Full of inconsistencies and breathtakingly obtuse characters, this book constantly found new ways to irritate me.
Part of a series about the Marquess of Templeston’s offspring by various mistresses, this installment begins as Princess Georgiana of Saxe-Wallerstein-Karolya inherits the throne of her country after the assassination of her beloved parents. Their murderer, Giana’s cousin Victor, would prefer to rule S-W-K himself, but in order to reach the throne he must either marry Princess Giana or provide proof of her death.
Neither option is acceptable to Giana so she goes into hiding. With a few loyal retainers, she flees to a little-used hunting lodge in Scotland where her housekeeper’s brother is caretaker. They hope to hide there until Giana’s godmother, Queen Victoria, arrives in Balmoral for her annual stay and Giana can claim her help and protection.
There’s just one problem. Adam McKendrick, an American, recently acquired the lodge. Adam is the child of an American woman and an English peer although Adam’s father returned to England and annulled the marriage, making Adam legally a bastard. Adam is on his way to the lodge, intending to turn it into a luxury hunting retreat for paying guests.
Princess Giana persuades her group that they can stay at the lodge - they’ll just pose as the staff! This concerns them, as Giana was extraordinarily inept at the simple housekeeping that all young women of her country learn at age sixteen, but she is adamant.
My first difficulty arose in trying to sort out all the myriad background details in the early part of the story (of which the foregoing is just a taste). For example, I was confused about how Adam came to own the hunting lodge. His friend Murphy says that he inherited it. Then Adam says he won it in a poker game. Then Adam thinks he understands why the previous owner “sold the place.” Then Murphy says he won it. Eventually the poker story is confirmed, but this kind of confusion had me paging back and forth trying to figure out who, if anyone, knew what they were talking about.
The princess’s followers make only a token effort to disguise her as a housemaid. Their idea of subtlety is to run the place entirely for the comfort and convenience of the princess/housemaid, frequently against Adam’s express wishes (right down to refusing to make him coffee because Giana only drinks tea). They also cannot contain their horror when he treats Giana like - gasp! - a servant.
But then, Princess Brainiac’s idea of camouflage is to wear a Worth original complete with beads, bustle and a “small train” when she’s cleaning. Conveniently, although Adam recognizes the couturier dress, he only spends a moment pondering why a housemaid might wear a dress costing far more than she’d earn in a year to clean fireplaces. Then, apparently, he turns his ponderer off.
All of this would likely be water under the bridge if the characters or the romance were more interesting, but against this welter of over-complicated detail Adam and Giana are two-dimensional and the relationship clichéd. Giana knows she’s in love with him because she’s never been physically attracted to anyone before. Adam understands that taking advantage of a female employee is deeply inappropriate but “he seemed to have no control over it or his actions.” He excuses himself for seducing an innocent by saying that she was “supposed to say no.” My hero.
The story, too, is all over the place, and even the author can’t keep it straight. She tells us that Victor “cannot marry until the traditional period of mourning is over” (one year). Later, it seems he must marry Giana “within one year” of her father’s death - two quite different things. She can’t remember if S-W-K is a monarchy or a principality - or maybe she doesn’t know the difference. I lean toward the latter because the servants, including the Scots, refer to Adam as “the McKendrick.” Not “The” McKendrick which, because he’s not the head of a clan, would be incorrect, but “the” McKendrick, which is merely inexplicable.
I forced myself to finish this book. Unless you’re a fan of the series, I suggest you think twice before starting it.