The Trouble with Princesses
This is the third and final book in Ms Warren’s Princess Brides trilogy, and the story focuses on Princess Ariadne of Nordenbourg, who has decided that she will tread a less conventional path than her friends Mercedes and Emmaline, the heroines of the previous two books.
The Trouble with Princesses is one of those books that is quite difficult to review, because there’s nothing really wrong with it! It’s well written, the two protagonists are strongly characterized, the romance is well developed and the love scenes are steamy. It’s also a story in which the two lovers begin as antagonists, and I always enjoy a romance with plenty of verbal sparring and snark.
There is very little to criticize and I enjoyed the book. But it didn’t blow me away, which is why it doesn’t quite fall into DIK territory.
Ariadne is intelligent and unconventional – if somewhat naïve. She will very soon reach her twenty-fifth birthday and receive her inheritance, which will enable her to live comfortably and independently. She therefore has no need of a husband. But not wanting a husband doesn’t mean she wants to forego the good stuff and spend her life as a virginal spinster, so she has decided that she will take a lover instead of a spouse. Her financial independence will mean she does not have to care about the opinion of society, or play by its rules, so she is looking about her for likely prospects.
Her friend Emmaline (Emma – heroine of the previous book) who is now a happily married mother of two, is aghast at the idea that Ariadne could think of doing something so improper, but is unable to talk her out of the plan. Ariadne meanwhile is sizing up the local talent, even going so far as to allow some of them to kiss her by way of an ‘audition’ – and she is confident that her selection process is going well.
That is, until Emma’s brother, Rupert Whyte (who is also Prince Regent of the small European kingdom of Rosewald) puts a very determined spoke in Ariadne’s wheel by starting to show up at every social event or every outing she attends. I haven’t read the previous two books in this series (and I don’t think that’s necessary in order to enjoy this one), but I gather that Rupert and Ariadne were not well disposed towards each other previously – which is invariably a sign of eventual couple-dom ;) That antagonism continues here: Ariadne is naturally resentful of Rupert’s interference and makes no bones about telling him so, but he is adamant about thwarting her plans. He believes that Ariadne’s taking a lover will not only bring disgrace upon her own head, but will probably taint Emma, her family and anyone else to whom Ariadne is close. Ariadne believes she is being very discreet about her intentions, but Rupert insists that she’s heading for disaster. Her reputation will be at risk no matter which man she chooses, as no man could possibly have her best interests completely at heart.
Rupert may seem rather overbearing and a bit pompous, but he’s not stupid. He quickly realizes that no matter what he says or does, Ariadne is not going to be diverted from her course of action, so he does what any concerned friend would do.
He offers her his services.
Ariadne is stunned, not having seen Rupert in “that way” before – or rather, not having admitted to it. But once she does admit it and allows herself to see that the man is sex on legs – and also admits to herself that his concerns for her reputation and safety have merit – she accepts, and they embark on a discreet and very passionate affair. Rupert’s intention is to give Ariadne all the pleasure she wants while leaving her ‘innocence’ intact, despite her insistence that she doesn’t give a fig for her reputation.
I really enjoyed the way their relationship progressed from antagonism to genuine friendship and then to more. Ariadne realized that Rupert was an honorable and considerate man whom she could trust and rely on at every turn, while Rupert came to see that there was a lot more to Ariadne than sharp-tongued stubbornness. Most of the story is devoted to the development of the romance between the couple, which moves at a very satisfactory pace with plenty of steamy interludes along the way. There is only one point of what one might term melodrama in the novel, when a former suitor takes drastic measures to try to force Ariadne into marriage. The consequences following her escape and rescue are almost over the top.
The main points of conflict in the novel derive from the uncertainty on the parts of both Rupert and Ariadne as to where their relationship is going; not having really liked each other very much before, they are both surprised to find themselves so passionately compatible that they are forever thinking about each other and anticipating their next encounter. Matters are complicated further by the duties and responsibilities borne by Rupert as a regent and then as a king, and it’s in this final section of the book that I felt things went slightly awry. Rupert is very much an alpha-male – authoritative and confident – but I felt that he gave up on Ariadne too easily. In fact, had it not been for the well-meaning interference of his sister and her friend, it seemed as though he would have simply accepted her decision and never attempted to see her again. It’s true that there were extenuating circumstances, but it nonetheless seemed rather out of character for him to have acted the way he did.
Apart from that minor niggle however, I thought this was a terrific, sexy and romantic read. Rupert and Ariadne are engaging and attractive characters whose verbal sparring is laced with humor and a delicious underlying sensuality. I have no hesitation in recommending The Trouble with Princesses to anyone looking for an uncomplicated, well-written and steamy romance.