Prince of Hearts by Katy Cooper
(Harl. Hist. #525, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29125-6
Prince of Hearts, Katy Cooper's debut historical romance, is an intelligent, witty love story centered around an alternative history. What if Edmund Tudor, son of King Henry VII, had no kingly aspirations? What if he served his elder brother Arthur by acting as a spy, dressed in plain clothing? What if he fell in love with a noblewoman and had no hope of marrying her, due to his royal obligation decreeing he marry to please his brother's need for an alliance?

All good stories start with the magical "what if's". In Prince of Hearts, the ideas take wing and soar.

Lady Cecilia Coleville first meets "Edmund Tudor" when they are both young children. Not knowing who he is, she is amused at his ability to walk on his hands. Later they meet again, both in their mid-teens, and she is aware of his presence in disturbing ways, even as alarm bells sound in her head regarding his true identity. When Cecilia is summoned to court to act as a lady-in-waiting to the Queen, she and Edmund Tudor meet for a third time. This time there is no doubt. Edmund Tudor is the Duke of Somerset, brother to the King.

The instantaneous connection between them cannot be denied. For Cecilia, a lifetime spent in her beautiful sister's shadow has convinced her that small, dark-haired women such as herself will never be found desirable, especially by a man as handsome and magnetic as Edmund. Edmund, however, finds his Ceci to be beautiful beyond all compare. Her wit, her intelligence, and her kindness only magnify her charms. She's irresistible. But how can they be together?

Rumors of dissent have reached the King's ears, and when Edmund is dispatched into the countryside to find out the truth, he takes Ceci along as his "wife". As the truth of the rumors unfold, Edmund and Ceci will find love together and must battle to keep it.

In fact, the fight to save this astonishing love is one of the greatest charms of Prince of Hearts. In a refreshing twist, these two lovers discover early on that the world is only right when they are in each other's arms. Their joy of discovery, their delight in each other, is as uplifting for the reader as it is for Ceci and Edmund. And hot ye gods, yes. These lovers burn for each other, though their sexual interludes are limited.

Edmund is a warm and funny character, an easygoing guy who has absolutely no interest in succeeding to the throne, but is sworn by an oath to his dead father to obey the King's command. His cheerful amiability gives him the wherewithal to watch, listen, and discover. His kindness and compassion are evident, as is his astonishment at his feelings for Ceci. Edmund's vulnerability as he fears the loss of Ceci and his frustration at being unable to prevent it are palpable and only make him more endearing.

Ceci is an equal match for Edmund. Her character is a bit of a fish out of water, preferring reading to court gossip. When her educated mind initially draws Edmund to her, she's nonplussed; learning is not a female trait that most men prize. This initial crack in her self-defensive armor open the door to the great love of her life.

One thing that struck me as slightly implausible was Edmund traveling the countryside as a Lord Tudor. It seemed inevitable that he would eventually run into someone who had seen him at court. Since much of the plot hinged on his ability to pass unrecognized, this was a bit of a sticking point.

Nevertheless, Prince of Hearts delivers a solid, intelligent, engrossing story with two characters you'll take to your heart. Ceci and Edmund's tale of finding and keeping love makes for a don't-miss read. Let's hope Katy Cooper has many more stories up her talented sleeve.

--Cathy Sova

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