Some Enchanted Evening
Some Enchanted Evening, released in hardcover last year, was recently released as a mass market paperback. It is the first book in a series, although there are connections to characters from books in at least one earlier series.
Princess Clarice (she is almost never referred to without her title) is the middle of three exiled princesses of the tiny Pyreneean kingdom of Beaumontagne. With her younger sister Amy, Princess Clarice travels around England like a kind of Avon lady, selling the secret royal beauty cream originally whipped up by her Grandmamma, Dowager Queen Claudia. Though she uses her real name and brazenly touts her royal lineage because it sells more royal cream, Clarice is also on the run from someone – she’ll tell us who later – which makes her lack of discretion a bit difficult to understand for both reader and hero.
Robert MacKenzie, Earl of Hepburn and laird of the Scottish village of Freya Crags, has returned from the Peninsular War a tormented man. When he sees the astonishingly beautiful Princess Clarice ride into the town square, he immediately decides he will use her in his nefarious revenge scheme. When she doesn’t immediately agree, he blackmails her. When she demands to know how she’s supposed to help him with his grand scheme, he just says he’ll tell her how and why…later. Both of them say that. A lot.
For the first eighty pages, I wasn’t sure if Some Enchanted Evening would be a mad-cap fairy tale-like romp, which the self-absorbed Barbie-doll character of Princess Clarice seems to fit, or a dark and serious and tormented revenge tale more befitting Robert’s character. It could have gone either way.
Eventually it drifts into the dark revenge tale, with Clarice’s quest to return to Beaumontagne and the life of a Princess conveniently and unceremoniously discarded. Which was all right with me, because I didn’t like Princess Clarice very much anyway. Her eagerness to return to revolution-torn Beaumontagne centered around her being a Princess, having beautiful clothes and living in a palace. She never said one word about the people of Beaumontagne. I couldn’t help but compare Clarice to Olympia in Laura Kinsale’s Seize the Fire, and Clarice did not fare well by comparison.
Her treatment of her sister Amy was just one symptom of what I saw as Clarice’s martyred Princessness. Amy is Clarice’s shill, the princess who, because she’s younger and not as clever or pretty as her sister, arrives in a targeted village a fortnight before Clarice and establishes herself as a plain-looking peasant who will be miraculously made beautiful by the royal cream Clarice hawks to support them and try to finance their return to Beaumontagne. When Clarice accepts the invitation to stay at MacKenzie Manor, in the lap of luxury, she never spares a thought for Amy left behind in Freya Crags, slaving for Mistress Dubb, the village seamstress.
When Amy ultimately defies Clarice, I cheered…that was one of the few cheers I had for this book.
Robert, the embittered ex-soldier, will do anything to see justice served, and for that reason he’s the much more likable and believable character. Most of the other characters, from Princess Clarice to Larissa Trumball to Col. Oscar Ogley – even the tavern keeper Hughina and her five old men patrons – are little more than cartoon figures. The only exceptions were Amy and Robert’s sister Millicent. As this book is the first in a series about the lost princesses, I’m sure Amy will have her own book; Millicent deserves one too, but since she’s not a Princess, who knows?
While the book’s plotting (more than a couple of subsidiary plot lines provided nothing more than a kitchen sink effect) and writing were initially uneven, eventually Some Enchanted Evening settled into a readable and almost interesting revenge tale. The choppy dialogue and early descriptions evolved into a more mature style as the book progressed, although there were places throughout where I wished for an editor’s heavier hand.
Dodd apparently has an affection for imaginary kingdoms in the Pyrenees, because Some Enchanted Evening features not only Beaumontagne and its sister kingdom Richarte, but the realms of Serephinia and Baminia from previous novels put in cameo appearances. Those Pyreneean peaks and valleys are getting mighty crowded.
Whether or not this book fits the bill for you depends upon what type of historical romance you prefer. If you’re looking for a light, fairy-tale-princess-seeks-handsome-prince-and-happily-ever-after-ending story, I suspect this one is probably going to satisfy. Robert is the action hero, but for me, Princess Clarice’s just “princessing” it throughout wasn’t enough. Those who lament the dearth of meaty historicals with heroes and heroines who share the adventure equally will not likely be singing hosannahs after Some Enchanted Evening.