Title: The Raven Prince
Author: Elizabeth Hoyt
Published: 2006, Warner
Category: Historical Romance
I am of about six different minds about this book. It's been getting so much hype (lots of awards too) that I think my high expectations are making me overcritical. Please note the double lips icon--yah, it's smokin'. I was surprised by the explicitness of the sex; I expect it in paranormals and a lot of contemps, but this seemed unusually risque for a mainstream historical. It's the trend in all subgenres of romance, I guess.
Young widow Anna Wren is strapped for cash, so she takes a job as secretary to Edward de Raaf, the Earl of Swartingham. The earl has trouble keeping secretaries because he has a right nasty temper, but Anna holds out better than he expects. He begins to feel attracted to her but resists because she's a respectable lady and he's engaged. But the lust becomes too much and he decides a little trip to London to scratch his itch is in order. Anna has been feeling the attraction herself and is mad that Edward is going to go off and sate his passion for her on another woman. So she decides to go to the bawdy house in disguise and meet him herself.
This book sat in my TBR for months, despite all the glowing reviews, because this situation just seemed ... tawdry to me. You may all think I am a naive little prude, but the idea of Anna disguising herself and to all intents and purposes becoming a prostitute (even if only for one man) did not spell romance to me. I thought it was going to bother me, and it did. What Anna should have done was tackle Edward before he left and seduced him straight out. She gets all righteous about the fact that men are allowed to have sex outside of marriage and no one cares, so why shouldn't she; but then she goes and does this underhanded, manipulative thing to Edward. It just pissed me off. I was partially mollified by the fact that both the characters are ashamed of the episode, and much of the later action did make me forgive Anna.
There is a lot I loved about the book. The writing is fresh and sparkly; the action scenes were really funny. The characters are not your typical romance stereotypes--she's plain and he's pox-scarred. Both the characters (not just the hero) take positive action toward the HEA, always a good thing. I also loved the raven story that was told in epigraphs at the chapter openers. I often skip over that sort of thing, but the fairy tale was really beautifully told. I didn't see exactly how it was connected to the story, but whatever.
So I enjoyed it, but it wasn't one of those books that I finish and clutch to my chest in happiness. I've been trying to figure out why and the only thing I can come up with is that I just didn't feel terribly invested in the characters.
But I will probably buy the sequel, The Leopard Prince. Maybe its h/h will get me like this set didn't. :)