The Perfect Princess

Princess Charming

Strangers at Dawn

Whisper His Name

Almost a Princess
by Elizabeth Thornton
(Bantam, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-553-5849-8
A couple of years ago, one of Elizabeth Thorntonís Regency romances was nominated for a Rita in the Romantic Suspense category. I thought the designation was very appropriate because the book in question, like most of Thorntonís novels, combined a historical setting with a compelling suspense plot. Thus, my expectations were that Almost a Princess would be vintage Thornton, especially after reading the cover blurb. Unfortunately, while the romance was fine, the suspense was at best ordinary.

The suspense in Almost a Princess centers on the search for a murderous villain who is seeking revenge against the hero, Casper Devere, Earl of Castleton. During the war, Case had tracked down the notorious turncoat, Gideon Piers, and destroyed his bandit band. He thought he had killed Piers as well, but now it is clear that the villain had survived. One man is already dead and now Case is working with the Special Branch to find Piers before he himself becomes a victim.

His search for Piersí sister brings him in contact with Jane Mayberry, her best friend. Jane is associated with his auntís pet project, the Ladiesí Library. This innocuously named organization works to change the unfair laws that oppress women and to help desperate females to find a safe haven. Jane has little time for men, especially proud heirs to a dukedom. Nor is she willing to cooperate with Caseís search for her friend.

Case is willing to use trickery to track down his quarry and his high handedness does not sit well with Jane. Nor is Jane the kind of woman Case generally finds attractive. But from the first, there is a spark between these very different people. The spark grows when Jane becomes an unwitting target of the villainís machinations. But there are forces that threaten to keep the lovers apart, factors other than the difference in their social status.

As noted above, the romance was quite good, despite the authorís all too convenient disposal of the impediment to their happy ever after. Janeís experiences with men has understandably distrustful. Her refusal to respond to Case in the way of most women is part of her attraction. But he is also taken with her intelligence, her bravery and her determination. She may not be the ďalmost a princessĒ that a dukeís son should marry, but she is the woman for him and he is willing to do anything to make her his wife.

If the romance is fine, why the three heart rating? Largely because the suspense plot doesnít quite work. The motives of the villain may be comprehensible, but his methods have a byzantine quality that seems overdone. Frankly, the efforts of the good guys to catch the bad guy seem remarkably amateurish and ineffective.

Perhaps given the high quality of Thorntonís previous Regency romantic suspense novels led me to have overly high expectations of her latest release which led, in turn, to my disappointment. Almost a Princess is almost a recommended read, but not quite.

--Jean Mason

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