April 2011, European Historical Romance (1850 Moricadia)
Signet, $7.99, 400 pages, Amazon ASIN 0451413040 Part of a series
I never dreamed of being a princess when I was young. Queen, yes, princess, no. And yet, the Princess saga clearly sways many a little girl — Disney anyone? — and big girls too. Novels that feature princes as the hero strike me as the supersizing of the hero in historical romance. It’s not enough that a man be noble, gorgeous, rich, sexy as sin, and blessed with a fabulous tailor. No, the true fantasy fellow is also a prince and, by marrying our more beautiful than the sunrise heroine, he makes her — bluebirds twitter, flowers bloom — a princess.
Ms. Dodd’s latest historical romance, Taken by the Prince, tells the story of a lovely plucky virgin captured by a hunky, oh-so-good in the bedroom prince and, while it’s a fun read, it was a little too formulaic for me. It’s much better than bad, but not memorable enough to be really good.
The prince of the title is Prince Saber aka Raul Lawrence. Saber/Raul is the heir to a kingdom — the fictional Principality of Moricadia which is currently being run by de Guignards, a usurping bunch of the blood thirsty, torture-prone tyrants. Saber/Raul is the true king; he gets his royal Moricadian blood through his dead mother. His father, Grimsborough, is a loathsome English lord who, with vicious beatings aplenty, raised Saber/Raul, his bastard. Saber/Raul was sent to England after he, at age 11, put himself at the top of the de Guignard’s “people we plan to tear apart limb by limb” list by literally dumping crap all over the de Guignards during a picnic.
Saber/Raul hates his English father and the de Guignards, but he loves his English half-sisters, especially kind and sweet Belle. One fine spring day, Belle brings her starchy friend Victoria Cardiff to a family gathering. Saber/Raul sees her and thinks she is the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. Victoria, destined to study at Ms. Dodd’s School for Governesses, has no money or sane family of her own and, as a wannabe governess, she prizes her pristine reputation above all and avoids lustful men assiduously. That is until she makes out with Saber/Raul on the edge of a balcony the night they meet. Their passions blaze, she runs away, and the book jumps ahead three years.
Victoria is now an actual governess for a wealthy merchant class British family traveling through Moricadia. Saber/Raul is there masquerading as an aristocratic horse breeder and NO ONE MUST KNOW HE IS REALLY PRINCE SABER. Victoria, of course, sees him — it’s a very small country, after all. She mentions to a maid in her hotel that she recognizes him, and then there’s nothing for him to do but kidnap her, lock her up in his castle — the seat of his impending challenge to overthrow the nasty de Guignards — and wage a serious campaign for her virginity/heart.
This novel is bereft of any surprises. Saber/Raul is handsome, great in bed, witty, troubled by his weakness for Victoria, and able to command commoners with a single glare. Victoria is beautiful beyond belief, extraordinarily sexually responsive, able to charm the surly Moricadian natives, and as brilliant as the stars. Together, they happily meet every cliché found in historical romance. (He ties her up with his cravat. She loves him but believes he only lusts for her. Her ability to enchant children makes Maria Van Trapp look like a singing fool. He’s bleeding from a dozen wounds but still kisses her with great passion and expertise.) It’s still a pretty good time. Ms. Dodd is a funny, engaging writer. Even when her plot and characters are thinner than the paper — or screen — they’re printed on, they still make pleasurable reading.
Still, I wasn’t very taken with Taken by the Prince. I wanted a more nuanced and interesting tale. At one point in the story, most of the characters find themselves in Queen Victoria’s court. (There’s not a princess or prince mentioned. Even Albert isn’t there.) Queen Victoria steals the scene with her “I’m the one in charge” witty glory. (It’s a myth she was never amused.) Victoria Cardiff and Saber/Raul may become the rulers of Moricadia. But, compared to the real Queen Victoria and her astonishing rule, Moricadia, and its putative king and queen, are rather bland. The same could be said of this novel. It’s an eminently unmemorable enjoyable read. While reading it, I was, briefly amused.
-- Dabney Grinnan
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