With THE RAVEN PRINCE's (****) Edward de Raaf, THE LEOPARD PRINCE's (****) Harry Pye and finally THE SERPENT PRINCE's Simon Iddesleigh, Elizabeth Hoyt's heroes evince some of the most unconventional yet compelling guy-characterizations I've ever read in this genre. These are believable, passionate guys in love, not just rich, handsome, pining cartoon pimps to service the virgin heroine. Probably the best of any virgin-heroine-saving-the-tortured-soul routines I've read, THE SERPENT PRINCE paints the wounded story of Viscount Simon Iddesleigh's quest for revenge. Originally introduced in THE RAVEN PRINCE, we know Simon is an expert swordsman, and an accomplished duelist. Although I generally don't go for the virgin-heroine-rescuing-the-tortured-soul routines, that's not what I didn't like about THE SERPENT PRINCE. Thankfully, there were no ultimatums here and no emasculating the hero at the end like so many tortured-soul-revenge stories in romance. In fact, this was the darkest, most believable tortured soul/revenge stories I've read in romance, and better than Madeline Hunter's THE SEDUCER (**). Unlike Hoyt's prior two novels however, THE SERPENT PRINCE was mostly a *yawn* for 250-275 pages in this 362-page paperback. I also thought the settings and prose declined from THE LEOPARD PRINCE, but the disappointingly boring plotting and pacing may have contributed to the weak prose and settings.
I liked the characters, and again their interaction and passion is mutually giving which I always enjoy in Hoyt's stories. Hoyt isn't afraid to let her heroines grab their heroes by the balls, so-to-speak. Unfortunately, THE SERPENT PRINCE's profligate, handsome hero and virginal, sweet heroine dutifully mimics romance genre's strictures for the h/h (more so than Hoyt's characters from prior novels). Other than the h/h, I also liked one of our antagonists, Sir Rupert Fletcher. His characterization was unique, and although I didn't agree with him, I found myself understanding him. He is the perfect gray character, and I do like ruthless realists.
If [Sir Rupert Fletcher] could, he would've lied; he made no bones about it. He'd found that deception was often the best way. More often than not, people wanted to be lied to; they didn't like the truth. How else to explain why they fell for lies so quickly?
Since we don't learn the complete background behind Simon's plight for revenge until 275 pages into this novel, it was difficult to get behind his revenge. The book describes a convincing tale of a man who truly loses a part of his soul with each duel and each kill. We desperately wanted to see Simon drop the revenge for his heroine Lucy even though Lucy didn't lay down any such ultimatums. Once we learn the full import of Simon's revenge, we finally begin to understand his demons, his rage, and his helplessness. But by this point, it's late in the novel, and we're rooting for him to give it up. Thankfully, love doesn't handicap Simon like so many other romance novels, and actually empowers him to redouble his efforts.
Like Hoyt's prior two novels, THE SERPENT PRINCE is very sensual. She never disappoints in that department.
The Story, possible SPOILERS.
Country-bred Lucy Craddock-Hayes astonishingly chances on a naked man in a ditch near her home in quiet Maiden Hill. Leading a quiet life and being courted by a handsome vicar for two years, this naked man suddenly upends her simple life. After discovering he isn't actually dead, Lucy takes the naked man to her home for his convalescence. The tall, dark and handsome man turns out to be none other than the Viscount Simon Iddesleigh. Simon and Lucy enjoy some spicy, enjoyable exchanges early in the novel. Each intrigues and ignites the passion of the other.
In the midst of his quest for cold revenge, Simon Iddesleigh finds that Lucy incites something in him beyond passion: a hope for redemption and salvation. Simon has already dueled and killed two men responsible for his older brother's death and he has only two to go. When attempts on Simon's life place Lucy in danger, Simon quickly leaves Maiden Hill to return to his town home in London. Simon's foray in Maiden Hill leaves Lucy bereft and after two years of waiting for the vicar's marriage proposal, she rejects it. Simon is equally empty and probably moreso given his inner demons . He returns to Maiden Hill to propose marriage. Lucy is thrilled, and accepts.
The Viscount and Viscountess return to London, and Simon continues his plot for revenge. Simon desperately makes love to Lucy as if it's their last time. Lucy wants Simon to stop dueling but Simon cannot rest until his brother is avenged. Simon doesn't reveal all the reasons behind his dueling until much later and though Lucy asks for it many times, Simon changes the subject. If you're looking for a rosy tortured-soul-hero-bent-on-revenge romance story where the heroine conveniently lays down the ultimatum (her or the revenge) which ultimately releases the hero from his tortured plot for revenge, this isn't it. Lucy does save Simon from his tortured plot for revenge and from his inner demons, but not before his vengeance runs its course. There's some tense moments at the end, and the impact of the tortured soul really resonates here.
Again, one of the most grittiest, realistic revenge stories I've read in this genre. I thought the background behind Simon's reasons for his revenge should have been revealed much earlier. Between Foley's DEVIL TAKES A BRIDE (***), Hunter's THE SEDUCER (**) and Hoyt's THE SERPENT PRINCE, all dealing with the hero's tortured plight for revenge, this is one of the better ones. Certainly better than Medeiros' awful THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST (*) which emasculates its hero.