Storm Prince by Terri Lynn Wilhelm
(Harper, $3.99, PG) ISBN: 0-06-108384-4
*****
Like Scottish romances? Like the Celtic legends about the silkies, those mystical aquatic beings able to transform themselves into human form? If so, you might wish to take a look at Terri Lynn Wilhelm's delicious, charming fantasy romance, Storm Prince.

The story begins in the underwater kingdom of the silkies, where the great clan leader lays dying. It is his dying wish to once again see his eldest son, Eideard, who has long since disappeared into the world of the "land creepers." And it is up to Torcuil, the second son, to venture forth to bring him back.

As a dutiful son, Torcuil MacCodrum is determined to go onto the land to find Eideard, but it is no happy task for him. To him, the air people are backward, even barbarous. They live by many perplexing rules. Though the story of the wild man being introduced to civilization is older than Tarzan, Torcuil's adjustment to the strange, bloodthirsty environs of Regency England was fresh and enchanting. While I found some of Storm Prince's other story elements to be rather ordinary, whenever Torcuil was center stage, I was dazzled.

Soon after Torcuil emerges naked onto a Scottish shore, he spies a band of highwaymen robbing a coach. Heroic to the core, Torcuil dispatches the brigands and wins the gratitude of the passengers, the Marquess of Ravenshaw and his lovely daughter Verity Alford. Verity is a practical, managing sort of young noblewoman, and quickly decides two things. One, that Torcuil needs some clothes. Two, that he would make an ideal bodyguard for her father, who is being menaced by assassins.

Torcuil ends up accompanying the Marquess and Verity back to London, as it is his brother's last known whereabouts. Much as he dislikes being delayed and entangled in Verity's affairs, he realizes that she and the Marquess could assist him in his search. As Torcuil has told Verity he is a clan chief's son, she assumes him to be a rustic Highlander. But what a rustic! Verity is surprised at the astonishing backwardness of the Highlands, where they apparently don't wear clothes, ride horses, have lending libraries, or know it is rude to sniff your food before eating. And what is it with Torcuil's extremely long baths?

Verity, while understandably not being as interesting a character as Torcuil, is a good foil for him. She wants above all to be needed, and has put off marriage, because she hasn't found a man who really needs her. It doesn't take her very long to ascertain that wild, beautiful Torcuil would very much benefit from her managerial skills. Torcuil, while drawn to the irresistible, high-handed miss, is determined not to fall victim to the wiles of a female land creeper. Many a silkie before him has made the mistake of loving a human, only to come to a tragic end.

Or, as Torcuil explains it to a disappointed Verity, "I'll no plant my seed so far from home."

Storm Prince is a charming, light-hearted romance, with an extremely winning and attractive hero. I loved every line of Torcuil's inventive dialogue, and delighted in the love story between him and Verity. While the love scenes are definitely in the PG range, there was such a building tension between H&H that for me it qualified as a luscious love story.

I must caution, however, that Storm Prince lags at times, being a bit slow to read in the beginning. Unfortunately, there are parts of the text in the first third of the book that are over-written, as when Verity takes an entire paragraph to find a ribbon. Or a page and a half to put sheets on a bed. These sort of problems slow up the pacing of a story, and ought to have been edited after the first draft. Ordinarily, I would never think of giving five hearts to a book with criticisms such as these; but the last half of Storm Prince was so exhilarating I felt I could make an exception.

If you are the sort of reader who can merrily skip over the occasional dull patch to get to the fun stuff, I highly recommend Storm Prince. At $3.99, you don't have much to lose by giving it a try.

--Meredith Moore


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