The Bride's Bodyguard

Dangerous To Hold

Strangers at Dawn

Whisper His Name

 
Princess Charming by Elizabeth Thornton
(Bantam, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-533-58120-1
****
Set in 1816, Princess Charming combines a heroine in danger with a Regency romance. On balance, the suspense elements are somewhat stronger than the romance, but both contribute to an enjoyable reading experience.

Gwyneth Barrie is a young widow whose husband died of wounds suffered in the Peninsular campaign. It was not a happy marriage and when Nigel Barrie died, Gwyn was left with a seven-year-old son to support. She moved to London, obtained a house, and began making their living - barely - by giving piano lessons in a tastefully furnished front parlor. Unbeknownst to the parents of her students, only the front parlor is tastefully furnished. The rest of the house sports bare floors and a minimum of cheap furniture.

Having personally experienced "the injustices women suffer because of our antiquated marriage laws," Gwyn volunteers three mornings a week at the library run by the Ladies' League, a group of women striving for a more equitable system. After one of her mornings at the library, Gwyn arrives home to find Jason Radley waiting for her.

Gwyn is a Radley herself, a cousin of the Radleys of Haddo Hall, near Brighton on the southern coast of England. When she was orphaned, the Radleys took her in and raised her until, at age 18, she eloped with Nigel Barrie. Since then, not wanting her family to see how poorly her marriage had turned out, she has kept them at arms' length…no visits, few letters. She never told them of her move to London and does not know how - or why - they have found her. Jason, six years older than Gwyn, was always her hero and, as she reached her eighteenth year, her first love.

Jason has been the head of the Radley family since his brother, George, died in a boating accident eight years ago. After George's death, the family discovered, to their horror, that George had gambled away his inheritance.

Jason has hunted Gwyn down to tell her she is the recipient of a legacy of ten thousand pounds from an anonymous donor. Neither Gwyn nor Jason can imagine who the donor might be nor can they understand why the donor has appointed Jason as trustee. However, when Jason tells Gwyn of his difficulties in finding her, she immediately accuses him of having her watched. She has found footprints in her flowerbed, someone questioned her son, Mark, and she has the feeling that someone searched her house even though nothing was taken.

Very quickly it becomes clear that Gwyn's fears are not baseless…someone is threatening her… and that person is a merciless killer. Jason enlists his friend, Richard Maitland, of London's Special Branch, to help him find Gwyn's pursuer (do I see a series of books in which Richard Maitland's Special Branch help solve another mystery?). Jason knows he has always wanted Gwyn…his Princess Charming, as he used to call her sarcastically…and he wants her still.

The reader always knows more about who is hunting Gwyn and why than Jason and Gwyn do, and Thornton uses this device skillfully to build suspense. She handles the romance between Jason and Gwyn almost as skillfully. No Big Misunderstandings for these two. Jason, in particular, has a tendency to blurt out his worst interpretation of Gwen's motives…she has an admirer who gifted her with the legacy, she was in love with his older brother, she blames him for his George's death, and so on. The romance between these two is always realistic, so Gwyn reacts with hurt feelings and withdrawal. Nevertheless, misapprehensions are consistently brought into the open and dealt with, a refreshing change from so many romances.

Not only is the romance believable, but the language and attitudes of the characters reflect their period more than is usual in the historical romance that comesmy way. Jason and Gwyn do not have a "relationship;" neither of them is described as "needy." Gwyneth is very aware that her opinions on the marriage law are out of step with current thinking and, rather than trumpeting her certainty, she is more likely to change the topic. For me, at least, this sort of authenticity removed many of the obstacles that interfere with my enjoyment of historical romances.

Princess Charming is a solid four-heart read. A little more heat in Gwyneth's and Jason's romance would have moved this entertaining work up one more heart, but even without that added intensity, I have no hesitation in recommending Princess Charming."

--Nancy J. Silberstein


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