I picked this book up on the recommendation of some of my AAR friends. I think it came up during a discussion of pirate romances. Now let me just say that I'm a total sucker for romance on the high seas. I still remember being about nine and watching Errol Flynn swing onto the deck of his ship and fight off the bad guys with his fancy sword work. *sigh* And let's not even start with my eternal crush on Wesley from The Princess Bride.
Lucky for me, my library system happened to have The Prince in their collection (they are SO random about the romance books they have), so I put a hold on it and got it in time to take it with me on a one-week work trip to Canada. Usually, I'm the kind of reader who plows right through a book, averaging about a page or more per minute and finishing it in one sitting. Not so with this book. Partly because of travel and partly because of short attention span, I found that I picked this up and put it down so much that it took me a whole week to finish. In retrospect, I think this is because it took a while for the world the author was creating to make sense to me and become comfortable. But when it did...look out!
The plot, the plot...let's see. In essence, there is a kingdom called Venya which was overthrown by an evil usurper, King Richard. Florian, the rightful prince of said kingdom, has lived in exile since he was a child and has grown up being groomed for a return to his kingdom in which he is expected to be the long-lost saviour and free the land. This is the putative Prince of the title. Then there is our heroine Rose of Valinor who is related to King Richard and who has played a part in the ongoing rebellion in Venya. Rose runs away from Richard and throws herself on the mercy of Florian. She ends up with him and his crew on his ship. And we have the makings of a road romance, or a shipboard romance as the case may be.
Florian is one of the most interesting characters I think I've read in quite some time. He has a lot of layers and they're not all apparent from the outset. He carries a lot of weight on his shoulders, the fate of his country and the destinies of his subjects, and he is both immature in some things and very wise in others. His fame as the Prince of Venya is sung far and wide and he has learned how to keep that mask firmly over his true self. He's absolutely not above manipulating anyone if he feels it will help him in his quest to win back Venya. Florian decides to marry Rose based on how their union will help unite different factions as well as bring more support to his cause. In one passage, he calculates how best to seduce Rose, and I found this passage both really illuminating regarding his internal dialogue with himself as well as really quite funny as it skewers a lot of typical romance hero cliches:
But what was Princess Rosamund's fantasy?
Surely not the bold pirate - always a favorite - who would accept nothing less than complete surrender from his captive. He was glad of that, for it made his head ache to imagine another night of feigned shrieks and faux struggles...Then there was the world-weary rake disarmed by the sweet innocence of the woman in his bed. Many women liked that one. Too many, really; he was bored with it...The callow youth, all wet kisses and eager, fumbling hands? No, at twenty-five, he suspected he'd at last outgrown that role...Yet this was no joking matter. He had no time to waste upon deciding his approach. The thing must be done, and quickly, before she realized what he was about.
Rose is a lot smarter than she's given credit for initially. While she finds herself attracted to Florian, she doesn't fall for his smooth seduction. When she actually does agree to marry him it is because she too wants the return of peace to Venya and not because she believes that they love each other. But something funny happens on the way to the forum, so to speak, and Florian and Rose find themselves drawing increasingly closer together. They learn to see behind each other's masks and to let their guards down. And I found it achingly romantic.
My main complaint with this book has to do with the world-building. It took a little while to build up steam and for the complex mix of countries, ethnicities, loyalties, magic powers, etc. to make any sense to me. I felt a little like I was walking into the middle of something and missing key pieces of information. As much as I like to make fun of glossaries, it actually would have been very helpful to have one. Still, once I got into the story, I found myself really intrigued and eager to know what was going to happen next. Particularly, I liked how trust and intimacy was explored in the relationship between Florian and Rose. I would give this book a solid B, and I'd like to read more by this author.