Once and Always by Alyssa Deane
(Zebra, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-6615-5
Once and Always is a book with much to recommend: an unusual setting, a fast-paced and gripping plot and a heroine who starts out a bit naive and petulant, but matures into a dynamo who can handle anything that life dishes out.

Unfortunately, the narrative was often stilted and the grammar so poor, it was difficult to follow. These are things that could have (and should have) been easily solved by savvy editing. In fact, it didnít appear as if this book was edited at all.

In the spring of 1856, Roxane Sheffield arrives in Calcutta to begin a journey to Delhi. There she will be reunited with her father, Colonel Maxwell Sheffield, who abandoned his family some fifteen years earlier. After the death of her mother, Roxane is ready to begin a reconciliation with her father and sheís eager to experience life in India.

Roxane is to stay with a Colonel Stanton and his family in Calcutta before she travels to Delhi, but no one from the family is waiting for her when she arrives. Handsome English officer Captain Collier Harrison discovers her standing alone on the dock and delivers her to the Stantonís home. He is immediately captivated, and endeavors to begin a relationship with Roxane.

Initially Roxane resists. She is visiting India to reunite with her father and has no desire to begin a relationship with anyone. Collier is persistent and Roxane eventually succumbs to the charming officer and they pledge to marry. But Collier has a secret, one that is unexpectedly revealed and threatens to destroy their chance for happiness.

When a violent political rebellion separates the pair, the stage is set for a journey of two years, over two countries, before Roxane and Collier finally able to find their way to each other again.

Author Alyssa Deane really seems to know her subject. My familiarity with Victorian India is minimal at best, and Deane brought the sights and smells of India to life with her detailed descriptions. Unfortunately, these descriptive passages are also where the aforementioned editing was needed most. The authorís overuse of commas makes portions of the story difficult to follow and I often found myself fading off into daydreams in the middle of a paragraph.

Peering sidelong at the Englishman, she noted the easy way in which he held the reins, his shoulders slumped slightly forward, his elbows on his knees, and yet his eyes, like dark smoke in color, were alert to the road before them. He was very good, she decided, at giving the impression, with his relaxed posture, of nonchalance, perhaps even recklessness, but his eyes gave away his careful consideration of every move he made.

This book is filled with similar paragraphs and they make for a unnecessarily laborious read.

Roxane and Collier are separated several times throughout the course of the book and we remain with Roxane during most of that time. This could explain why I was unsure of Collierís motivation and could account for the lack of passion between the two. Their love and passion was stated to each other when they were together, but I never really felt it.

The touching conclusion of Once and Always had me in tears and I wasnít ready to close the book on Roxane and Collierís life together. But I was also frustrated because I knew, with perceptive editing, this book could truly have been something special.

--Karen Lynch

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