fact that she is an assassin. Honestly, it felt sort of contrived, like an agent/editor made the author add it to make the character appealing to more sensitive romance readers.) She takes charge in and out of bed.

Unfortunately, the novel felt terribly overwritten to me, which is why I can't give it more than a three. First there's the unnecessary prologue. ("Unnecessary" and "prologue" being redundant.) The prologue is nothing more than a backstory exercise, featuring characters that play no part in the story. Melanie, Angelique's maid, does show up briefly in the story, in a scene that really doesn't advance the story. As for Angelique, she's a squalling infant at the time and not a character.

Overall, there isn't that much to the plot to merit the page count. Angelique and Nate wander about London a bit, have sex, find Dixon, and concoct a plan to reconcile their differing goals (kill/capture Dixon). There is entirely too much text devoted to internal dialogue and introspection. I.e., a lot of "does he/she care for me?" sort of thing. A story needs to reveal some of the characters' thoughts and feelings, but I'd prefer that it be done by "showing" me via dialogue/action, rather than paragraphs of "telling." (The telling approach seems to be a "feature" not a "bug" of romance, but it doesn't work for me.) The constant immersion in the characters' thoughts also diminishes sexual tension.

I also found that too much of Angelique's plan, at the end, was revealed. Had it been kept from me, the reader, it could have generated more suspense.

Nevertheless, I really liked Angelique. If she is typical of Linden's other heroines, I'll have to read more of her [Linden's] work.