Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt *****

Funny how the ending of a book can change your mind about ratings... I was a little put off in the near beginning, and thinking it was stretching my limits of credibility, then I just slid off the cliff into the story itself, and have just finished it, silly grin on my face.

What a superb hero was our Edward! He was gruff, and surly, and bad tempered and - frankly, soft as a marshmallow. And so much in love with the heroine Anna!!! Sigh...

Anywayssss, on to the review. I loved Edward! Oh wait, that's not a review!

OK - Anna is a widow in a country town, living with her mother-in-law and a young woman they are trying to train (unsuccessfully) to be a maid. She is about out of money, and goes looking for a job.

Edward is a widower whose wife died in childbirth - and an Earl of Swartingham - in need of 2 things: (1) a secretary and (2) a wife. The #1 need is the secretary because Edward has a lot of correspondence and a manuscript to transcribe, so he sends a servant to town to locate one. This is 1760, mind you, and a secretary would be male. His servant runs into Anna (literally) and she learns his mission and offers to do the job. Meanwhile, Edward heads to London to make arrangements to marry some virginal miss.

Edward is a rather forbidding fellow, with small pox scars on his face and body. His first wife found him rather ugly, a fact which hurt him at the time, and now he's a little, well, distant as a result. See, he was the only survivor of an epidemic of small pox during his teen years - he lost his parents and all his siblings. Over time, he has covered his pain of these losses and the reality of his appearance with this gruff, loud, scowling persona - one that Anna sees through rather quickly.

He also has a wonderful mongrel/mastiff dog that Anna takes to as quickly as she takes to Edward.

Anna realizes there is an attraction between them, but knows as well as Edward it can never be - for one thing, she is apparently barren, and Edward wants children. For another, there's a disparity between their stations in life. Edward decides to take out his sexual frustration with a visit to a well-known London brothel which, get this, sends their patrons bills. Being his secretary, Anna learns about this place and hatches a crazy plan.

It was the crazy plan that had me thinking, ???? and wondering how I felt about the book. However, the book, in addition to being fiction after all, has a running fairy tale at the beginning of each chapter, about The Raven Prince, a fellow who is cursed to be a Raven by day but a beautiful man at night. The "fairy-tale-ness" of it saved it for me! In addition to the excerpts in each chapter, the book itself is a player in the story as Anna discovers the book in Edward's library and attempts to read it. First Edward takes it back from her, but later he uses it to lure her to him.

OK Crazy Plan Spoiler Alert - Anna learns that sometimes even virtuous (appearing) women go to this brothel in disguise and take lovers, so she high tails it to London on Edward's heels, and gets a room and asks the Madam to send Edward to her while she wears a mask (and little else). And then the sparks fly.

After 2 nights of this joyous sexual abandon for both of them, she rushes back to their country village and tries to go on as if nothing has happened. Eventually, through some rather obscure clues, Edward realizes it was she who had made love with him in London, and determines they must marry. At first, he decides they must marry because he has compromised her. She leaves his employ, and then he realizes the hole she has left in his heart, and goes about - in his own gruff and scowling way - wooing her into his own heart. Not that it would take much, since she is smitten, but she holds out because she cannot give him children.

There are a couple of subplots with some intrigue and blackmailing going on - but the bottom line is, these 2 needed each other to heal their hearts. He is afraid to find out why she left him - does she hate his scars? Or just not love him? And she is afraid she cannot be the wife he needs. Oh it's so touching!

The characters were so much fun - even the villains were kind of silly and not at all scary. Davis, the valet, was a real hoot, and Jock the dog is now one of my favorite fictional dogs. I read a review somewhere that summed up the fairy tale story that ran in each chapter as some combination of Greek myths and something else. I guess my mythology education is sorely lacking - I didn't recognize the story for anything but a wonderful fairy tale that had as happy an ending as the The Raven Prince novel itself.

This is an AAR Top 100 pick, as is one of the others in the series, so I can check it off - I also listed it as my fairytale pick in the Fall 2008 reading challenge. Now on to The Leopard Prince and then The Serpent Prince and maybe even a full glom of this author! 5 stars.


Cindy W said...

I am SO glad you liked it. I am almost done w/ Harry Pye's story, The Leopard Prince and haven't recvd The Serpent Prince (Simon's story!) Look for my review in an hour or so!!!!!

aunt rowena said...

I've just updated the review (I just had to write something the second I finished, then had to go back to work!).

Cindy W said...

Very well done! Tension was Rockin'.

SPOILER ALERT--I LOVED how she moved her hair out of her face and it gave her away. Davis and Jock were some of my faves, even her mother in law was great!

Cindy W said...

I don't think we met Georgina. However, you met Harry Pye at the club that discusses plants. I liked him just as much as Edward. And... you see Edward for a few pages in the last chapter!

gwendolyn said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one -- it sounds like a lot of fun! I'm going to search it out!