Once a Scoundrel by Mary Jo Putney

Once a Scoundrel Cover

Swashbuckling 1815 Regency romance filled with exciting adventures on the high seas

Once a Scoundrel (Rogues Redeemed #3) by Mary Jo Putney

Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: September 25, 2018
Pages: 368 pages
Publisher: Zebra
Source: Purchased
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

Thirty-year-old Gabriel Hawkins Vance, known to the world as Gabriel Hawkins, is the disgraced grandson of a British admiral. He was cashiered out of the British Navy at age 18 after six years of service during which he worked up the ranks from a cabin boy to an officer. His stiff-rumped grandfather disowned him, refusing to allow Gabriel to justify an act that the Navy labeled dereliction of duty (it would be a spoiler to reveal what Gabriel did that got him into trouble). As a result, Gabriel has spent the past 12 years attempting to redeem himself by captaining his own merchant ship and using it to run blockades during the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812 in America, both of which have recently, in 1815, come to an end. His most recent mission took him to America to rescue a stranded English widow (a previous book in a series of books that this novel is part of which is called, “Rogues Redeemed”). At loose ends with the declaration of peace in Europe and America, Gabriel is pondering what he will take on as his next challenge when he is approached for an errand of mercy, rescuing the daughter of a British Earl from captivity in Algiers, where she is being held by Barbary pirates.

It seems to be a nearly impossible mission, because the ransom demand is an extortionate 50,000 pounds. The woman’s family have scrounged together less than half that amount, and worse, Gabriel has a dangerous past history with Barbary pirates and has no desire to go anywhere near their strongholds. Thus, Gabriel is on the verge of refusing to help, until he is presented with a miniature portrait of the captive and feels such an immediate, powerful attraction to the golden-haired, young beauty, that he cannot bear the thought of leaving her to a terrible fate. If no one rescues her, she will be sold as a slave and live out her life imprisoned in a harem.

Twenty-two-year-old Lady Aurora Octavia Lawrence, is called “Rory” by her friends and family, and is notorious among the British ton as “Roaring Rory Lawrence” due to her unconventional, hoydenish ways. She has spent the past four years traveling the world with Constance Hollings, a widowed female relative, as her sole companion, utilizing an inheritance from a great uncle to fund her adventures. In addition to traveling, Rory and Constance have written multiple romantic novels together, featuring intrepidly self-sufficient female protagonists. Unfortunately, as they were heading back home to England, they and the entire crew of the sailing ship they were on were captured by pirates. Months have passed since their captor sent a ransom request to England, and Rory and Constance have almost given up hope of rescue when Gabriel Hawkins arrives.

To Gabriel’s dismay, he has a dubious history with Rory’s captor, Malek Reis, known as “master of the Middle Seas.” And it is initially dangerously unclear whether the pirate will kill Gabriel for a past transgression against Malek or make a deal with Gabriel for Rory’s release.

This is a fast-paced and engaging read. For readers who love stories involving brave sea captains fighting off pirates, this book will be a real treat. The pirates are Barbary corsairs from the Ottoman Empire, operating out of North Africa and based primarily in the ports of Tunis, Tripoli, and Algiers, an area referred to in Europe at the time as the Barbary Coast. The setting is colorful and authentic and extremely well drawn.

Overall, the plot poses a series of story questions that keep the reader racing forward through the pages to discover the answers. The odds seems impossibly stacked against a positive outcome in this story–a vital element of any well-done action-adventure plot–and the ultimate resolution of the action-adventure plot is extremely satisfying and well written.

As for the romance portions of the book, Rory and Gabriel are sympathetic, admirable and very strong protagonists. They are well matched as to integrity, compassion, intelligence and backbone. I loved this classic, romantic conflict dramatically stated by Gabriel to Rory soon after they meet:

“Whatever is between us may be fleeting and sparked by circumstance, but it is real. And it is impossible for us to act on it.”

There is a lovely, secondary romance between Constance and Jason Landers, Gabriel’s 26-year-old, American first mate. These two are also extremely sympathetic and admirable characters.

For romance fans who prefer non-raunchy, slow-burn sexual relationships, this book fills the bill. The sex scenes for both of the romantic relationships are tenderly sensual.

I particularly enjoyed a delightful subplot involving a gaggle of exotic, miniature animals, and Gabriel’s affectionate and hard-working, rat-killing ship’s cat, Spook, is also a terrific addition to the story.

All in all, this is an extremely enjoyable historical romance.

I rate this book as follows:

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine: 5

Hero: 5

Subcharacters: 5

Setting: 5

Romance Plot (Main Romance): 5

Romance Plot (Secondary Romance): 5

Action-Adventure Plot: 5

Writing: 5

Overall: 5