Once Dishonored the story of a wronged divorcée, and a man trying to redeem his honor after disgrace. It’s an intense, dramatic love story with improbable twists and turns, adventure, and visits from old friends. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read, though readers may have trouble suspending their disbelief at the plot twists.
Following spousal cruelty and the traumatic birth of her son, Kendra Douglas has resigned herself to living separately from her husband, Lord Denshire, and is happy to raise her son in the country. However, her husband isn’t happy with that arrangement, especially given that Kendra has legal control over her own fortune.
When Denshire comes to the realization that Kendra will never relinquish her funds to him, he puts together a scandalous divorce. He accuses her of a night of debauchery with four of his friends – a night that (of course) never happened. Unable to speak for herself in court, and condemned by the testimony of Denshire’s allies, Kendra becomes a pariah amongst the ton; her husband is granted a divorce, and takes custody of their son. While she has financial resources, Kendra is all alone in the world, with no sure path forward to regain her child and her reputation.
Lucas Mandeville is a titled gentleman recently returned to society after years of self-imposed exile. Haunted by what he perceives to be a dishonourable action in his past, he feels himself out of place in – even ostracised by – the world he left years before, and when he encounters Kendra, he feels the need to help her, saving her from social humiliation and offering his assistance in restoring her reputation.
At first, neither sees the space for romance. Lucas is still finding his feet in England, while Kendra is forbidden to ever remarry after her divorce, and is focused on the retrieval of her son. The two of them work together to uncover the truth about Kendra’s divorce trial, her husband’s schemes, and where her son is being kept. Throughout their travels, they grow closer, despite an uncertain future, and discover many secrets that will change Kendra’s life forever. With the help of some characters from Putney’s previous works, our heroes seek the truth and to put things right.
Kendra is an independent, interesting lead, with a plucky attitude despite the dire straits in which she finds herself. She’s not too proud to ask for help, or to accept people’s kindness when they offer it. While her situation feels improbable, she handles it with aplomb and it doesn’t take the reader out of the story too much. Lucas is a winning leading man, with admirable courage and empathy for a fellow outcast. His wish to help another comes across as both selfless and honorable, while his love is unselfish and derived from mutual respect. They are a great couple and fun to read about. Both characters have excellent internal conflicts, and are motivated by regaining what has been taken from them, and restoring their honor.
There are, however, a lot of improbable moments in this story. The circumstances around Kendra’s divorce are unlikely to say the least, and the ending is a little too neat and easy. Her problems all get resolved without too much trouble, despite how byzantine they appear at the beginning of the book. It’s fun to visit old friends from previous books in the series and in the Lost Lords series, but it’s a little gratuitous. There are too many characters making cameos, and it just gets distracting and feels unnecessary. These issues do detract a little bit from the book – but speaking as a Putney fan, it still works. All of the things readers love about her books are present here, and while the premise is a tad busy, it’s still one of the best historical romances out this year. One of the hallmarks of Putney’s books is the somewhat idealized happily ever after – not an ordinary HEA, but one where absolutely everything turns out perfectly for our heroes. While elements are exaggerated and the callbacks to previous works are a little gratuitous, I would still recommend this book to any reader who loves historical romance. If you can suspend your disbelief slightly, Once Dishonored will provide you with a wonderful read.