Monday, September 08, 2008

Penelope and Prince Charming Charmed Me!

I finished Penelope and Prince Charming by Jennifer Ashley yesterday. I had started it months ago, and put it aside. Not that it wasn't good. I did the fatal reading habit thing: skimming ahead. The love scenes are definitely on the erotic side. As we have discussed, I am iffy about erotic elements in a "mainstream" romance. But on the second read the love scenes were tastefully done. I suppose that Jennifer felt that she needed to push the sensual envelope as the Nvengarians are very sensual, wild, and sexually explorative people. I think that she did compromise and kept things as tame as possible for a mainstream romance. And I use the word 'tame' in the sense that the love scenes are definitely hot, but the reasonably prudish romance reader who likes her love scenes could handle them.
Penelope... is a sweet love story about the power of love to redefine and to defy the odds. Penelope is a rather ordinary daughter of a baronet who resides in the country with her widowed mother. She is most definitely on the shelf after two broken engagements (neither of which are quite her fault, although it has earned her a reputation of a jilt). And in fact, she has almost given up on finding her Prince that her romantic heart quite longs for. In swoops a bonafide Imperial Prince, Damien. He was imprisoned by his rather insane, evil father, who feared him taking over his rule. And once freed, he fled his homeland, working hard to support himself until he became wealthy, and developed a reputation as a dilettante expatriate, equally good at seducing women as he is at charming diplomats. But when his wicked father dies, he realizes that his people need him, so he decides to take over the rule of the country from the ultra-powerful Council of Dukes, one in particular of which, Grand Duke Alexander, is determined to kill him to prevent him from subjecting Nvengaria to tyrannical wicked excesses as his father did.
In order for Damian to be accepted by his people, he has to fulfill the prophecy of bringing back the long lost Princess as his bride. His search brings him to the tiny town of Little Marching, in England, where he sees that the long lost ring that would mark the princess is in the hands of the frivolous baronet widow, Lady Simone. As he can obviously not marry a woman past childbearing age, he immediately asks for Penelope, her daughter's hand. But this is not a burden to him, as he is captivated by her. It is made clear that part of the attraction is due to the magic of the prophecy. However, I believe that there was a magic that came from the meeting of two soulmates, completely unrelated to the prophecy.
Quite frankly, after having been engaged the first time around to a complete scoundrel, Penelope doesn't want to be atttracted to the incredibly attractive, somewhat roguish prince, but her heart and her hormones are doing their own thing. Damien is a master at seduction and is drawn to Penelope in a way he cannot resist. Their engagement is inevitable, although Penelope has some misgivings, one of which is leaving her widowed, somewhat ineffectual mother alone, although she has a suitor in her lover, Mr. Michael Tavistock, who is the father of Penelope's good friend Megan (who will have her happy ending in the second book, The Mad, Bad Duke with guess who). Another would be her fears that an ordinary girl from the country could never be a good enough Princess to a man of the world like Damien.
Because of Damien's state official servant Sasha's adherence and belief in the old ways, there are tons of rituals that must be adhered to before the couple can consummate their relationship ( both are eager to do so), and this is fun to read about. Some of the rituals are downright sensual, and as Nvengarian believe a betrothal to be as binding as marriage, we get treated to some pretty hot moments. And for an adventure lover, you find that there are assassins that are determined to prevent the Prince from taking the throne, and will do everything possible to prevent it from happening.
This book has a little of everything: humor, sensuality, adventure, and magic. It also has funny, captivating secondary characters in the amusing, skirtchasing, but loyal unto death body servants and bodyguards that Prince Damien brings with him, his good friend Egan MacDonald, the Mad Highlander, and Duke Alexander, who although is the villain, he is a villain with very valid motivations and depths that keep you interested in him. As it is set in the Regency period, it has some of those conventions, including a cameo by Prince George.
I don't want to give too much away, but if you want to read a great book about fairy tales coming true, you will definitely love Penelope and Prince Charming. Jennifer did a great job of creating a country that is steeped in magic, wild tradition, and sensuality. It felt very real to me, and I definitely feel like Nvengaria could definitely still exist somewhere in Eastern Europe, magic included.
This time around, I found I couldn't put the book down. I finished reading a very intense book in Comanche Moon by Catherine Anderson, and this book hit the spot. I don't like any books that are too fluffy, but this book is light enough with humorous moments that it was a welcome relief. But it also has an intensity in the fiery attraction between the characters, and their true, deep love for each other, and not to mention the danger that haunts the couple at every turn. In addition there are dark fires that simmer in the Prince, as he tries to suppress and defy the primitive and ruthless part of him that reminds him of his cruel father. He might be a sexy, rich, handsome prince that could have any woman he wants, but he has suffered through poverty, torture, and hunger, and this makes him a very three-dimensional character that never gives you the impression of just being a spoiled playboy. Jennifer is great at writing sexy and somewhat dark heroes, and Damien is perhaps the darkest of them. James Ardmore (yum) from The Pirate Hunter would probably be a close second. Penelope is equally likeable. She might be from the English countryside, but it has not made her insipid. Instead she is a practical, loving, kind, intelligent, and loyal heroine, who has a gift for healing, which is which proves to an important part of the fulfillment of the prophecy.
In the end, I can't say enough good things about this book. Although I am convinced that a Nvengarian male might be a little too much for me to handle, I am glad that Penelope is up to the challenge. It is a fun romance, with a deeper message about not giving up on what's right, what's important, and the possibility of finding love, despite the disappointments in your past.

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