For The First Time, by Kathryn Smith

>> Monday, November 22, 2004

For The First Time (excerpt), is my first book by author Kathryn Smith. It's related to her Elusive Passion, whose hero is the brother of the heroine in FTFT, and at the same time, this title is the first in a new series, about the four Ryland brothers.

Devlin Ryland returned from Waterloo a celebrated war hero, but he would rather forget the war and all the things he did in the name of duty. Blythe Christian knows all too well the things men are capable of in war -- like betraying their betrothed. While neither can deny the attraction between them, both must learn to trust again, Devlin with his secrets and Blythe with her heart. Only then will either of them know the healing power of love.
I liked many things about For The First Time, but I thought it was uneven. My grade: B-.

I thought both main characters were interesting, likeable people. In a genre in which I usually get the impression that for most readers, the blander, more idiotically self-sacrificing and more of a martyr the heroine is, the better, Blythe was refreshing. I liked that she wants things for herself. What drives her is not the typical "I need to do this and that so that my sister can have pretty clothes and live a life of leisure, as is her right", but the desire to be happy. At the same time, she doesn't go to the other extreme and she's not a selfish, inconsiderate shrew. She simply acts as a regular person would. She wants a marriage which is happy and, after her almost-fiancé spurned her, she fears a relationship in which her feelings are not reciprocated.

Devlin is great, too. He's very much a tortured hero, but he's not one who expresses his unhappiness by treating everyone around him like dirt, trying to make them as miserable as he is. He's a nice, kind, noble man who treats Blythe with nothing but respect throughout the entire book. His issues, the reasons for his being a "tortured" character, were novel and interesting. He spent all the war as a sharpshooter, killing "the other side" from a distance. However, in Waterloo he had to kill someone face to face to save one of his fellow soldiers, and that shook him. This episode changed his self-image, becoming, in his eyes, someone who kills for a living, a murderer, a killing machine. He can't understand why people see him as a hero, why they aren't disgusted at him. I ate this up. I really appreciate it when war is not glorified, when an author takes pains to show that it's not just riding around and some exciting spying, that being a soldier can change a person.

The first half was wonderful and showed these characters at their best, while they fall in love. Theirs is an attraction at first sight, which quickly turns into more, as they get to know each other better. Devlin and Blythe spend quite a bit of time together, and they truly enjoy each other's company. They also have rather wonderful chemistry. I especially enjoyed how Devlin accepts Blythe exactly as she is and actually likes the ways in which she's different from other people.

I was really, really happy with the book at about the half-way mark. Unfortunately, however, in the second half these very exciting characters became a little tedious. I started feeling I was reading the same thing again and again, and I kept putting the book down and not really feeling the need to pick it up again. So why did I get bored? Basically because the author went overboard with all the issues that I had found so interesting in the first part.

Devlin became obtuse with his guilt about the war. I understand his self-loathing and his sense of unworthiness, but things like his insistence that Blythe would leave him if she found out, were over the top. She would leave him if she found out what? That he had killed during the war? He was a soldier and she knew this, what did he think she believed he had done during the war?

I also got bored by the power-playing about who would say "I love you" first. They each hold off from saying it long after it was reasonable. Frankly, both this and Deviln's problems smelled of conflicts that had outlived their natural life.

Still, the first part was so good that I'm giving the book a good grade. It also shows what this author can do, so I'll be keeping an eye out for the next books in the series. Devlin's brothers, especially Brahm and Wyn(?) sounded intriguing.


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