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The Runaway Princess
by Christina Dodd
(Avon, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-80292-9
***
There should be a big disclaimer on the cover of this book "abandon all reality upon opening these pages!" Because the author has delivered a book so utterly removed from the realm of possibility that it's almost a fairy tale.

Which is not to say that The Runaway Princess isn't entertaining. It has many of those delightfully delicious moments that are the hallmark of Christina Dodd's best efforts. But this reader found herself too often distracted by all the wildly unbelievable coincidences and silly misunderstandings that the author employs to keep the plot chugging along.

The story centers around Miss Evangeline Scoffield, an English orphan who inherits a substantial amount of money when her guardian suddenly disappears. Evangeline is highly educated, but has led a cloistered life in the English countryside, dreaming about the wonderful places and fabulous people that populate the pages of the many books she has read.

Instead of taking the safe route and insuring her financial future by investing her nest-egg, Evangeline decides to treat herself to a glorious summer of luxury. She buys expensive clothes and travels to Europe where she stays in the fanciest hotels and eats in the best restaurants.

The idea of a young, inexperienced woman using her money in such an impractical way and falling in love in the process really appealed to me, and I could imagine a million fun ways this story could have progressed. Unfortunately, the author had other ideas and the book suddenly veers towards a chain of events so absurd and outrageous that the charm of the initial premise is lost in the hullabaloo.

Evangeline is eating dinner one night at a beautiful hotel dining room when she catches the glance of a dark handsome stranger. He turns out to be a handsome prince (fairy tale time!) who is absolutely convinced that she is his long-lost princess whom he must marry to fulfill the terms of a legend that will save his country.

Prince Danior is arrogant and sure of himself, totally ignoring her protests about her identity, despite the fact that he hasn't seen the princess since childhood and has no idea what she looks like. Before the reader can take a breath, bombs are going off, Evangeline is being kidnapped by Danior and a band of murderous revolutionaries is hot on their trail.

I'll admit I was hooked not so much because I particularly liked the characters, but because I was interested in seeing just how the author would rescue them from their crazy circumstances. Even I was not prepared for all the ridiculous plot twists. (Note to the author: I don't care how injured the heroine is, it simply isn't sexy for the hero to give her a piggy-back ride for most of the book.)

Despite much evidence to the contrary, Danior remains convinced, despite her vehement protests, that she is his princess and future bride. And all too quickly, the charmingly quirky Ms. Scoffield becomes a royal pain in the behind as she stupidly flings herself into one dangerous situation after another as she tries to escape the prince. Evangeline throws caution to the wind so often that at one point, when one of the villains was getting ready to ravish her, I almost didn't blame him.

Giving away a book's ending is a cardinal sin that I don't intend commit here. But I will say that I nearly threw this book across the room when the hero reveals near the end of the tale that he could have very easily determined if she was indeed the princess from the very start. But, of course, any sort of logical action by any of the main characters would have totally ruined the story, a situation that neatly summarizes the problem with The Runaway Princess. If you're not a fan of books that turn on coincidence and misunderstandings, you should "runaway" from The Runaway Princess.

--Leslie McClain


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