The Pirate Prince

Princess by Gaelen Foley
(Fawcett, $5.50, R) ISBN 0-449-00246-2
In her debut book, Gaelen Foley created the imaginary Italian island kingdom of Ascencion, and told the exciting story of how a deposed prince turned pirate came back to regain his rightful throne and won the heart of his rival’s daughter. She revisits Ascencion in Princess, a compelling story of a princess whose duty to her country and the claims of her heart are in conflict.

The year is 1805 and King Lazar is facing a serious political problem. Ascencion has a very fine fleet and Napoleon Bonaparte wants it. He is rounding up every warship in Europe to challenge the British. A small country like Ascension is hard pressed to stave off the conqueror’s demands. So King Lazar has done what monarchs throughout the ages have done. He has betrothed his lovely daughter Serafina to a Russian prince whose army can serve as a counterweight to Napoleon’s threats.

Foley begins her story with one of the most effective openings I have read in quite a while. Serafina is fleeing through the castle’s maze, pursued by French agents who are seeking to kidnap her and force a marriage with Napoleon’s stepson. As the princess cowers in the dark, she hears a whispered, “Princesa.” Only one person calls her by the Spanish word for princess, Darius Santiago, King Lazar’s most trusted advisor and secret agent. Darius rescues Serafina from her peril, using his well-honed skills as a warrior and his renowned cunning.

Darius has served King Lazar and his family for twenty years, since, as a fourteen year old he was rescued from slavery and in turn saved the king’s life. The son of a Spanish count and a gypsy whore, he has a deep-seated sense of unworthiness that his handsome countenance, his undoubted brilliance, his appeal to the ladies, and his valuable service to the crown cannot overcome. He has loved Serafina for years, but cannot conceive of himself as a worthy match for the princess.

For her part, Serafina adores Darius. Three years earlier, at seventeen, she had told him of her feelings, only to see him reject her advances. She had refused other offers for her hand, but when the match with Prince Anatole Tyurinov had been proposed, she accepted for her country’s sake.

The attack on Serafina requires that she be sent away from court to a safe place in the country. The princess arranges that Darius be sent with her as her protector. In the lovely Ascension countryside, Serafina and Darius share a sensuous idyll, but Darius refuses to consummate their love. He has another plan to save Serafina from marriage to Tyurinov, a man whose unpleasant secrets he has uncovered. But this plan will undoubtedly result in Darius’ own death.

Princess has everything a romance reader could want. It has a tortured hero of almost superhuman bravery. It has a bold and beautiful heroine who knows her own heart but also knows her duty. It has intrigue, danger, derring do, sexual tension, and love scenes that made me turn up the air conditioner when I read them.

Having created her imaginary kingdom, Foley is free to create characters and situations that add to the book’s excitement. But I am very impressed with the way she grounded the story in the real historical events of 1805. If there had been an Ascension and a King Lazar and a Princess Serafina, well then, all this really might have happened.

Foley’s writing is very good. Her descriptive scenes, her action scenes, her characterizations, and her love scenes are well drawn. I did have a few problems with anachronistic dialogue, but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story.

I thought The Pirate Prince was a most promising first novel when I reviewed it last year. Princess is even better. I am looking forward to Serafina’s brother’s story when Prince Charming is published next year. Gaelen Foley should have a long and entertaining career as a romance novelist. She’s fun.

--Jean Mason

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