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I had the pleasure of meeting Olivia Gates at the crazy-huge signing on the last day of the Romantic Times Convention. Since she lives in Egypt, it is not often that she gets to meet many of her fans face to face, let alone sign books for them. Being an RT virgin, I didn’t think to bring any books with me to the signing, but man, I wish I had had my copies of her Throne of Judar trilogy with me!

However, she had some copies of her May release to give out, and she kindly signed one for me (with a lovely message too; thank you again, Ms Gates!), so you can imagine how difficult it is to write a negative review for it.

The Once and Future Prince, by Olivia Gates

the-castaldini-crown-logo

First in Ms Gates’ new trilogy, The Once and Future Prince introduces the setting for these stories, a mythical Mediterranean island kingdom. This kingdom, like real life small kingdoms and principalities in Europe, is the product of many varied and, occasionally, opposing influences. In this case, Moorish and Italian are the prevalent heritages. So far, Castaldini has survived in part due to its location and relatively small size, and partly due to the foresight of its first king, whose succession law decreed that it would be personal merit first, and bloodlines second, that make a worthy heir to the crown.

And yet, it is this same law that produces the conflict behind these stories.

Here is the train wreck of a blurb:

At her Royal Ex-Lover’s Command

He would have been king of Castaldini… until scandal sent Prince Leandro D’Agostino into exile. Now Phoebe Alexander, his secret lover who’d refused to leave with him, had come to convince him to accept his rightful crown. But the pain of betrayal still coursed through Leandro’s veins. He would rule only if Phoebe bowed to his wishes.

Scorched from the decisions of her past, Phoebe was willing to do Leandro’s royal bidding. She knew she could never be his queen, but she would freely become the prince’s lover. Then an unexpected pregnancy changed everything.

The Castaldini Crown: One man to wear the crown, one love to rule the man!

I loathe this blurb more than I can tell you. The pregnancy it mentions? Page 156 in a book that’s not quite 180 pages total.

What. The. Hell?

the-once-and-future-princeMost readers know that print authors have little input on both cover and blurb, but this is even worse for Harlequin category authors. This one? A crime against Ms Gates, for my money! But that is really not my main issue with this story. My main issue stems from the fact that I could not believe the motivations of any of the characters.

Phoebe is still quite young-nineteen or twenty-and has spent the past several years acting as surrogate mother and primary caretaker of her younger sister, Julia. Then Julia, who suffers from a degenerative disease, gets married to Paolo, the younger son of the current king of Castaldini. She is getting married, moving to a new country, and becoming a princess, all at once. Phoebe drops out of college and tags along to provide emotional stability to her sister through these momentous changes.

The book starts with a short prologue set eight years prior to the events of the story proper, in which we learn that Phoebe and Leandro have been secret lovers for a number of months. Leandro, one of the three main contenders for the crown, must at the very least pretend to be amenable to marrying a Castaldinian woman of high rank.

At this point, the Council has managed to convince the king to strip Leandro of all his titles-including his Castaldinian citizenship, natch!-and exile him for life. His crime, apparently, was to want to bring the kingdom closer to the twenty first century and phase out the culture and policy of isolationism that the current king had favored during his forty-year reign.

After a four month hiatus, Leandro decrees that, now that he’s been exiled, Phoebe will stay with him in the US. At this point, Phoebe’s first thought is that she needs to go back, in case her sister needs her. Her second-and, as far as I’m concerned, completely incomprehensible- reaction is to get angry with Leandro over the secrecy of their affair for however many months.

Apparently, Phoebe has been wondering for months whether all she’s meant to Leandro is a good and easy lay, and whether he would indeed marry a well-born Castaldinian, if and when he’s named Crown Prince. Now that the crown is out of his reach and he is making it clear he wants Phoebe with him, does she bring that up and ask what his intentions were during all those months of sneaking around?

Of course not!

Instead, she decides that he was never serious about *her* and that his attitude now stems from some sort of “consolation prize” deal. And suddenly, after months of not daring to question him, for fear of losing even the crumbs of attention and time he tossed her way, she has had enough.

So, now that she can have him openly; now that she could clear the air and find out what the hell has all the secrecy been about; what she does is the equivalent of stomping her foot and storming out.

But if I find Phoebe’s behaviour thoroughly unbelievable, youth notwithstanding, then we have Leandro’s mystifying reaction-and he’s a good eight or so years older, so the age excuse doesn’t apply. On the strength of Phoebe’s refusal to drop her sister to be with him (and mind, he hasn’t proposed marriage or even spoken of affection for her, let alone love-the entire conversation is in terms of physical need), he deduces that all she wanted was to become queen, and that she’s dumping him only because he’s no longer in contention.

When the novel starts the king is ill and naming his Crown Prince has moved beyond urgent to critical. Of the three top candidates, Leandro just happens to be the least objectionable one to the council, so Phoebe is selected to convince him to accept a pardon and become regent now, king eventually. Why Phoebe? Well, because now that her sister doesn’t need her as much, she has spent the past eight years after their break up becoming Castaldini’s top diplomatic negotiator (even though she retains her American citizenship). While Leandro has not even received the previous envoys, the king is sure he’ll see Phoebe.

O-kay.

Let’s say that I manage to get past my disbelief of both Phoebe’s and Leandro’s reactions up to this point, and move on to the next section of the story, wherein they meet again for the first time in eight years.

The first thing Phoebe does? Tell Leandro, “For the record, I told King Benedetto what I think of a man who refuses to do his duty out of petty pride. … But it is my job to negotiate on the king’s behalf. Even for a prize I don’t think worth winning.” And this is the kingdom’s best negotiator?

For his part, Leandro decides that he’ll humor Phoebe by visiting Castaldini and, under the pretense of considering the king’s offer, he’ll make Phoebe fall in love with him-”for  real this time”-and then, in true vindictive hero form, he’ll dump her like old news.

And this is the kingdom’s best choice for Crown Prince?

The thing is, it’s not as if plots like this one won’t work for me; I’ve enjoyed plenty of categories in my time in which the I’ll-make-you-fall-in-love-and-then-dump-your-ass trope was used. My problem is that I spent too much time shaking my head at Phoebe’s and Leandro’s internal dialogue-three minutes of sensible, adult conversation, would have resolved the issue.

But neither of these characters have an iota of common sense-or at least they show absolutely none in their interactions with each other-which makes it pretty difficult to believe that they are the successful, resourceful, intelligent, etc. people we are told they are.

Aside from the characterization, I found a lot of the language to be distracting. A tad too much hyperbole for my taste.

With sadness, The Once and Future Prince gets a 5 out of 10 from me, because I didn’t find it to hold up to the standards of previous works of hers that I’ve read.

(Reviews for the Throne of Judar trilogy: The Desert Lord’s Baby, The Desert Lord’s Bride and The Desert King)

1 Comment »

  • “One ring to rule them all…”

    Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

    ReplyReply

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