Princess
by Gaelen Foley, historical (1999)
Fawcett, $5.50, ISBN 0-449-00246-2


If you love tales of princesses and their loyal, reliable, and dangerous bodyguards, you'd love Princess. Indeed, Christina Dodd wrote a story with similar premise but this book is much more superior. No mean feat as, if I'm not mistaken, this is only Ms Foley's second book.

The story starts with Princess Serafina (the daughter of the two lead characters in The Pirate Prince, a noteworthy book) being rescued by her protector Darius Santiago from a kidnapping attempt. To protect the Princess, King Lazar orders Darius to lead the Princess' security when they escort her to somewhere safe. The Princess is also to be married to a brutal man, Prince Anatole Tyurinov of Russia. The wedding is to ensure Ascension, their kingdom, remains neutral in face of Napoleon's vanguard across Europe.

Serafina has always loved Darius, and he likewise. Unfortunately, he is merely a Gypsy foundling adopted by the King and Queen after he saved the Queen from a sniper when he was twelve. He is also an assassin and spy. How could he be worthy of the beautiful Princess, called the Jewel of Ascension? He is, however, determined to protect Serafina from her enemies, including Anatole whose first wife died under mysterious circumstances. Darius must stop the wedding, and if that means assassinating Napoleon on his own, so be it. First, he has to see to Serafina's safety. Serafina, however, has other plans. Two actually. First, to make sure Darius never rush headlong into danger. Two, to make Darius hers.

Thus is the stage set for a pair of star-crossed lovers and political intrigue. Darius Santiago is a wonderful hero. He tries so hard to shield Serafina from knowing the true he: a brutal, merciless killer who would risk anything and everything for her. His morals may be ambiguous but he is noble, he is a good man in my book. It is also heartrending to read about his past. Poor Darius, who never knew his parents at all, and has to stoop to low and downright unscrupulous means to ensure the security of the King and Queen and their children whom he loves. Shunned by others due to his Gypsy blood and low birth, he has never known any feeling of belonging. Hence, it is no wonder Serafina, kind, pure, and innocent, shines like a jewel in his dark and cruel life. I truly care for Darius. Reading about his willingness to die for Serafina, oh, it hurts as well as warms my heart! What a wonderful man!

If Darius is a wonderful hero, however, Serafina pales in his stead. It is unfortunate that Serafina acts more like a pampered naive innocent most of the times, running headlong into possible dangerous circumstances on her whims and impulses. It is entirely due to my prejudice, but I don't really like a heroine who develops her first infatuation with a man and is then never allowed to develop her feelings into something with greater foundation. Yes, she finds Darius intriguing and his air of danger exciting. But this is more like a case of puppy love to me, reinforced by the many scenes where she acts tad wee like a spoiled little princess than a mature woman. Oh yes, there are small moments when the intriguing woman in Serafina shines through - a woman torn between duty and her heart. These moments are few, however, and too brief before Princess Serafina reemerge to bury Serafina the Woman.

The romance starts out a bit forced (what's with the incessant mention of Serafina's beauty?), with Darius' attraction to Serafina seemingly due to nothing more than her being beautiful and innocent. As events unfold, however, it is halfway throughout the book that the relationship grows roots and blooms into something less ideal but more interesting. Instead of exchanging besotted praises of beauty to each other, these two begin to show more depths, more character. Serafina's steely core begins to surface as she reins in her impulses and starts acting like an intelligent heroine. I begin to see why Darius, noble and tragic, is enamored of her. The scenes where Darius, failed in his mission to assassinate Napoleon, contemplates suicide, and Serafina's reaction upon receiving news of him possibly killed are touching and moving. When an author can make me sniffle tears after reading two short paragraphs, I know this is it. Another author to the To-Buy list.

I must mention the second most intriguing character apart from Darius: Julia Calazzi. Reading about her only reinforces my opinion that bad women get shortchanged a lot in romance. Julia is a wonderful character - a bitter, cunning woman who uses her wits to manipulate men into doing her biddings. In truth, she hates the men who made her degrade herself to earn their favors. There are so many stories one could get from Julia, interesting ones. Her scenes with Rafael are tender and passionate, hinting at the possibility that the idealistic, dreamy girl in Julia may still be alive. I would love to see a story of Julia, but knowing the state of the romance novel industry, I don't think so. What a waste really.

This is definitely a wonderful book. It may be a bit slow in the beginning, but the exciting rollercoaster ride towards the climax of the story is well worth it. The Pirate Prince is good, Princess is better. Let me make a space in my shelf for the next one.

Rating: 83


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