I’ve been following Victoria Lynn on Instagram for ages, but Once I Knew was the first of her books to really catch my attention. Because I appreciate her and her passion for truth so much, I was really excited to see a book of hers coming out that’s in a genre I enjoy and I was thrilled to be able to pre-order it! It took me two months to finish it, but now I can finally present my review. But first…
What is Once I Knew about?
Violet lives her quiet little life in her sleepy village. Trying to remain as dead to the politics that are threatening their world as possible. She follows the rules, stays out of trouble and does her best to remain out of sight of the dreaded and overbearing Kingsmen.
With the new regent on the throne, the country has been thrown into a turmoil. Unlike the kindly king before him, the new ruler is overbearing, frightening and tyrannical in his rule. Taxes are bleeding the people dry and without the money or goods to pay, they have been forced into penal servitude and imprisonment by the Kingsmen, who know no mercy. The despair and fear that has taken over their lives has ruled out any level of hope.
When Violet stumbles upon an unconscious and injured Kingsman in the woods, despite the consequences, she cannot help but take care of the injured man. When he wakes and has no memory of who he is, she takes the only precaution that will keep her and her grandmother safe; she destroys the evidence of his past life.
If Violet’s lowly Kingsman regains his memory, will she be able to live with the consequences? And will the Kingsman be able to live with his past life?
In the end… I didn’t enjoy Once I Knew as much as I’d hoped. In part I think it was a matter of taste and in part it was a matter of the prose needing another once-over from a line editor. The prose had a very clear voice, but it also consistently felt awkward in ways that would have been fixed by subtle tweaks in sentence structure or even just punctuation, so the voice didn’t really get to shine because the awkwardness of the sentence structure got in the way.
I also just didn’t really click with the characters? Violet was especially hard for me because she’s very emotion-driven, even to the point of it influencing her physical health (she was constantly passing out), and I am… not. There’s nothing wrong with being emotion-driven—emotions are a good thing—I just personally have trouble connecting with and enjoying characters who are so thoroughly immersed in their emotions because I’m so often in my head, distanced from my emotions, and can’t relate. I won’t call Violet a weak female character—she wasn’t, and I very much appreciate her feminine qualities, especially when it comes to her duty to her family and household—but the fainting spells and crying did start to bug me a little bit.
Obed was all right. Protective male characters are my jam, so as far as that goes he was great. He just felt… a little too perfect? I didn’t quite believe his arc. It didn’t feel like there was enough conflict involved. And his spiritual growth felt way too fast. Conversion I get, and the turnaround that comes with that, but you don’t go from living in the world to being a fully mature Christian that quickly, and while Violet and Obed did seem to be in the same place spiritually at the end (as they should have been for… the ending) it didn’t seem like they should have been given their very different history and spiritual timelines. So. That was a little frustrating. Especially because their whole relationship just felt… I felt like there wasn’t enough basis for it realistically, and yet on the page there was nothing I could pinpoint to make it a mismatch, so it ended up feeling like their similarities and complementary traits were pushed in too fast for the sake of their relationship instead of their relationship developing quite as organically as it should have.
Marcus, on the other hand… I know, I know. He’s the best friend character so I’m automatically biased. But I really feel like Victoria did him dirty. Marcus really did feel equally yoked with Violet, they had an established relationship to build off of, he was just as loyal and protective as Obed was… It kind of seemed like he was written off because of his disability in one scene, which… is not cool. (Also not the intention, I’m sure, but that’s how it came across to me.) He was probably my favorite character in the book. He felt the most realistic to me, overall. He was sweet, grounded in his faith, really and truly loved Violet, took care of Violet and Granny, was a hard worker… Marcus deserved better and that’s all I have to say about that.
The faith elements. I have such mixed thoughts here. The first thing that really stood out to me in a negative sense was that it’s weird to have exactly the same names for God in a fantasy world as in the real world. I can appreciate the desire to make that connection really clear and to emphasize the name of Jesus and all of that, but it doesn’t feel natural to the setting and it’s kind of jarring to have characters in a fantasy world talking about Jesus by the name He’s known by in the real world. On the flip side, it was neat when I noticed near the end that Violet and Obed commonly referred to God by two different titles that meant something to them: Obed referring to Him as his Heavenly Father and Violet referring to Him as the King. That was a well-done thematic tool that I thought strengthened the portrayal of faith quite a bit.
God talking… I always have so much trouble deciding thoughts on this. Because on the one hand, I know that God speaks. I don’t doubt that He can and does speak audibly in some situations to some people. So I hesitate to call direct dialogue with God or an allegory of God “unrealistic.” On the other hand, it’s so rarely that easy. Especially in cases where the truth being communicated is so directly found in Scripture and the characters have access to Scripture. (There was one scene with Obed, in particular, that felt like a recitation of various Scripture passages for three paragraphs and felt like a fast and easy way to give Obed a lot of reassurance and wisdom all at once instead of giving him time to struggle and learn and study for himself. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” – Proverbs 25:2) Basing that dialogue heavily on Scripture does, on the other hand, make it a lot harder to fall into my other concern with God dialogue which is that of putting words into God’s mouth. So I can appreciate it from that angle. But basically, having God talk directly to characters is messy and I personally struggle with it in pretty much every case (even when I don’t expressly mention such).
I did like the narrative voice, underneath the line editing issue. I loved Marcus, and there were other side characters I enjoyed also and would have liked to see fleshed out more (Everard, Fendrel, Malcolm). The overall themes were solid. The small-scale settings were lovely (the forest, the fields, etc.). Overall, I’d give the book three stars. It wasn’t my favorite. It wasn’t terrible. It just sort of was.
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