You might as well get out your popcorn, because this promises to be entertaining. Over the past few days I have been stressed - incredibly stressed, and rightly so. As such, I didn't want to pick up any novels that required too much though, just mere enjoyment, and as I had enjoyed historical romance so much just a few months back when I binged on Lisa Kleypas's Hathaways Series, I decided to give some more titles a try this week. Needless to say, this has not been a particularly successful endeavor and, all things considered, Once and Always really isn't the bad book I'm making it out to be. Quite unfortunately for this novel, though, it's the last straw. I need to get one thing out of the way early on: violence is not romantic. Not to me, at any rate. Men who inspire fear in their wives are also not romantic. Additionally, naive females - who are naive to the point where you want to throw them into a brothel because they clearly are not getting the picture otherwise - irritate me to no end. So do meddling old people. And plot threads that are built and built and built only to be disregarded by the end. And so are romances that take forever to develop, all because of character stupidity. If you're bothered by any of the things I mentioned, you might want to steer clear from this one. But hey, don't take my word for it. After all, adoring fans have given this so much praise that I wasted 200 minutes of my precious time on it. What. A. Waste. Once and Always starts off promising enough and Judith McNaught is an excellent author. Yet, this book contains too many aspects of violence and rape for me to overlook. Our novel begins with Jason Fielding, the illegitimate child of Duke Fielding, realizing that his wife - a woman who blatantly cheated on him - and his son - who he adored - died in a shipwreck. Next, we cut to America where Victoria witnesses her mother deny her father their bed and listens as her childhood best friend, Andrew, declares his love for her. Only, three years later, Victoria is an orphan, Andrew is on a trip unable to be reached, and Victoria is sent off to Europe to live with very distant relatives, more like friends. When Victoria arrives at the house of Duke Charles Fielding, though, she is shocked to meet his son, Jason, who is loathsome of her and those around her. If anything, he scares her, but she refuses to back down and makes a home for herself in his house, her kind spirit touching upon everyone. Okay, not too bad, right? Just wait... So Charles is a relatively old man and although Jason is his illegitimate son, he's his only heir. But Charles wants grand-children - Katherine's grand-children. Who's Katherine? Victoria's mother. Enter Flashback: Charles and Katherine are besotted with one another, Katherine's mother vows to deny the couple money if they marry, Charles doesn't believe Katherine can live as a poor man's wife because she was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he marries another woman, Katherine marries an Irish doctor and goes off to America, Charles is heartbroken. BUT, now with Victoria, who looks like Katherine, he can still somehow have grand-children of hers...if only she marries his son, Jason. As such, despite the fact that Victoria loves Andrew and believes he will come for her soon, he arranges so that the world believes Jason and Victoria are engaged. Jason, needless to say, isn't happy about this but over time, he cannot help but fall in love with Victoria. As a boy, Jason has been cruelly treated by his foster mother and after his first wife, rejects love. Victoria, of course, makes his way into his heart. Unfortunately, not very easily. Jason refuses to acknowledge his feelings for her and makes her come out to London society. And although watching her many suitors makes him increasingly upset, he refuses to ask her hand for marriage. I don't know why. Enter..MEDDLING CHARLES! AGAIN! So Charles pretends to be incredibly sick, bribes to doctor to tell Victoria that he's on his deathbed, and then extracts a PROMISE that she will marry Jason. BAM, next morning the old man is all fine and dandy and now Victoria and Jason are married. BUT THE IDIOCY ONLY BEGINS NOW! Up until this point in the novel, I couldn't say I was enjoying the story, but I wasn't hating it either. I was still reading, mostly because the synopsis promised the unearthing of DARK SECRETS and I was intrigued. Well...there are no dark secrets, so do yourself a favor and don't bother reading on. While the first half of this book is increasingly puzzling and strange, with Jason treating Victoria as a friend, an older brother, and a jealous lover all within the span of a chapter, it is bearable because you think the second-half will be better. And it is. But it's also much, much worse. While the second-half of this book inspires much feeling in me, it also makes me sick. Just like Victoria on her wedding night. And I guess that's where our story will pick up...Jason and Victoria are married in a small church, just like Victoria wished. But since Victoria is a naive virgin, a silly spinster tells her that the wedding night is full of blood and danger and Victoria is reasonably frightened of marriage now. As such, she hesitates to marry Jason, angering him, and puts off the wedding night for as long as possible. Jason, being the idiot he is, somehow gets it into his head that Victoria ISN'T a virgin because she gave herself up to Andrew. And, because he lets his jealousy get the best of him, he assumes Victoria hesitated to marry him because she wanted to marry Andrew. As such, he stalks into her bedroom, demands that she strips, enters her against her wishes, and leaves her crying. Only then does the idiot realize she's a virgin and then - brilliant idea! - leaves her jewels in consolation, as if she's no better than someone he paid his services for. If that description of their terrible wedding night made you want to gag, choke, cry, and murder Jason, the actual scene is even worse. Anyway, the show must go on! So Victoria wakes up resolved to divorce Jason - and he refuses - so after he storms away, she leaves to deliver left-over wedding food to a nearby orphanage. Only, she winds up going to the house of a Captain who Jason is very good friends with. And, keeping with the theme of violent men, he forces her to tell him why she demanded a divorce from Jason. After her whole story comes pouring out, the Captain tells her Jason's life story of a brutal past and, being the kind person she is, Victoria sets out to make amends. Only, that never works out. Jason ignores her and instead departs to his mistress - which even gets put in the papers! - and makes Victoria jealous. So Victoria bans him from his mistress and tries to seduce him, but he doesn't realize she's seducing him until FINALLY after pages and pages of ANGST and sexual tension and stupid longing they have sex. And Jason leaves her expensive jewelry. And continues to do so until Victoria leaves for the city for four days, instead of the two Jason requested. So Jason, in a fit of anger (seeing the recurring theme of ANGER and VIOLENCE here?) finds her in London, forces her to have sex with him, and the two return back to their mansion. In between all this, Victoria tells Jason that she loves him and although Jason treats her coldly all day, only interacting with her at night and never expressing his feelings for her, he MAKES her tell him those words every time they have sex. Kill me now. Anyway, this ridiculous jewelry-giving continues until Jason finally gets it into his head that Victoria genuinely loves him and - YAY - they're finally happy. BUT WAIT. You forgot about Charles, didn't you? And Andrew? THEY'RE BACK! So the night Charles faked an illness and made Victoria promise to marry Jason, he received a latter from Andrew informing him of dire circumstances that kept him from coming to Victoria. While Jason didn't know about this, Charles didn't give a damn and made them marry anyway. Giving us this horrendous book, but back to the story. We're ALMOST done. Nearly. So Jason goes off on a six-day journey and hours before he comes home, Andrew arrives and the whole torrid affair is revealed of Charles's betrayal. Victoria sends Andrew packing - because she's happy with Jason by this point - but she believes Jason had a hand in this duplicity, so she takes off to visit her grandmother - the same lady who prevented Katherine and Charles from marrying each other. Along the way, she thinks she's being pursued by bandits (when it's really a servant trying to make sure she's safe in the storm) and leaves behind her cloak to dissuade the pursuer. Well, in a classic let-us-not-deal-with-the-real-situation-I-spent-hours-creating, the servant proclaims Victoria to have drowned, Jason comes back to learn his bride is dead, and the world is restored to its violent balance. You didn't think we could end this tale without more displays of power and violence, did you?Victoria, in her grandmother's house, finds out about the misunderstanding and rushes home to reveal her very-alive-self. And, as expected from Jason at this point, he tells her he'll chain her to him and what-not...all supposedly romantic crap...and locks her up in a bedroom where he supposedly ravishes her. And, outside, Charles and Grandmother Dear are happy because they'll finally get that damn grandchild they want so badly. The. End. Honestly, I am forgetting a few important details, such as the fact that Victoria genuinely liked Jason when she married him, although she was frightened, or that she and Jason had many moments when they were dear, dear friends. Yet, the pervading themes remained that Jason was tortured as a boy and therefore had every right to be violent and moody while Victoria had to accommodate for that and struggle to make her marriage work. WHY DAMMIT? WHY? I am SICK and TIRED of this plot device! I read Lord of Scoundrels just days ago and a similar situation was built where the man led a tortured past and the woman HAD to heal him, HAD to deal with him, HAD to do everything because she was the woman. NO. NO, NO, NO, NO, NOOOOOO! THIS IS NOT ROMANCE! Why do we think it is? Why do our hearts flutter when a muscular man comes at us with violent lust in his eyes? WHY ARE THESE WOMEN NOT RUNNING AWAY SCREAMING? Maybe the women of these time periods were made of sterner stuff, but with all the swooning going on, I suspect not. Although Jason is a character I can understand because of his complex past, he was never one I could bring myself to like. Granted, he had his sweet moments and his servants all adored him, but there is so much just blatantly WRONG with this ideal of marriage or life. Now, I know you're all going to point a finger at me and tell me it's my OWN fault. I knew what I was getting into when I picked up a historical romance, did I not? No, I didn't. Why I like historical romance is because it allows characters to do a few things. Firstly, it allows a woman to display a side of her that isn't always prim and proper, but rather sexually aroused - which is a fact of life. Women have sexual needs too and historical romance never glosses over this, which I appreciate. Secondly, it nearly always provides a perfect foothold for a balanced relationship. While these women may be simpering or poor, they have just as much power over the man as he has over them. As such, these books never shy away from displaying a side of men that is hushed up and forgotten. And, most of all, historical fiction allows authors to explore marriages, not just courtships. I don't mind seeing how people fall in love, but seeing their struggle to sustain that love is all the more powerful. And that is why I read historical romance. Not for this. Not to be treated to THIS. Not for violent men, naive ladies who are fearful of their violent husbands, or old meddling fools. And, frankly, I am terrified for our generation after seeing all the positive ratings for this. Granted, Victoria's predicament made me feel so sharply for her, but I doubt I was supposed to feel all the pain and disgust I did feel. In fact, I can very truthfully say that Judith McNaught has warned me away from historical romance for good. With the exception of a few more Kleypas novels. Maybe.I am not in the habit of poring back through books I actively disliked to find quotes to illustrate my point. I am also not in the habit of using angry GIFs. So maybe that makes this review less than credible - who knows? - but if you ever choose to pick up this book, just know that someone out there wasted 200 minutes of their life so you didn't have to. And maybe also procrastinated on physics homework (but you don't have to remember that part).