Once a Courtesan is the story of Jacqueline Trouvère, headmistress of a school that rescues young girls from brothels and educates them in the skills they need to start life anew. I knew that the story would be a bit different from the average historical romance, but what I ended up with was a daring romance about trauma and learning to trust and love again.
Jacqueline is an unconventional heroine and I adored her. Jacquelinl was a courtesan forced into a brothel out of desperation and a victim of extreme violence and trauma. Despite her dark past, she holds her head high and has founded a new home where she helps children out of the same situation she was in, forming a new family from the ashes of tragedy. Each girl brought in is given a chance at a new life, a new identity, and become part of a tight-knit sisterhood of fellow survivors. Even some of the staff members are rescue cases, having escaped brothels or abusive families. The students are taught academics, manners, and all the other necessary skills they would need to go back into the world, doing honest work usually as hand maidens or maids. The entire staff save for the school doctor are all female, and the girl’s rehabilitation is handled with delicacy and confidentiality, safe from the outside world. I greatly admired the school, its staff and its students.
With a charitable establishment protecting the most vulnerable in society, you wouldn’t think the place would come under suspicion. That’s where Constable Will comes in. After receiving a tip about a notorious crime syndicate of flesh peddlers. Will is sent undercover as a teacher to investigate the school, where he meets the alluring headmistress and encounters a wall of silence.
I loved the mystery aspect of the story, the investigation of the crime syndicate and the mysterious Archangel attacking brothels dealing in darker merchandise. There was an extensive cast of characters introduced throughout the book, which made the school and the city feel alive and bustling. Many of the characters had distinct personalities and I found many of them charming. Jacqueline and Will were both diverse main characters and thankfully their romance was not a case of insta-love, as tends to be an issue in many romance novels. In fact, the two of them start the story off highly suspicious of the other, and their romance develops over time in a way I could believe.
“I often find that once a child unlocks the secret of words, they hunger for them. There is a kind of magic in reading. It takes the mind to places where the body may not go, allowing one to forget, for a while, life’s troubles.”
As the story carried on, there were certain points where plot points or a character’s actions did not make a lot of sense to me, such as when Will is caught sneaking around – I just expected Jacqueline to react a little more angrily. The development of the love story also takes place at a rather peculiar point in the story. While it unraveled in a satisfying way, it sort of takes place at a point of immense danger, and it just didn’t seem like the proper time to me.
I don’t want to spoil too much, but I will note that there were times that it felt like the story was going in a certain direction, such as a greater amount of betrayal in the school which is suddenly just dropped. In another instance, when Will sets up a ruse and the rest of his special unit are already in place there before he sent out letters seeking help, it all seemed too convenient. Instances like these created some minor plot holes, like there was more there but was either cut out or just never followed up on. Thankfully these minor holes for the most part could be shrugged off, as there was plenty going on in the story as it is now.
This story had much more than I expected: a great romance, a charming school, daring constables, assassins, a shady crime syndicate, spies, a mysterious vigilante – there was no shortage of action and suspense. This book had a lot of heart, and I loved that even despite all the pain and trauma of the past, Jacqueline tried to teach the girls, and perhaps herself, that love is always possible. Despite my criticisms about how the plot unraveled I rather enjoyed this story. I found myself pleasantly surprised and devoured the book quickly.
Once a Courtesan is the second in a series with some characters from the first making appearances. This book however is a standalone and can easily be read without having read the first.
Title: Once a Courtesan
Series: Once Wicked #2
Author: Liana LeFey
Publication Date: March 27, 2017
Format: ARC / Ebook
Constable Will Danbury has infiltrated a school to investigate an alleged crime. What he finds is a deeper, darker mystery—and a potent attraction to the alluring headmistress, Jacqueline Trouvère. But a constable can’t get romantically involved with a suspect; even one he thinks is innocent, without committing career suicide.
As headmistress of a school devoted to saving the innocent daughters of London’s soiled doves, Jacqueline’s life is complicated. Will tempts her in ways she never thought to experience, but she believes no respectable gentleman could love a former courtesan.
Despite their best efforts to fight it, a romance blossoms. When danger jeopardizes the school, however, his deceptions and her omissions come to light, threatening to destroy their love. They must look beyond the past to save both their future together and the lives of those they’ve sworn to protect.