Grace A. Johnson
Review: Once I Knew by Victoria Lynn
Warnings: #1 This is a long review, so pull up a chair and grab a bowl of popcorn. You’ll be here awhile. #2 When I read a review, I want substantial information. So I will not skimp on the details. Which may mean some spoilers, so watch out.
Synopsis: Violet Frell’s life has finally found a routine—tend the fields, care for the house, and ensure her grandmother’s mental lapses didn’t worsen—when her world is disrupted by the injured and unconscious kingsman she finds in the woods. Caring for this broken man could cause more harm than good, yet Violet takes the chance, without a single clue of what she’s really getting into.
What I Loved: Let’s face it: a medieval-esque Christian non-magical kingdom fantasy with cottagecore vibes and the amnesia trope and a sweet, tender romance is destined for perfection. Not to mention the fact that I have come to absolutely adore Victoria Lynn and pretty much everything about her since I began following her on Instagram. So part of what I loved about this book is really just...its essence, I guess. Its heart. More specifically, the heart of the author and the story behind the story.
But that’s sentimental nonsense, so on to the actual story we go!
First and foremost, the themes. I absolutely loved seeing the real and alive faith content (especially considering this is fantasy) and watching Violet and Obed’s spiritual growth! (And, naturally, I taught myself the difference between spiritual arcs and spiritual growth...definitely something worth a blog post about!)
On that note, Violet’s struggles with anxiety were two-sided, and I both loved and hated it (I’ll talk about the hated side in the next section). The aspect I loved was how Violet’s anxiety wasn’t thrown in for representation or for brownie points on the mental-health-in-books chart. The word anxiety wasn’t even used—it was simply a real, human struggle that fit Violet’s character, influenced her actions and the course of the story, and was part of her spiritual growth. Victoria portrayed her anxiety in a way that was authentic (almost too authentic...more on that later) and honestly quite admirable!
Now, on to that other main character we’re all so curious about...Obed! Let me just say that I totally saw all of that coming, and the Lady of Assumptions won yet again! (Man, the Lady of Assumptions hasn’t made an appearance in quite some time...do y’all even remember her?) Otherwise, I loved this guy. Granted, I felt like there was a lot missing (which I can’t talk about now, because this is the love section… *sighs*), but I still loved him. Like, he was just so sweet and precious and it was just nice to see a hero who was real and vibrant and, yeah, he had a past, but it wasn’t the focal point of the story...and he was on fire and passionate and protective and just the perfection combination of sweet love interest and Chosen One—if that makes sense. It seems like you either have a male protagonist or a love interest in fantasy stories these days—you never have an actual hero who makes an impact on the heroine and the story.
Which brings me to another point...this story wasn’t about a badbutt (it’s not the same with butt, it just isn’t), independent, strong female MC who fixed everything. But it wasn’t about a prophesied hero who rose up and saved the day either. It was about two broken individuals—one male, one female—who worked alongside each other and God to do what He had called them to do. I loved that. (And the fact that Obed was actually born into his calling instead of trained was such a lovely twist.)
And the romance...some reviewers have mentioned it going too fast or just happening all of a sudden, but I thought it fit perfectly with the pacing (which was fast-paced, I’ll admit, but even and smooth) and was so tender and sweet! Not necessarily how I usually take my romantic tea, but still a breath of fresh air in comparison to some of the more melodramatic romances I’ve read. *winks*
Then there were the secondary characters—Granny, Marcus, Fendrel, Everard. I adored these guys and I wanted to see SO much more of them!!! Maybe in the next book, eh?
Finally, the last thing I loved about this story was the dialogue. It had such a rich, classical, almost Jane Austen-esque flavor that is simply my favorite!
What I Didn’t Love: Now, for the painful part of this review...as much as the story pulled me in and captivated me, it did fall flat in some places. From a more objective point of view, the prose could’ve stood a good line edit. Yes, there were some beautiful descriptions and lovely word choices, but it needed a balance between constant description (description of movement specifically) and the lacking emotions/thoughts. There was little to no variation in the sentence structure either, and it wasn’t the most immersive or showing…
Except for Violet’s anxiety. From a writer’s standpoint, I must applaud Victoria for how well she wrote Vi’s panic attacks and emotions (her word choices took the moments over the top when other things were missing)...but from a reader’s standpoint, I got anxiety from all that. I’m not the only one, either, as another reader with anxiety noticed the same. Should there have been a trigger warning? I don’t know...it wasn’t necessarily like I was “triggered” or anything; just a little too immersed in the moment, I guess! It’s kinda laughable, really, but the older I get (and I’ll just be seventeen next month), the more books just plain stress me out. *shakes head* I need help.
On that note, those tense moments were also the only ones in which I clicked with Violet. *sighs* I wanted so much to love her, because she wasn’t a feminist or obnoxious or a control freak or selfish, and I appreciated her character, but I never could connect with her or really quite love her. Y’all know me and heroines.
As for Obed, the only qualm I had with his character was that there was so little of it! I wanted more of him as Obed and more of his past (flashbacks, anyone?) and just more of him, his journey, his healing, his arc, his feelings for Violet...all of it! I guess that’s both a good and bad thing.
I mentioned earlier how much I loved the secondary characters and how vivid they were—and that goes for all but the chancellor/regent/villain/dude who reminded me of Palpatine (whose name I cannot spell for the life of me). I just really felt like he was missing something to make him stand out from all the other villains, something distinctive and memorable, whether that was an aspect of his personality or something he did. He (apart from Violet, but that’s subjective) was the only character I just didn’t like.
From a more technical, less pet peevial perspective, I felt like the story moved too fast and was lacking some things. Like, the pacing was smooth, so it wasn’t like it was slow and then fast and then dragged and then skipped over six months; it was all even and balanced...I just didn’t like the balance. I think a slightly slow pace that focused more on character development would’ve been perfect! And there were some elements of the storyline that were rather cliche/obvious. Otherwise, though, the story was engaging and gripping and pulled me in!
Long Story Short: The face value of Once I Knew is very high. The story is rich and vibrant, captivating and enchanting, pure and refreshing. It’s all your favorite fantasy elements without the smut and with lovely themes and faith content! Of course, critical readers like myself can nitpick about certain aspects, and the prose could’ve used a bit of tweaking, but none of that took away from how intriguing and satisfying the story was! I would definitely recommend it to pretty much everyone, and I cannot wait to read more by Victoria Lynn!
Disclaimer: I received an advanced review copy of this book from the lovely author. All opinions expressed are my own.
about the book
Violet lives her quiet 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 from the dreaded and overbearing Kingsmen.
With the new regent on the throne till the prince comes of age, 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 show 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 is compelled to take care of the injured man. When he wakes and has no memory of his identity or past, 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 survive the consequences? And will the Kingsman be able to live with his past life? Who will fight to free Elira?
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about the author
Victoria Lynn has an insatiable desire for truth, light and beauty.
Traveling to destinations of beauty created by our Heavenly Father, reveling in creative pursuits that fill her with joy, or pouring her heart into words of life are some of her favorite things to do.
She seeks to bring the life giving words of the Savior to a dark and broken world that desperately needs to know of His sacrifice.
A writing and publishing coach, author, journalist, seamstress and creator, she loves spending time with any of her 8 siblings, exploring her native state of Michigan, and sewing gowns fit for a princess.
You can connect with Victoria on her website and through her newsletter, or follow her on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Goodreads, and Amazon!
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Y'all, I could say more about this book (especially after reading some negative reviews on Goodreads *growls*)!!! But this review is already SO long!!! If you have any questions or wanna know more, just lemme know in the comments! I'd love to share more about Once I Knew! (Love that title, by the way...)
ALSO. If you wanna know more about Victoria, then STAY TUNED! She'll be on later today for an author interview!!! Oh, and don't forget to check out other posts in the tour!
yours in spirit and script,
#bookreview #review #blogtour #newbook #newrelease #christianfiction #fantasy #romance #medieval #victorialynn