The Prince's Tutor
Royal romances seem to be the latest overused staple on the series romance landscape these days. Most of them seem to approach the royal aspect the way some historical authors do: as wallpaper. Make up a foreign-sounding name, plop it down somewhere in Eastern Europe, throw a fancy title on one of the main characters, and voila, instant royal romance. Never mind that these countries and their leaders are often so obviously fake and lacking in fictional believability that it’s impossible to get lost in the fantasy.
The nicest thing about The Prince’s Tutor is the way Nicole Burnham gives life to a fictional kingdom and monarchy that feel as though they could be real, at least to this commoner. For the most part, her characters don’t feel like regular people playing dress-up or generic rich folk who happen to have crowns, but are plausible as royalty.
In this case, the prince is Stefano DiTalora of the nation of San Rimini; the tutor is American Amanda Hutton. The daughter of an ambassador, Amanda works with the children of diplomats and royalty, teaching them how to deal with the public side of their lives. While in San Rimini to serve as maid of honor at her best friend’s wedding (involving the couple from Going to the Castle), she meets the groom’s brother, Stefano.
A charming playboy who has spent his life avoiding the public eye, Stefano is being prodded into the spotlight by his father. The king hires Amanda to help his son adapt to his public role. The cash-strapped Amanda has no choice but to take the job, despite her misgivings stemming from her attraction to the prince. At first Stefano is opposed to the plan, until he realizes the opportunity it presents to keep Amanda in his life.
The Prince’s Tutor is a book with a good sense of place. From the casino of the opening scene to the vivid descriptions of the castle, Burnham fills her fictional kingdom with a sense of authenticity that makes it more believable. It’s a world in which Stefano and Amanda seem perfectly at home. Stefano’s royal demeanor and Amanda’s understanding of the responsibilities of a diplomat’s children fits with the type of people they are and makes them that much more credible as characters. Unlike some authors who try so hard to portray their royal characters as ordinary people that we might as well be reading about regular folk, Burnham develops Stefano and Amanda as sympathetic individuals with relatable fears and concerns without forgetting the very specific place they are coming from. They are both easy to like and more likable because the unique lives they’ve led make them that much more intriguing.
The book’s main weakness is its length. I’m not one of those readers who believes an author can’t tell a full story in 180 pages, but The Prince’s Tutor seems to have more story than this short format can accommodate. The book occasionally feels rushed and some elements are glossed over. Amanda’s tutoring of Stefano is almost completely bypassed. It goes straight from their agreement to work together to Amanda helping him prepare for two state events, which pass with so little difficulty it makes it seem as though he didn’t need her help at all. Given the book’s premise it would have been nice to encounter Amanda doing her job in a way that demonstrated she really was a tutor and not a party planner.
Likewise, early on the author relates details in the characters’ backgrounds that are obviously going to come into conflict and pose a problem for any possible future they might share. But the characters themselves discover this problem so late in the book it becomes more of a stumbling block than a real hurdle in their relationship. One moment there’s a Big Issue in front of them, in the very next scene Stefano is given an example of why he shouldn’t let this come between them. This is a story begging to be expanded so that it had a chance to breathe. I wish I could have read a longer version of it.
There’s something to be said for books that leave you hungry for more. As it stands, The Prince’s Tutor is a sweet story that ably evokes the grandeur of its royal setting.