Ambrosia, T. T. Henderson’s third novel, is a contemporary fairy tale.
Once upon a time . . . “there was a mighty king who ruled the country Uzira, Africa . . .” He had two sons. The eldest remained with his father. The youngest was sent to Europe to study so that the knowledge he gained would someday help his people. The young prince met an American exchange student in Paris and the two soon fell in love. As her time abroad was coming to an end, he knew he could not bear to be separated from her. He followed his love to America and enrolled at the University of Denver with her.
After they completed their studies, they went to Las Vegas and were married. The king, who was not pleased, summoned his son to Uzira. When the prince arrived with his new bride, the elders forced them to remarry in a traditional ceremony. Many of his people did not accept the prince’s marriage to “a foreigner,” to one of “tainted blood” and they later looked upon the couple’s firstborn daughter with scorn.
Shortly after the young princess became pregnant with her second child, she grew increasingly fearful about the growing unrest in the country. When war broke out, the young prince was duty-bound to serve his country. And, after the deaths of his father and brother, he ascended to the throne. The American-born queen was very unhappy and took her children to safety in Colorado. She gave the king an ultimatum: his wife and daughters or his kingdom. She never saw him again.
Ambrosia begins more than two decades later in Denver. The king is dying and wishes to see his wife and daughters again. He dispatches his chief warrior to America to find them and bring them to his bedside. Justus Nadamo arrives in Denver to enlist the help of Ambrosia Harris in his search for the Uziran royal family. Ambrosia is a respected researcher who has conducted several successful missing-person searches. She owns her own firm and the local television talk-show diva is among her clients.
Justus and Ambrosia are immediately attracted to each other. But he is on a mission and, for a variety of reasons, cannot afford to get involved with Ambrosia. You see, Ambrosia is actually the princess Annalise of Uzira and her mother has hidden the truth from her daughters. While her
mother wants nothing to do with Uzira, Ambrosia sees her return to the land of her birth as an opportunity to confront her father for his negligence. The sisters Harris also can see the possibilities of royal life. Quips Annalise/Ambrosia “Princess Diana only had to make tons of public appearances, How difficult can it be?” In a dry wit I found most endearing, Justus replies: “Some days are more difficult than others.”
Those difficulties begin shortly after the plane lands and the princesses are threatened by sniper fire. Once they arrive at the palace, they are assaulted by a barrage of movie clichés. Surly, secretive and resentful palace servants. A traitor within the inner circle. An arranged betrothal gone bad. Spurned seductresses. Threats of a forced marriage to unite nations. There is even a power-mad military dictator on the country’s borders waiting to take over. There are the obligatory walls to be scaled and native dances.
Justus smolders with his passion for Ambrosia. It is so intense, Ambrosia’s feelings often pale in comparison. “Tradition allowed him only to protect her from harm and worship at her feet.” Which, if you think about it, was all she wanted anyway. Ambrosia is at her best when she is able to use her skills as a researcher in positive ways.
Most of the secondary characters are caricatures. A notable exception is Ambrosia’s younger sister, Patrice. She steals every scene she is in with a meld of cultures that I call “Princess Homegirl.” I am not sure whether I would like to see her have her own story, but Patrice did add sparkle to the story.
The novel has a number of inconsistencies. In a region with private jets, televised trials and where $5 million trust funds can be quickly established, one would think that someone would have a cell phone to keep in touch with the goings on at the palace during a trip to a remote village. In a nation that resented the American backgrounds of its queen and princesses, an acknowledgment of a uniquely African-American observance like Kwanzaa was out of place.
Ambrosia has a few pleasant moments, but not enough to recommend it. T.T. Henderson’s first novel, Passion, is a better example of her talent.