Elizabeth Hoyt's stories are quickly becoming a delight to read, and THE LEOPARD PRINCE follows THE RAVEN PRINCE very satisfactorily, albeit just a notch below THE RAVEN PRINCE. Hoyt sprinkles the right touches of a heart-felt romance, humorous wit (real wit), frenzied passion, a relatively engaging plot and unconventional, well-developed characterizations. Settings are stronger in this book, with the rain, the smells, and the lavish estates. Unlike THE RAVEN PRINCE, I thought THE LEOPARD PRINCE dragged a bit in the second half though, especially after Harry Pye's recuperation from the beating. Still, the ending was grand; unique, hilarious and pleasantly trite all at the same time. Like Julia Quinn's endorsement on the front cover, I really didn't want THE LEOPARD PRINCE to end.
I found the combination of an ordinary, average-of-height hero finding love with a spinster, a wealthy heroine very refreshing to read about. Our 30 year-old hero is a lowly but street-smart land steward while our 28 year-old heroine is an earl's sister but the head of her family's finances, the lone benefactor of a wealthy aunt's bequeathed vast fortune and estates. The obstacles our leading pair must surmount to be together is greater than most; the hero is not only much poorer (though he's done well for himself), but also from a lower class.
Similar to the slight discourse on feminism in the beginning of THE RAVEN PRINCE, I thought the brief railing against hierarchal society detracted from hero's strength of character and the story in general suffered because of it. I didn't think hero Harry Pye as one to mope around over the unfairness of life and aristocracy. Thankfully the book doesn't dwell on the subject.
I thoroughly enjoyed the way Hoyt weaved the story of the The Leopard Prince as the story within the story, very much akin to her previous novel.
The Story, possible SPOILERS.
Twenty-eight year-old Lady Georgina "George" Maitland, an earl's sister and the sole benefactor of vast fortunes and estates, exhibits a sparkling wit, and a hilarious innocence. She's on her way to her estate at Woldsly Manor as per her 15 year-old sister Violet's request. The book describes George's striking ginger hair at length, but she isn't a stunning beauty by any stretch of the imagination.
I loved the way Hoyt relates our heroine George's innocence in matters of passion and love in the beginning. I found George's wit and humor over her innocence regarding matters of lovemaking very refreshing and, ironically enough, mature. The satirical humor lent the whole virgin experience in a very humorous yet passionate light. Of course George exhibits a very witty humor in general, one I suspect stems from Elizabeth Hoyt.
George's land steward Mr. Harry Pye accompanies George to her estate, a wound-up man, reticent in manner and speech, not to mention all too proper. George pokes some fun in her musings to herself at Harry's very phlegmatic demeanor, Harry the unknown recipient of George's humorous gibes. Harry returns her carefree fun with some straight-faced sarcasm of his own. Harry Pye is average all around, both in looks and height. However, he possesses a hidden, overpowering physical strength and absolutely devastating emerald eyes.
On their way to George's estate, the carriage overturns in the midst of a torrential downpour and Harry & George spend the night at a dilapidated cottage nearby, hailing the onset of a very passionate yet funny romance.
While riding the following day, George & Harry observe some dead sheep from poisoning on a neighboring estate owned by Lord Granville, our proverbial villain. Once at Woldsly Manor, George's sister Violet reveals rumors implicating Harry Pye in the sheep poisonings. More details surface of a mutual enmity between Lord Granville, whose lands currently suffer from the sheep deaths, and Harry Pye. I found this plotting with the sheep poisoning a weak backdrop to our story, though curious enough to hold my interest. For all of Harry's investigation over the poisoning conspiracy, it didn't seem like he got anywhere until they spoke to the wizened Granville nanny, Mistress Humboldt. The entire investigation was boring not to mention unproductive.
The investigation did provide an excuse for our leading pair to spend more time together though, and George's claim to Harry's "maleness" was funny, not to mention very passionate. At one point, George blurts out she'd like to see a naked man once.
I didn't mind the torture scene after Granville captures Harry. I thought that was very empowering to read about -- Harry enduring the beatings showed much more strength than a heavily-muscled, chiseled hero from common romance novels.
THE LEOPARD PRINCE belonged to...? I'd say both George and Harry equally share possession of the novel, and though Harry had more of a mysterious background, George had more flair, more panache. I really liked the ending, and it didn't seem to unman our hero as other romance novels often do; ironically enough, our lowly, average steward seemed much stronger in character and spirit than most tall, dark and handsome heroes which pine and wilt before the heroine and her whims in so many romance novels.
Another very fun, enjoyable novel and wow, Elizabeth Hoyt is on fire!