Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

The Raven Prince is the first book in the Prince’s Trilogy and my first read by author Elizabeth Hoyt, and I must say, I was pleasantly surprised! I enjoyed the uniqueness of this story in that neither of the characters could be considered even remotely conventional, and this in a time when being anything less was nigh unto blasphemous! Also, there was a Beauty and the Beast fairytalesque feel to it that was done so well one could easily believe in this story and its wonderful characters.

A widow of six years, Anna Wren knew that, as the cover blurb explains, there comes a time in a woman's life when she must do the unthinkable - and find employment and like it or not,  her time had come. Her husband had left them a small sum to get by on, but it was quickly running out and she needed to do something about it. Plain of face and slightly plump, she was considered rather ordinary of person. However, she was quite smart for a woman, able to read, write and do sums, but the problem was, not only did she live in a smaller village where there little  demand for her skills, and even worse, she was a woman, the poor dear!

Edward de Raaf, the Earl of Swartingham was most unfortunate when it came to finding and keeping secretaries.  It might have been his horrid disposition, his demanding schedule or his pox scarred face, but whatever the reason, he’d just lost another one and at a most inopportune time.  Edward is in dire need of a secretary and has given his estate manager, Felix Hopple, one day to find a replacement or find a new employer.

Well, as luck would have it, Mrs. Wren, whilst out pounding the pavement road, looking for employment, ran into (almost literally) Mr. Hopple. They spent some time conversing and Anna became aware of Mr. Hopple’s desperate search for a secretary and after some deliberating – and fretting and sweating on Hopple’s part – she was hired. And thus begins the tale of how a rather unremarkable widow comes to be in the employ of an unhandsome, overbearing Earl and how the two learn to work together and come to terms with their feelings for one another.

One small thing I want to mention, and explain why The Raven Prince did not get a 5 star rating from me, is that in places I felt the writing was… choppy. It didn’t flow well. What I noticed were sentences that seemed to end abruptly or times when a conversation would start out one way, for example; happy, playful, teasing – and then end up terse, angry or upset… and there was no way to tell from the actual dialog the direction the conversation was taking until it was over and someone just wasn’t happy. If the author had hinted at the emotions of the speakers, that would have helped the flow. I’m chalking this up to being a debut novel, and while I did have to go back and re-read parts to see what I had missed and found that the problem was the writing itself and not me, it didn’t detract from my overall joy of the story.

Now, that said, there were so many things to love about this book, but what stands out in my mind is Edward’s confidence. As a young man he lost his entire family to the pox. Although he lived, he was left severely scarred and this had such an impact on him. I mean, he functioned well, was smart, successful, and seemed well adjusted and all, but every time there was any question about his relationship with a woman, his pox scars were his first concern. While he understood others’ reaction to them, he also accepted that they were part of him and made allowances for those around him. I can only imagine how severe the scarring was for it to have played such a big part of the story, but despite that, he kept on keeping on. He lived, did the things that needed to be done, didn’t lock himself away in his home, and yet… my heart broke for him because of the fact that he had to be at all concerned that someone would find him repulsive. It gave him a vulnerability that I wouldn’t have expected, but one I couldn’t ignore.

Anna was such a joy to read about. I loved her for all the things she risked, all the things she did, to be with the man she had come to care about. And my heart broke for her as her husband’s infidelities while he was alive come back to haunt her even in his death.

Ok, one of my favorite characters was Mr. Davis, Edward’s valet/butler. What a hoot this man was! He suffered from a malady known as Selective Hearing Loss. It’s a wide spread, yet little understood illness, usually found in teenagers. In fact, all three of my own children became afflicted with this illness somewhere around the age of 13. I found it quite endearing in Mr. Davis. Not so much in my own children.

Another delightful part of this novel was the fairytale within the story, which was so beautiful in its telling, that I had thought it surely written hundreds of years ago by a master storyteller. But the truth is that it was also written by Elizabeth Hoyt. What a talent she has! I’m looking forward to continuing the Prince’s Trilogy and seeing what’s in store for Harry Pye in The Leopard Prince.

I think it best if I end my review here, because if I keep going I’ll give away far too much and I want to leave the treasures of this story for you to find on your own.

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