Untouched Queen by Royal Command is the latest in Kelly Hunter’s “Claimed by a King” series for Mills and Boon Modern/Harlequin Presents. All the books feature royalty in various made-up countries which appear to be located more or less in the Balkans, as far as I can work out. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books: Shock Heir for the Crown Prince and Convenient Bride for the King, so I had pre-ordered Untouched Queen by Royal Command.
I was not entirely prepared for what I got.
In Untouched Queen, Hunter goes all out for high fantasy in this old-school category romance. There are hints of this in some of the back story in Shock Heir, but the central romances in both the previous books of the series are standard category tropes: secret baby and marriage of convenience. The royal settings are effectively evoked, with no more than the usual number of skeletons in closets. Continue reading
Theresa Romain writes despondent romances. Her characters are noble and good; her prose is elegant. Her hero and heroine are in a bad place when we meet them. Miss Bates likes that Romain doesn’t lay the angst on thick, however. Her characters’ sadness is perniciously persistent, like a low-grade fever. Things are wrong somewhere, but the appearance of things seems all right. Every time Miss Bates reads one of Romain’s romances, she frequently doubts she’ll finish it. And yet, each time, she does and is quite satisfied and rewarded by Romain’s HEA.
Romain’s latest, Fortune Favors the Wicked is typical of the author. In 1817, retired, blind Royal Navy Lieutenant Benedict Frost arrives in London, from on board “The Argent,” to sell his sailing memoir to publisher George Pitman. His minimal pension means he can’t offer Georgette, his sister, anything but a pittance. He hopes his soon-to-be-best-selling memoir will save the day when Georgette leaves their cousins’ home upon reaching her majority. He also learns that 50 000 pounds-worth of the king’s gold was stolen. When his manuscript is rejected, Benedict realizes the reward money may serve to help Georgette. He sets off for Derbyshire to recover the gold and win the reward money. Meanwhile in Strawfield, Derbyshire, we meet heroine Miss Charlotte Perry, vicar’s daughter. She too aims to ensure a young relation’s welfare: her ten-year-old niece, Maggie, named after Charlotte’s deceased sister, Margaret. Charlotte is also in search of the gold. Benedict and Charlotte’s meet-cute is inevitable.
Can you recall the experience of tasting a new dish? The ingredients somewhat familiar, the overall impression a little peculiar. You’re not used to it … but you like it. You like it! It’s fresh, interesting, new, yet, there’re things here you’ve had before. Reading Jeannie Lin’s The Jade Temptress was such an experience for Miss Bates. Romance? Check, wondrously romantic. Enemies-to-lovers-good. Murder mystery? Miss Bates read tons of those back in pre-romance days and still occasionally enjoys them. Check to an intriguing whodunit. Throw two beloved narratives into a bowl, fold in a cool, jaded courtesan and colder, hard-nosed, heart-closed-off policeman, bind them with a compelling setting, 9th-century China, and you have Jeannie Lin’s sublime, elegant, and earthy novel, The Jade Temptress. A romance/mystery narrative so mesmerizing that Miss Bates carried it to work, read through her lunch hour and every spare moment of the work day into post-dinner evening and late into the night. It’s that good. It’s not an easy read, despite its elegant, understated prose. This is a harsh, hierarchical world, difficult scenes ensue … but it is utterly fascinating and beautiful, like the “jade temptress” and her detective-lover. Continue reading