Thursday, July 4, 2013

Bonus Review: Princess Charming

Princess Charming
By Beth Pattillo
Publisher: Belle Books
Release Date: May 24, 2013
(Reissue, originally published 2003)

Lucy Charming is a Cinderella complete with a dead father, an evil stepmother, wicked stepsisters (although one is somewhat reluctantly wicked), and time in the kitchen. The daughter of a duke, Lucy is turned into a servant by her abusive stepmother. It turns out that Lucy doesn’t mind too much since she is far more interested in undercover political activism, specifically universal suffrage, than she is in ballrooms and moonlight dances with handsome princes.

Nicholas St. Germain is a prince, the crown prince of Santadorra. But Nick is no more interested in being a prince than Lucy is in ballrooms. In fact, he is estranged from his father and has made a life in England, refusing to return to Santadorra. When he was twelve, he was forced to flee with his mother and sister when revolutionaries attacked. His mother and sister were killed, and Nick has never been able to forgive himself for failing to save them or for surviving. He also holds his father responsible for their deaths. Because of this background, Nick has developed a savior complex. He is compelled to rescue people.

Lucy and Nick meet when she is trying to evade two men who are following her with evil intent and enters the garden where Nick is doing gardener duty to pay off a lost wager. A comedy of error ensues with mistaken identity (She thinks he’s a gardener; he thinks she’s a maid), botched rescues, and a wager with much higher stakes. Nick’s friend, Lord Crispin Wellstone, takes on the role of a benevolent godfather with good intentions, useful contacts, but no magical powers.

The summary makes this book sound like a frothy romp that is an entertaining revision of a fairy tale, and it does begin that way. The combination of the familiar and the strikingly different has a strong appeal; the humor is rich and seems an appropriate prelude to love overcoming obstacles. But the tone changes when Nick and Lucy’s identities are revealed. There’s nothing light or amusing about troops set on demonstrators or the grittiness of prison. What I thought was a witty spoof with two lovers headed for an HEA after the requisite sparring becomes social commentary and psychologically disturbing obsession. Color me confused and frustrated.

I have read and enjoyed other books by Beth Pattillo, and I know she is a writer who can both entertain and provoke thoughtful examination of complex issues. Unfortunately, the mix in Princess Charming did not work for me.

Dozens of romance authors have written their own versions of Cinderella. Why do you think this fairy tale continues to have such wide appeal?

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