Publication date: June 4, 2013
Series: A Princess In Hiding #1
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This is a fantastic introduction to Juliana Gray's new trilogy, and one that does proud to tropes in both Jane Eyre and Beauty and the Beast.
The premise: The three princesses of the German principality of Holstein-Schweinwald-Huhnhof, Luisa, Emilie, and Stefanie, are forced to disguise themselves as males and secure employment in England while their uncle, the Duke of Olympia (who was a minor character in Gray's Affairs by Moonlight trilogy), ferret out the assassins that are trying to kill them, post-assassinating the king and Luisa's fiancé.
When Emilie bravely saved a young man in a taproom brawl (using a chicken leg no less!) she had no idea that was Freddie, son of the Duke of Ashland, who is to be her future employer. Upon meeting the duke in her guise of a male tutor, she gradually becomes infatuated with the deeply wounded man who turned her normally intelligent brain to jelly, but could she come to unlock the secrets of his heart?
Juliana Gray writes like no author I've ever read. She spins a tale of such astounding warmth and heart to melt the forbidding coldness of Yorkshire, filled with sensual and mesmerizing imagery and superb characters. The dialogue is amusing and witty, paid with exacting details to not only the British language, but also to the political and social climate of the time; it feels like reading a minor treatise on philosophy and history but with much more humor and fun. The greatest selling point of this book is, however, the complexity of its main characters and the way they come to life and enchant readers with so much thought and feeling.
I cannot say whether I liked Emilie or Ashland more, as both are very genuine in their own right. However, as true strength goes, Ashland is quite amazing. Having been tortured while serving as an officer in India (his right arm is amputated; his face and body severe scars), he came home only to find his beautiful wife deserting him for another, leaving him to raise his young son along. For the following twelve years, he continued to send her money, not divorcing her, and not devoting his heart to another, because he believed to do so would be akin to betraying his son, who was born from her. Though he does not speak of love, the love he has for his son is deep and sentimental, and so is his unyielding love for Emilie.
Emilie has been credited with the wise eyes of an owl, bearing the wisdom of one far beyond her age. Her wisdom allowed her to see past Ashland's hideous scars and truly appreciate the man inside, a man who, despite bearing physical and emotional scars, is more like a big, warm bear instead of a beast. Emilie has always been the demure one, the bookish one, but for the first time she is able to have the grandest adventure of her life - to fall abjectly in love, proving true the adage "love conquers all."
The secondary characters have their own personality and often served as comic relief; from the suspiciously omniscient matchmaking Duke of Olympia to witty and hilarious Freddie, they were a treat to meet. The same goes with the teaser from Stefanie and her hero, the Marquess of Hatherfield.
Characters aside, the pacing was also well done, mixing action and intrigue on the side, while keeping the main focus on the budding romance of the Emilie and Ashland. The plot twists are unexpected but revealing; Gray has nicely moved the central plot forward in this story, surely to have the last book of the trilogy conclude the assassination plot.
Watching Emilie and Ashland fall in love despite their myriad disguises was a great pleasure, but seeing them conquer all the obstacles in their path was an even greater one. I do not want to spoil any more plot, but towards the end was there some redundancy of scenes and heightened drama, though without it, I feel the characters would have seemed too perfect in their own ways. I have come to love both the story and the characters, and it was an absolute delight to read this book. To the readers, I can only impart the pure fact that this is quite an incredible historical romance, in hopes that you will graciously fall under the spell of Juliana Gray's superb writing.
Rating: 5 tulips