Prince Charming, the third in Gaelen Foley’s historical romance trilogy set on the imaginary island nation of Ascension, is a book I recommend to those looking for a slightly more complex and realistic romance than many others. I had tried to read the second of the trilogy – The Princess – only to put it aside fairly early on. But Prince Charming captured my imagination from the start, possibly because the hero, crown prince Rafael de Fiore, is presented on page one as the 1816 equivalent of late 20th century Euro-trash. The reason why this book succeeds is because of prince Rafi, and his transformation from selfish playboy to a loving man among men. And while the book is not without flaws, it’s definitely worth reading.
When the prince is attacked by the Masked Rider, his nation’s answer to Robin Hood, he vows revenge. Better than that – he gets off a shot, injuring the robber. Although he and his coterie manage to track the Rider’s gang to a worn down bucolic estate, it seems the gang has dispersed into the wild and Rafi’s plans for revenge are foiled. Still, all is not lost, for the mistress of the estate, Lady Daniela Chiaramonte, interests him with her demeanor and intelligence. When he later discovers the lady Dani is none other than the Masked Rider, his pride wars with his interest in her. While his honor demands her death, the chemistry between the two is undeniable. And, given that his father sorely wants him to marry, settle down, and produce an heir, he begins to wonder – what if, instead of one of the five women picked out by his parents, he chose Lady Dani instead? After all, the nation loves her, and might not some of that adulation rub off on him?
And, let’s not forget about Dani, the lovely, fiery woman Rafi comes to love. While perhaps not as interesting a character as our hero, she is the one, after all, who acts as the catalyst for his reformation. Her intelligence and independent attitude are refreshingly realistic – this is no tstl heroine who constantly needs to be saved. In fact, she eventually gets the chance to save the prince, who returns the favor.
As if this weren’t enough of a set-up for Prince Charming, there is a wicked sub-plot afoot – someone in the king’s court would like to see him dead, and since the prince has such a bad reputation, why not blame it on him? The villain is revealed fairly early on, but because his actions extend the erotic underpinnings of the story, knowing who he is is not a problem. Dani is convinced not to consummate her marriage by the villain in order to “save” Rafi from his father’s wrath by marrying her. Because she has already had a taste of his touch, the sexual tension, including an amazingly erotic scene on a palace staircase, is blistering.
Prince Rafi is what sets this story apart from so many others. His history as a libertine is not only told, it’s shown – from the very first page. Although his nation is fictional, his actions read more true than many of the historical romances I’ve read in the past. Author Foley does not make Prince Rafi easy to like – while his surface is smooth and confident, he is very selfish and often vulgar. Underneath it all, though, lurks a true Prince Charming, who, with the help of a woman to love, is able to care about more than his immediate gratification.
Although the story features typical romance issues of trust and betrayal on both the part of the hero and heroine, this is not one of those books where a simple five-minute discussion could resolve them. What is a problem, however, is a too-coincidental coincidence involving someone from Dani’s past who happens to reappear in her life at a critical juncture. That, along with some really skanky sexual proclivities involving the villain, seemed too obvious for an author who can write this well.
Readers looking for complex heroes should enjoy Prince Charming, regardless of whether they’ve read The Pirate Prince or The Princess. It’s not necessarily an easy book to read, but one worth the effort.