Be careful what you ask for; you might get it. My number one complaint about many romances I have read and reviewed is lack of editing. If only they had been disciplined, polished and given all that surface shine they richly deserve they would have been so much better. Princess is the opposite: a book that comes waxed and polished with a slick surface. Unfortunately, the actual book isn’t improved by its coating.
Ascencion is a tiny island kingdom off the Italian coast. Napoleon has designs on its navy, and the king tries to keep his independence by marrying off his daughter Serafina to a Russian nobleman, and so forging an anti-French alliance. But the Princess Royal has other ideas. She has loved her Spanish bodyguard Darius Santiago for years and will have no other man. Her duty is clear, but her body and soul points her in another direction. Secretly Darius shares her love, and will risk his life against the French to free her from her engagement, even if he fears he himself will never be worthy of her.
Serafina is the princess, a heroine so egotistical her ability to love another human being on equal terms comes into question. She manipulates those around her, sometimes with good intentions, but rarely, if ever, considers the consequence of her actions. When caught, she throws tantrums or sulks with girlish charm. She is said to be twenty years old, but her mental age places her firmly in kindergarten.
Darius is the royal bodyguard and the entire CIA in one person. He harbors both protective and carnal thoughts about Serafina, as well as hiding the truth about his miserable childhood.
The flow of the story is powered by lack of communication, which causes repeated misunderstandings, quarrels and feelings of betrayal. A good example is Darius’ return after his attempted assassination of Napoleon, when a few words from him would have shrunk the book by a quarter. The effect is the feeling that the story moves in circles, instead of progressing.
Some readers might not be bothered by a 14-year age difference between hero and heroine, and it generally doesn’t bother me in a historical setting. What did bother me a great deal about Princess was the constant implication that Darius’ attraction to Serafina was focused on her as a little girl. The reader is told that he has been her bodyguard since he was 18 and she 4, and that he began having hot thoughts about her when she was 16. Given her personality at 20, Serafina likely was not less childish then. What clinched the matter for me was the repeated comments of “Very good, Serafina” during loveplay, which carried overtones of unsound teacher-student relations. Even the implausible scene when Darius suddenly tastes milk when suckling the still virgin Serafina can’t compete in effectively spoiling the romantic mood.
To be fair, Princess had some redeeming qualities. It was refreshing to read about an Italian kingdom, without having to encounter British or American characters. Some effort has clearly gone into researching the time period, and the editing cannot be faulted.
When you put icing on a cake it helps if there’s a tasty cake to begin with. I didn’t take to this cake, as I found the plot stale, the language flowery and the love match overly sugardaddily. Still, Princess might do well in the marketplace as a new incarnation of the old style romance.