June 2004, Series Romance
Harl Intrigue #782, $4.75, 250 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373227825
Doesn't every girl, at least once, dream of what it would be like to be a princess? I know I did - usually when I was wearing my floor length, silky nightgown (the one that twirled). After reading Her Royal Bodyguard, though, I'm not quite sure if being a princess is a dream or a nightmare. Even though the heroine here found out she was a princess - and fell in love with a prince - the whole scenario did not seem very fairytale "happy."
Until the day she turns 23, Charlotte Aurora (Rory) has no idea she's a princess. She's been raised by the sea in La Jolla, California, and lives with her mother. Her mother was once queen of a small European principality, Estaire. She found that she couldn't handle the life or her husband's somewhat dated (one might even say medieval) ways. So she took her daughter and left, promising that she would tell her about her true heritage when she turned 23. Unfortunately, Rory's mother was murdered shortly before the magic date. Rory finds out about her royal heritage from her attorney, and discovers at the same time that her father had signed a betrothal treaty with a larger, neighboring principality, Ducharme. Rory is not only a princess; she is officially engaged to the Prince of Ducharme.
Prince Laurent, her fiancÚ, is waiting to meet her and introduce her to her older half-brother, who is currently the king of Estaire. But because Laurent doesn't want to overwhelm Rory right away, he pretends to be the Prince's secretary and calling himself Sebastian. He figures when the time is right, he'll break the news that oops, just kidding, he's really the prince. Like most pretend identity plots, this is completely ridiculous, but more on that later.
The gist of the plot is that Rory must learn proper protocol to be a princess, with the able assistance of Sebastian/Laurent. Meanwhile, she is the target of frequent assassination attempts and less dangerous (but still intimidating) attempts from members of the royal staff to undermine her position. Princesshood involves a whole lot more than pretty, twirly dresses. Meanwhile, Rory feels herself very attracted to Sebastian, but she knows that she can't act on those feelings because she's engaged to the prince. Sebastian/Laurent, for his part, is equally attracted to the brash and exciting Rory. He can't really show his feelings, because he's pretending to be the prince's employee. He is also determined to keep love out of the equation, because he believes it has no place in a royal marriage.
I've painted a somewhat grim picture of the plot, but I did actually like Rory. She's independent, but has an appealing innocence and awkwardness. She's confident on a surfboard, but none too sure about her princess wardrobe. I liked that she enjoyed her beach environment, and I liked her ambition to open a bookstore. Too bad she had to throw most of her old life out the window when the new one came knocking at her door.
I'd never really picked up a contemporary romance with a royal plot before, even though they aren't rare in the series sub-genre. After reading this, I have a better understanding of why they really don't work for me. I think I may just be too American for this stuff. After about forty pages of hearing what the princess ought to wear, and what she ought to say, and what people ought to call her ("your serene highness," if you're wondering), I'd had about enough. The last straw came when Prince Laurent told Rory to cross her legs at the ankle only, because it would be so scandalous if the little people caught a glimpse of her legs in a tabloid. Oh, the horror! They might find out that she had...legs. I don't know how she made it through without telling him just where to stick his royal protocol. On top of this, the staff of both royal houses think she's going to be a terrible princess, and they aren't exactly subtle about their feelings. Some of them are even trying to kill her. I would have sent them packing so I could enjoy my gorgeous California beach house in peace - prince or no prince.
But the bigger problem for me was Prince Laurent's fake identity. Clearly Laurent/Sebastian has never read a romance featuring this sort of plot before. In case you haven't either, let me fill you in on what happens every time:
You pretend to be someone you are not.
The person you are deceiving finds out.
This person gets mad at you, because you are a phony, and your unethical behavior has made him/her feel like an idiot and a dupe.
In this case, the deception is even lamer than usual, because she's engaged to marry the guy. Eventually she is going to have to find out, and eventually she is going to be mad. Why did the prince have this dumb idea, and why didn't someone rational talk him out of it?
In spite of this, the prince is kind of cute and charming at times, and it's nice to see him fall for someone as unaffected as Rory - someone who will at least challenge his obsession with royal protocol and duty. Still, the tale itself just wasn't all that romantic to me. I kept hoping she'd ditch the deceiving Sebastian/Laurent in favor of a bookish surfer who didn't care if someone accidentally got a glimpse of her legs. But we've all got our own fairytales. If you're always hoping that someday your prince will come, this might work a little better for you.
-- Blythe Barnhill
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