Always a Princess
The hero of Always a Princess by Alice Chambers muses, “Lots of words came to mind when he thought of Eve Stanhope, but stupid wasn’t one of them.” Unfortunately, that was not my experience: I frequently found the word “stupid” coming to mind as I read this book.
Eve Stanhope lives in a London slum, where she plots revenge on a former employer who wronged her. Her plan is to masquerade as a foreign princess (princess Eugenia d’Armand of Valdestock) and get invited to ton parties. Then, she will steal jewels from her noble hosts, use the proceeds to buy up her enemy’s debts, and ruin him. The most obvious of the flaws in her plan is that Valdestock does not have a princess – it is a duchy. My thought was: that’s a really stupid plan.
Philip Rosemont, Viscount Wesley, doesn’t like England – he enjoyed the years he spent adventuring around the world. In an effort to enliven the boredom of English society, he has become the Orchid Thief – he steals jewels and replaces them with orchids. The flaw in his plan? He grows exotic orchids in his own greenhouse. Why does he leave a calling card at all, much less one that could so easily be identified with him? It’s stupid.
Philip knows immediately that Eve is a fraud, and she soon learns that he is also a thief. She attempts (stupidly) to blackmail him with this information, even though a moment’s thought would have shown her that any revelation of truths will hurt her far, far more than him. Then they become partners in crime and steal a huge, uncut diamond together. She wants to have it cut into smaller stones and sell them, but he thinks it’s a magnificent natural wonder and would never consider breaking it up. He always changes the subject when she mentions disposing of the jewel. So why did he suggest they steal it in the first place?
Fortunately for Philip and Eve, everyone else in the book is much, much more stupid than they are. Every single other character in the book, from Philip’s parents to the policeman searching for the jewel thief, is an absolute nincompoop. This explains many things, foremost of which is why they don’t get caught immediately, especially when they start kissing and pulling each other’s clothes off in the middle of heists.
In my opinion, the author just didn’t think about this plot hard enough. She concocted a storyline that doesn’t make much sense, and then attempted to make it work by making all the characters too dumb to notice its illogic.
Always a Princess isn’t all bad. The love scenes are inventive, tender, and spicy. I didn’t care for Philip at first – well, that Orchid Thief thing isn’t terribly sympathetic – but he grew on me. He becomes devoted to Eve early, and his behavior towards her is loving and protective. He also conveys an air of amazement at his good fortune in finding her, which is very endearing.
However, I never got over my irritation with Eve. Even after they’ve fallen in love and Philip wants to marry her, Eve refuses him because – tell me if this makes sense – if she was married, she’d have to alter her plan to get vengeance on her former employer. Not give the plan up: Philip would have been delighted to help her punish the guy. No, she’d just have to change her plan. I would have thought that, if she was married to a man who would someday be an earl, she would be in a much better position to avenge herself. That never seems to occur to her. Because she’s – well, you know.
In a way, Always a Princess reminded me of a dress, one in which the dressmaker didn’t measure the pieces before cutting them out and sewing them together. Lots of trimmings were added, but it doesn’t matter – those gaps show, no matter what.