Christmas Baby for the Princess
I have a soft spot for Harlequins about royals, and Barbara Wallace is a solid writer, so I gave Christmas Baby for the Princess a try. It’s a mild, sweet, and predictable Christmas story with two flat leads. If you want something harmless to pass a Christmas themed couple of hours, it’s fine, but it’s not something I’d recommend on its own merits.
Max Brown owns a 1940s-themed supper club in New York City, and thanks to the tragic domestic abuse that made his mother’s life hell, he can’t resist down-on-their-luck women – especially beautiful ones like the mysterious Arianna. Little does he know that she’s a princess from the small country of Corinthia, on the run to take the time to figure out what to do about an unplanned pregnancy with a boyfriend who’s the perfect match for her political position but not really much of a human being. Of course Max falls for her, and Arianna for him, and a transatlantic declaration of love later, all’s well that ends well, just in time for Christmas.
So there’s not a lot of plot here. The Amazon listing says the book has 256 pages but it felt a lot shorter. The story is, I think, striving for a fairytale quality, but it contains just enough realism that it feels implausible instead. A soft touch like Max in the hospitality industry would have an entire staff of sob stories taking advantage of him all the time. Not only does he give Arianna job after job when she spectacularly fails at each one, but he insists on bringing her home with him because the hostel she’s staying in is dangerous. This whole concept was done earlier and better in Disney’s Enchanted. Also, at one point, Max has an extremelt awkward conversation with the bodyguard from Corinthia in order to convince him he’s never seen Arianna. When the bodyguard leaves, Max smugly reassures Arianna about what the audience can tell was a total disaster. Max comes across as both incompetent and oblivious.
Arianna’s pregnancy is, in general, realistically depicted – she’s nauseated, she has “pregnancy brain” that leads to her forgetting job guidelines – but that makes it all the more jarring when she enjoys a roomful of Christmas smells and her father’s nicotine-scented coat. It also annoyed me when Max chastised himself for wanting to kiss Arianna because “she was going to be a mother, for goodness’ sake.” I guess there’s not room for two up there on that pedestal.
I bought that Arianna’s dilemma was serious. The stakes of having a baby are much higher for someone in the line of succession to a throne. Arianna has to grapple with whether to have the baby or not, and then whether to marry the father, since choosing to have the child out of wedlock could theoretically steal his or her chances at the throne (in Corinthia, a child must be born legitimate to inherit.) I always like a book which doesn’t shame a heroine for having a sexual past, although her past with the boyfriend is more “Close your eyes and think of Corinthia” than “woman with sexual desires.” Both Max and Arianna could be weird at times about Arianna’s class background. He’s always thinking things about “a woman like her” who shouldn’t, for instance, be at a dive bar, which makes me uncomfortable because the logical flip side to this is that he thinks other women deserve filthy dives.
Probably my favorite part of the story was when Arianna described Corinthian Christmas traditions, which felt so authentic I wondered if the author based them on a real region of Italy. I also liked Max’s reaction when he heard the baby’s heartbeat at a doctor’s appointment. I believed that Max felt a strong connection to this baby that wasn’t biologically his, which is really important for a plausible HEA.
On the whole, though, the love story of a two-dimensional white knight and a princess whose entire character is defined by her position and her distress didn’t have enough complexity to it to make me invested.