The Leopard Prince

The Raven Prince

 
The Serpent Prince
by Elizabeth Hoyt
(Warner Forever, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-40053-X
****
I know what you’ll most likely be thinking when you start reading The Serpent Prince. “Boy, Lesley’s really losing it if she’s recommending this.

“It reads as if it had been written by the ghost of Barbara Cartland: handsome virile aristocrat, beaten, stabbed and dumped in a country lane right where he can be discovered by the sweet unsophisticated artistically talented heroine, who lives with her retired naval captain father in a modest dwelling with two servants — one a crusty old retainer, the other a maternal, nurturing type; she’s been courted for three years by the dull but dependable local vicar; naturally, the handsome virile aristocrat is attracted to the angel who’s saved his life, and she’s attracted because — duh —he’s a handsome virile aristocrat. Doesn’t Lesley recognize a Cartland retread when she reads one?”

Well, you’ve got a point, but hang in for just a little bit longer. Once the hero and heroine get married (is there any doubt they’ll get married?) things get better … a lot better, and this Barbara Cartland knock-off turns into a gripping, very satisfying story.

Lucinda Craddock-Hayes is the sweet heroine who finds the nude body of Simon, Viscount Iddesleigh on a lonely country lane near the town of Maiden Hill. She initially believes he’s dead, but no, he’s still alive … just barely, but alive. Lucy has him carried into her father’s house where she nurses him back to health. As he begins to recover, they are frequently alone. To capture her interest, Simon starts to tell her the story of the Serpent Prince.

For three years the local vicar, Eustace Penweeble, has been courting Lucy. Once a week he takes her for a drive and talks about the state of repairs to the church. Lucy has been satisfied with the likely course of her life, but after meeting the sophisticated, urbane Simon (in Georgian high style, he wears shoes with red high heels!), a future with Eustace no longer holds any appeal.

A friend, Christian Fletcher, who admires the older Simon, shows up to check on him. It is from Christian that Lucy learns that Simon is a master swordsman.

Simon knows who is responsible for the attempt on his life. He has been targeting certain men and challenging them to duels with fatal ends. These men had been business partners of his brother Ethan and caused his death. Simon has resolved to avenge his brother. In order to stop him, the remaining men had arranged for the attack.

Simon returns to London, but he cannot forget his angel.

What distinguishes The Serpent Prince from many other romances with similar plots (don’t handsome virile aristocrats ever get dumped in a country lane in front of the dwelling of a miserable old crone?) is the vivid portrayal of Simon and his internal dilemma — the conflict between the intellectual who raises roses in his greenhouse and the master swordsman intent on death and destruction. He knows what he is doing is wrong and that Lucy is opposed to his continuing, but he sincerely believes he owes it to his dead brother.

Lucy is sufficiently developed that she emerges from the sweet country miss stereotype, but this is Simon’s story and she is inevitably a blander character. Christian Fletcher (an unfortunate choice of names since I read it backwards every time I saw it) eventually comes to play more than an incidental role in the plot. A conversation with his father provides unusual depth to the plot. Minor characters including Hedge, the Craddock-Hayeses’ crusty retainer, supply some comic relief.

The Serpent Prince is the final book in the author’s Princes trilogy and characters from the earlier books make cameo appearances, but The Serpent Prince stands well on its own. As in the other books, a fairy tale is woven into the central story line.

Elizabeth Hoyt has made quite a splash as a new romance author. The Serpent Prince will likely earn her even more fans. And trust me, you’ll be glad you stuck with it all the way to the end. Barbara Cartland should have done it so well.

--Lesley Dunlap


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