Once a Princess
Johanna Lindsey’s Once A Princess is old-fashioned, fairy tale fun. The princess in question is Tatiana Janacek, the sole surviving member of the Janacek clan and heir to the Cardinian throne. Cardinia? Don’t spend too much time trying to find it on a map. Cardinia is pure invention, a vaguely Eastern European figment of the author’s imagination. It’s an enjoyable (if slightly silly) indulgence since it allows Lindsey to create the dramatic backstory of a blood feud between two aristocratic clans: the Janaceks and the Stomboloffs.
When the feud has wiped out most of the Janacek line, a nobleman loyal to the royal family assumes the throne. To protect the last Janacek, the infant Tatiana, he spirits her away to America and out of the Stomboloffs’ reach. But not before he insures that the crown will remain in the Janacek family by contracting her in marriage to his young son. Years later, after the death of the last Stomboloff, the ailing King sends his son to bring Tatiana home. Enter Prince Stefan Barany, a fully stocked alpha complete with tortured soul, a violent temper, and glowing gold eyes. Lindsey has also saddled him with facial scars, the result of a wolf attack in his youth. The guy thinks he’s repulsive to women, particularly pretty women, and he isn’t anxious to set himself up for rejection by Tatiana whose mother was a legendary beauty. But he cannot refuse his father’s dying wish so he sets off to fetch his bride with a band of aristocratic buddies.
Of course, once he finds Tatiana, she’s not quite the image of a Cardinian lady. The baroness who was to care for her died shortly after their arrival in America leaving her to be raised in a rough Southern town by a greedy tavern owner who treats Tatiana like a slave. Tatiana, now Tanya, was brought up without affection and has grown into a fiercely independent girl who works hard and dreams of the day she will inherit the tavern. She’s got all the makings of a strong rags-to-riches heroine, and happily, Lindsey doesn’t just stick her with an arbitrary “independent streak.” Tanya’s a savvy girl, good at protecting herself, and wise to the fact that the tavern will give her the economic freedom she needs to live her own life. She’s not the least bit interested in Stefan, his rich friends, or their ludicrous talk of princesses and distant lands.
To make matters more difficult, Tanya has taken to wearing stage makeup and drab clothes to protect herself from unwanted admirers so she thinks Stefan’s crew is just having fun taunting her for being homely. (Strangely enough, though I was willing to suspend my disbelief and buy into Cardinia, I’ve worn stage makeup and the idea that anyone would be fooled by it at close range was just a little much for me. I guess this is Lindsey’s version of ashes on Cinderella’s face and hands, but it doesn’t make any sense. Unless the Cardinians are a myopic people.)
Naturally, a series of misunderstandings that will take chapters to set straight lead Stefan and his friends to believe Tatiana is a prostitute. She thinks they’re heartless practical jokers and then white slave traders. A series of quarrels, love scenes, and escape attempts follow as Stefan drags Tanya back to Cardinia. It’s all fairly predictable, but enjoyable because Stefan and his friends are great fun, particularly the handsome Vasili (who Lindsey later featured in his own book). Vasili looks the part of a fairy tale prince, but he’s a snob. He’s an excellent foil for Tanya’s working class spirit.
Once A Princess is Lindsey at her most fun, but also her most formulaic. She gives us visits from a jealous mistress and kidnappers before Tanya and Stefan can live happily ever after. But the bad guys just aren’t interesting or threatening enough to breathe life into these old standbys. Also, Tanya’s disbelief and stubbornness eventually become tiresome. I was enjoying the fairy tale, why couldn’t she?