Caitlin Crews’s Prince’s Nine-Month Scandal opens with as ludicrous a premise as we’ve come to expect from the HP romance. In a bathroom at London’s Heathrow, Natalie Monette contemplates leaving her PA job with billionaire Achilles Casilieris after five years of all-consuming dedication to her volatile employer. In the mirror, she espies her twin, or someone who could be her twin. Princess Valentina of the mythical kingdom of Murin is running away from her arranged marriage to Prince Rodolfo of the mythical kingdom of Tessely. What better solution to both their dilemmas than to “switch” places: Natalie off to a princess’s life and Valentina to escape her impending nuptials by serving the mercurial Achilles. They put on each other’s clothes and take each other’s cell phones, with which they agree to text. Valentina pretty much goes off-grid till the romance’s final revelations and Natalie is left with her princess-fantasy in a bit of a shambles. She must navigate her kingly father, royal duties and protocols, and most importantly, devil-may-care, reckless, promiscuous fiancé. But Natalie hasn’t “handled” the temperamental Achilles for five years without learning a thing or two about difficult men. She sets out to set a few things straight with Rodolfo – for Valentina’s sake. She doesn’t count, this is an HP after all, on her visceral physical and emotional response to him.
Neither does Rodolfo to Natalie. Miss Bates supposes that Crews is saying something about when you meet “the one,” even when she looks exactly like the fiancée who left you cold, you’ll recognize her. It’s like fated mates, but with HP glamour. What used to be staid, formal, and politely boring dates are now banter-and-challenge-filled confrontations. There is something different about his fiancée, thinks Rodolfo, and he can’t quite figure out what. After a while, he doesn’t care: all he knows is his response to her is physically and “could it be, given his playboy ways and cold, cold heart?” emotionally explosive.
There is much to enjoy in Crews’s Nine-Month Scandal and yet, still quite a bit that Miss Bates didn’t. Crews is an able, witty, smooth writer and it’s always a pleasure to read her prose. She writes zingy, back-and-forth dialogue that makes a good romance more than its love scenes, by allowing heroine and hero to connect and break apart as they alternately find commonalities and ways to hurt each other. Another reason Miss Bates appreciated Crews’s romance was her clever insertion of the fairy-tale underpinnings to the HP. Crews is aware of the potential for irony and uses it to wink at her reader and the genre. On sundry occasions, Natalie/Valentina and Rodolfo roll their eyes at the Cinderella-trope, or ball-room romance scenes, or the idea that their arranged marriage has fairy-tale trappings, even of them being romance leads. (Crews also has fun with the revelations of secret/true identities à la Shakespeare’s twins, or fairy-tale princesses.)
Until Natalie and Rodolfo are no longer amused. Because romance is about the heart’s engagement and when the heart is committed, things take a serious turn for reader and protagonists. And, even though Miss Bates was reader-engaged at this point, there were things about the narrative that gave her pause and that she couldn’t escape. First and foremost, she found it squirmy that the romance’s heroine spent a narrative three-quarters lying to the hero. As far as betrayals go, it was a doozy and the hero had to have been a douche-bag deserve it. And, what did work was that, initially, he was. Arrogant, promiscuous, addicted to extreme sports, and obnoxious, that was Rodolfo. Except that, unlike Natalie’s back-story for her aversion and fear of falling in love, Rodolfo’s was convincing, compelling, and emotionally viable and sympathy-eliciting. Miss Bates grew to like Rodolfo.
Though Miss Bates was never thoroughly comfortable with Crews’s narrative, she did have one thought about it that makes it interesting and original as far as romance narratives go. Crews flips the “other woman” trope: Natalie is the other woman and the heroine, even if Crews mitigates the implications by having Real Valentina text Natalie her blessing by saying Natalie can do with Rodolfo as she wishes. And yet, Rodolfo is, in the midst of all this, innocent of their adventure, and amazingly gracious about it when all is revealed.
Miss Bates can’t say that she loved The Prince’s Nine-Month Scandal as much as she did Crews’s Bride By Royal Decree, with its more convincing secret-princess plot, but enjoy it she did. Enough to read till quite late, which really is the beauty of the category, isn’t it? Long enough to satisfy and short enough to read in one sitting. In the end, with Miss Austen, Miss Bates deems The Princes’s Nine-Month Scandal “real comfort,” Emma.
Caitlin Crews’s The Prince’s Nine-Month Scandal is published by Harlequin Books. It was released in May 2017 and may be procured from your preferred vendor. Miss Bates received an e-ARC, from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley.