|Kathyrn Smith’s In Your Arms Again uses one of my favorite plots: friends who fall in love. But the initial pleasure I took in the story is quickly offset by the repetitiveness of the characters. While the initial idea shows promise, the execution leaves much to be desired.
Octavia Vaux-Daventry and North Sheffield-Ryland were best friends while growing up. Twelve years before the action in this story begins, Octavia’s mother (an actress) dies, leaving Octavia alone. She goes to North and they make love, but they are separated when Octavia’s grandfather arrives with plans to introduce her to society. Her grandfather tells North that he is not good enough for Octavia and that he should stay away from her. North, the illegitimate son of a viscount and an actress, did so for twelve years.
Now Octavia’s grandfather is dead, and she is soon to enter an engagement with Lord Spinton, an act she will fulfill only because of a promise she made to her dying grandfather. Before they marry, Spinton wants to resolve the matter of some troubling letters Octavia has been receiving from an anonymous admirer. North Sheffield happens to be a successful investigator. Knowing this, but not knowing about North and Octavia’s past connection, Spinton hires North to investigate the mystery of the letters. The investigation brings Octavia and North together again.
The investigation begins early in the novel and provides an interesting way to bring the couple back together. The interest wanes, however, as the story continues. For the first 200 pages, the investigation slowly progresses, and the reader is treated to numerous passages about why North and Octavia cannot be together. North believes that his background makes him unworthy of her, plus his dangerous profession would make her a target. Octavia feels bound by her promise to her grandfather, even if it means she must sacrifice her own happiness.
The couple’s inner conflicts provide their main obstacle to happiness. As a reader who values characters over plot, I wasn’t repelled by the conflict itself. I was frustrated with its repetitiveness. North and Octavia cover the same ground — seemingly endlessly — in both their thoughts and their conversations. This passage on page 240 summarizes Octavia’s dilemma: “She wanted to fulfill her promises, but she wanted to have her own way as well. And part of her was afraid what might happen if people found out the truth. She wanted North, but she was afraid to have him—afraid of the changes it would mean. And yet the thought of being without him was infinitely worse.” By page 240, the reader has already been treated to numerous variations of this same theme. Reading the first half of In Your Arms Again is like listening to a CD that plays 30 seconds of the same song, over and over and over. To Smith’s credit, the story improves in the second half of the book, but easily frustrated readers may not make it that far.
In addition, the characters use several words that seem too modern and make for a jarring reading experience. Take this quote from North: “He would have laughed if he weren’t so frigging heartbroken.” I was too surprised by the use of frigging to spend time thinking or caring about why North was heartbroken.
I wanted to like In Your Arms Again, not just because of the plot, but because it features an older (if 30 can be described as older) heroine. But repeated angst is no substitute for character development, and the reading is an ultimately frustrating and disappointing experience. It may have a good beginning, but this book isn’t likely to be in my hands again.