The Pirate Prince
Gaelen Foley’s debut is an old-school romance heavy on the fairy-tale aspect as it comes complete with a handsome prince, a fair maid whose esteem he must win, and a devastated kingdom requiring his noble touch to return it to its former glory. But if The Pirate Prince is a fairy tale, it’s a dark one. The first of a trilogy of novels set on the fictional island of Asencion, its hero and heroine’s lives are tainted by their past and they find that only together are they whole again.
The tortured Lazar di Fiore saw his noble family perish at the hands of the evil Monteverdi who now rule over his family’s kingdom, the Italian island of Asencion. He loathes himself for the simple fact that he lived and they did not. As the novel opens, we meet up with a bitter, vengeful Lazar who, back now on Asencion, not to reclaim his heritage but to lead a band of ruthless pirates known as Devil of Antigua and bent on the destruction of the entire Monteverdi clan.
Things do not go according to plan when he encounters his childhood playment – and daughter of his nemesis – Allegra Monteverdi. Although he plans to kill her in order to mete out a harsh vengeance on her father, he finds himself continually drawn into her spell of goodness, first rescuing her from being raped by Dominic Clemente, her father’s right-hand man and her would-be husband. Then, having taken her aboard his ship, he somehow finds himself continuing to preserve her virtue, despite the fact that she represents the most riveting physical temptation that he has ever encountered.
Allegra spent her youth exiled in Paris after her mother committed suicide. Though she loves her father and tries to win his love, she determines never to yearn for a man the way her mother did after Lazar’s father, the late King Alfonse. She also plans to help the poor people of Asencion, who chafe under her father’s strict rule and harsh measures, despite the fact that it incurs the wrath of her father and fiancé. When Lazar abducts her, so many years have elapsed since he was last seen jumping off a cliff to get away from his family’s murderers that she cannot truly be sure if he is the long lost prince. He himself cannot prove it, having lost the only true proof in the form of a jewel stolen by the man who rescued him from the seas all those years ago, the same man who then tortured him both physically and mentally.
Allegra of course, is compelled to save Lazar, especially when she finds out his true identity. Although he tries his best to push her away, sure he is not good enough for her yet ensnared by her physical and spiritual purity, she persists in drawing him out and making him see what he has to live for. To say he is spellbound by her would not overstate her mesmerising ability to make him go against his very nature. Slowly, he agrees to return to save Asencion, convinced it is the only way to win Allegra’s respect. Also looming on the horizon is a Big Misunderstanding – Lazar is convinced that anyone he loves is subject to a curse that spells their doom, while Allegra believes that only by marrying his childhood betrothed, Princess Nicolette of Hapsburg, who comes with an impressive dowry, will Asencion’s fortune be restored.
What impressed me most about this novel was the fact that the author has some considerable chutzpah to rely so heavily on pure imagination. Many romance readers may dislike this novel purely for the fact that Asencion’s royal court life is so highly unlikely, and the characterization, though the odd Italian interjection is added to the dialogue, borrows more from what we know of as a British historical romance novel than anything. Was the Italian aristocracy of the late 1700’s really like this? Actually, the pure fairytale aspect of the novel and the compelling hero/heroine plot was so enjoyable that in fact I did not really care much one way or the other.
Though I am not one for goody-goody type heroines who seek to change the man they love, the description of their chemistry was so magical that it leapt off the pages and brought them to life. The manner in which Allegra stood by her man and determined to raise his rock-bottom self-esteem, especially considering the number of rejections he cruelly tosses her way, was admirable and gave this novel an old-fashioned, traditional flavor that added credibility to their story. Also, although their sex scenes were a little on the graphic side for my tastes, they were realistically drawn, and didn’t diminish the romantic aspect of their relationship. Ensconced for most of the time aboard Lazar’s ship, we see plenty of convincing character and relationship development and their Big Misunderstandings, though of course clichéd, didn’t keep them apart for long. Lazar’s soul-deep vulnerability and the innocent way in which Allegra was shown to be his salvation from his past were the highest points for me.
Implicit in this old-fashioned style of novel are levels of melodrama and cliché that speak to a previous era in romance novel writing that tended to underestimate the intelligence and sophistication of the readers. Number one culprit here was the tacky pirate ship action, and it was with a groan that I read about the triumph of man over the waves, the British and the occasional bounty hunter too. Also, I felt the author went too far in conveying the depths of Lazar’s self-loathing. A stupid curse is one thing, but when I read for the thousandth time his dithering over whether Allegra would survive the curse, and that even the dog he had kept aboard had died it was a shade too much.
All in all, however, there were more positives than negatives and the chemistry between our hero and heroine certainly make it an enjoyable and absorbing read. Foley’s debut was strong, and it’s no surprise her career took off after the release of this book.