Her Highness, My Wife
by Victoria Alexander, historical (2002)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-000144-5


I'm seriously considering revoking Victoria Alexander's membership to the Wannabe-Cathy-Maxwell/Julia-Quinn Avon Club. Her latest, Her Highness, My Wife catches me off-guard and I am suckered in the gut by how good I actually find this book to be. Several flaws too large to overlook prevent this book from being a keeper in my opinion, but seriously, I'm impressed.

Princess Tatiana of Avalonia needs help. The Heavens of Avalonia, some overblown jewelry as garish as England's Crown Jewels, have been missing for a long, long time now, and it is up to our heroine to take up the challenge of finding it as an excuse to rekindle her long-dead thing with our British hero Matthew Weston. Without the Heavens, our Avalonia royalty cannot pass themselves off as legitimate rulers, see. Frankly, if a country is as stupid enough as to demand that its rulers wear sissy jewelry just to prove that they are the "right" rulers, I suggest we topple the monarchy and install a military dictatorship right now. But hey, that's just me.

Also, we all know how much 1800's England respects the sovereign of her fellow neighbors in this world. Just ask India how England had generously helped that backward country attain Modernity despite that annoying, anorexic pest named Mahatma Gandhi's best efforts to thwart the Righteous World Order. You need help to settle your internal conflicts, ask England. She's the best country ever!

Matthew and Tatiana, as I've mentioned, had a thing going, until she walked out on him soon after. Now he learns that she is a princess and she needs him to pose as her husband so that she can prowl around looking for the jewels. So there they go.

There are readers that have problems with Tatiana, I know, but frankly, I like her. I like a heroine who can put her country and responsibility above or at least at the same level as her heart. Tatiana walks a fine line here, but I am won over by her. She is confident without being annoyingly pert, intelligent, loves her family without coming off as pathetic and co-dependent, and she lies pretty well. Not that she lies for the sake of lying - national security is a good reason to tell lies for, if you ask me, and that she doesn't bombard me with "Eee, eee, I'm feeling so guilty!" is another reason to like her. She also doesn't pull out any herb pouch to heal anybody.

In short, Tatiana may have some typical "I don't want to rule, I just want love!" traits - necessary evil for romance heroines to be accepted by "nice and moral readers" out there - but she behaves like an intelligent member of royalty who knows her worth and place in life. She holds her own against Matthew, and that's very good. She does do some stupid things in this story, and most of her lies are unnecessary, but hey, what can I say? She's a romance heroine. She's bound by the cosmic laws of the universe to be a dingbat. I'm just grateful she's not too much a dingbat.

Matthew is also an interesting hero. The back of the book makes him out to be a rake, but he's more of an inventor and aviator enthusiast who just happens to be built like a hunk. He is smart enough to see through Tatiana's lies, but he is also smart enough to respect her for her ways once he knows her better.

I think I've made it such that the plot of this book seems meager. In a way, the plot is silly, but Matthew and Tatiana's relationship fascinate me. Victoria Alexander can come off as trying too hard in the past when it comes to dialogs, but this time around, she has it right with Matthew and Tatiana. Even Matthew's letters to a correspondent have a nice, romantic poetry feel to it as his feelings for Tatiana unfurl. He doesn't want revenge on this woman who walked away from him, you know. He just wants to know her better to understand and do his own soul-searching. A part of me thinks that he's the biggest fool alive, but the rest of me is won over by this good-natured, cynical-yet-optimistic man who has a nice way with words.

The secondary characters are stereotypes - matchmakers, cardboard villainess, and happily married couples from previous books unite! - but Tatiana and Matthew, actually stereotypes themselves now that I think of it, have enough chemistry together to keep me reading. They feel right together - in that aspect, Ms Alexander has done very well indeed.

But the biggest flaw of this book is that Tatiana and Matthew's fling in the past is never made clear. Hints, allusions, and too-brief expositions are not enough, so I never can see what the fuss That Glorious Night is supposed to be. As a result, there are times when their banters and arguments, while amusing, come off like static in a telephone conversation I am eavesdropping. While I like this couple, I don't connect with them as much as I could because I don't really get the whole picture of their story.

Nonetheless, after all's been said and done, the bottom line is, I close this book with a good, high feeling. The late half of the book, when Matthew unleashes beautiful, urgent melodrama about her being his life, fate, and all wins over the last of my reservations.

Victoria Alexander still needs to find her own voice; she may have shed most of her Julia Quinn wannabe-isms, but she still comes off like a poor man's version of Cathy Maxwell at times. Still, with this book showcasing her best to date at characterization and emotional poignancy, who knows? Maybe one day she'll deliver that book that will make me eat every mean thing I've said about her in the past. Believe it or not, I can't wait to eat humble pie in this instance.

Rating: 89


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