The Naked King
With The Naked King Sally MacKenzie brings her Naked series to a close. I’ve read most of the books in this series and point to them as good examples of light historicals done right. The characters are likable, the plots move quickly, and there’s a nasty villain to add a bit of darkness. I had a wonderful time reading this one, even if the title is a bit misleading.
Stephen Parker-Roth is a well known figure in London. He’s called the King of Hearts because his good looks and charm have won the hearts of most of the ladies in Society (and he’s a pretty good card player as well). Early one morning, after a long night, Stephen falls prey to a friendly dog whose owner is giving him his early morning walk. Picking himself up out of the mud, Stephen notices the dog’s owner is a slim, red-haired young woman wearing a hideous dress and bonnet. The young woman is Lady Anne Marston and seeing her up close, Stephen can’t help but notice that she is an attractive woman, ugly gown notwithstanding. When the dog sees a cat, the ensuing ruckus ends with Stephen and Anne in a compromising position on the doorstep of Lady Dunlee, London’s most notorious gossip. Since he is nothing if not a gentleman, Stephen tells Lady Dunlee that he and Anne are betrothed.
Anne is initially not at all happy about this, but she can see the advantage of a connection with Stephen. She is in town to chaperone her pretty half-sister Evie for the Season, and figures that once Evie is launched, they can quietly call the whole thing off. At least that’s the plan. But the best laid plans can go off in an entirely different direction.
Sally MacKenzie excels in creating very likeable characters, and Stephen and Anne are both nice as can be. Anne’s father, the Earl of Crane (called Crazy Crane) is obsessed with antiquities – so much so that he and his wife, who is as obsessed as he is, spend almost all their time haring around the world in search of rarities, leaving Anne to run the estate and take care of her siblings. Stephen notices that Anne is not comfortable in social settings and supposes her long time in the country is the reason, but there’s more to it than that.
When Anne was only seventeen she went to a house party and innocently accepted Lord Brenwood’s offer of a walk in the garden. The walk turned into a nightmare when he raped her, and since then she has hidden herself in the country behind ugly clothing. When Stephen comes into her life, it’s as though all the color she has denied herself for so long comes flooding back and she is almost overwhelmed by it all. Anne is like a butterfly freed from its cocoon and she blossoms into a lovely, charming young lady. Stephen falls in love with her for real, and when he finds out about her past with Lord Brentwood, his chivalrous nature takes over. He too had a run-in with Brentwood when they were at school together and has always despised the man.
When I discovered that Stephen wasn’t really a king, I was a tad disappointed but that didn’t last past the first chapter. Stephen was such a kind natured and good-hearted man that I didn’t care about his lack of title. As for Anne, I love a story where a character blossoms when loved, and that’s what happened to Anne.
Lovers of light historical romances I think will enjoy The Naked King enormously. It’s light but not silly and doesn’t insult the reader’s intelligence. It’s not really memorable or ground-breaking, but it was a solid comfort read. Sally MacKenzie may have finished this series, but I hope she starts another one soon. I will definitely read it.