From the BLURB:
There comes a time in a woman’s life when she must do the unthinkable - and find employment. For the widowed Anna Wren, that means taking a job as female secretary for the Earl of Swartingham. Secretaries are always male - never female - as Anna well knows but the real downfall of her career is the realisation that she is falling in love with Edward de Raaf - the Earl. But when she realises that he is going to visit a brothel in London to take care of his 'manly' desires, Anna sees red - and decides to take advantage of the opportunity to also take care of her 'womanly' desires - with the Earl as her unknowing lover. But the Earl has another reason for going to London. He is formalising his betrothal and trying (with little success) to forget about a secretary that has no right being female. Unhandsome, he knows that no woman wants him. Except for the mysterious lady with whom he spent two unforgettable nights at Aphrodite’s Grotto, the most scandalous brothel in London. But when Anna’s plan is revealed, a bit of blackmail is thrown into the mix, a proposal is rejected and even the Earl himself will be unprepared for the intrigues that ensnare them.
This is the first book in Elizabeth Hoyt’s ‘Princes Trilogy’.
I am quite selective and unforgiving of my regency romances. I have my favorites (Julia Quinn, Lisa Kleypas, Tessa Dare, Jennifer Ashley) and I remain quite loyal and exclusive to those authors. I will occasionally venture outside the regular and try reading a new regency romance author, but if I’m not hooked after the first 10 or so pages I will give up. I suppose it’s because regency is a romance sub-genre I do love to read, but I have to be in the *mood* to read it. And I know from past readings that Quinn, Kleypas, Dare and Ashley deliver just the type of story that quenches my regency romance craving.
I picked ‘The Raven Prince’ off the library shelf on a total whim, based on the fact that a Julia Quinn quote appears on the cover.
I was more than a little pleasantly surprised.
To begin with, I loved the characters. Neither Hoyt’s leading man or lady is conventional of the genre. Edward de Raaf, Earl of Swartingham, has a pockmarked face left over from childhood smallpox. He maintains that he has grown out of vanity and doesn’t care if his scars disgust people – but his actions betray him, and when he starts courting a potential Ton bride he bluntly asks her if his marks are repulsive. Edward also has a terrible temper on him – and he has been known to throw priceless ornaments in a fit of rage. He definitely was not your typical regency hero. Edward is prickly, and it takes a while for Anna and the reader to peel back his layers and see what lies beneath his stoic demeanor.
Anna has been widowed for six years. But before her husbands death she had her ideals of love and romance dashed because her husband cast her out of his marital bed when it became apparent that she was barren. In the last year of his life, Anna had to endure her husband’s infidelities and nurse heartbreak long before his death to fever. When we meet her Anna is desperately trying to maintain her little Essex cottage, support her mother-in-law and keep her head above monetary waters. She is an intelligent, well-educated lady who is forced to (*gasp*) get a job in order to support herself.
Anna and Edward were a wonderful pair – and it’s because of their heat and chemistry that I loved ‘The Raven Prince’ so much. Edward and Anna spend the first half of the book dancing around their feelings for one another, but when they do finally come together their passion is combustible!
Thick eyelashes almost hid her hazel eyes. “Make love to me.”
Something inside him, maybe his heart, stopped for a second. “Anna.”
Her lips were soft and yielding. He was not gentle, but she didn’t protest. She opened her mouth sweetly and gave and gave and gave until he couldn’t stand it anymore.
Hoyt writes beautiful sex scenes. At this point, having read so many various romances and erotica I don’t think there’s much literary smut that can surprise me. But occasionally an author will come along and catch me unawares (chapter 32 of Jeanine Frost’s ‘One Foot in the Grave’, for example). Hoyt was one such author. It’s not that she writes her characters in various complicated Kama Sutra positions – it’s just that the sex scenes were wonderfully visual and titillating… and quite a writing feat when the two most important sex-scenes span several pages with absolutely no dialogue. Just description. And despite the lack of dirty-talk, they made for really captivating reading and added layers and complications to the characters emotions. I was pretty awe-struck, to say the least.
‘The Raven Prince’ does have some drawbacks. Toward the end the plot gets rather unnecessarily emotionally complicated, Hoyt keeps piling on reason after reason for Edward and Anna not to be together – but the reasons are paper-thin. Stuff like; Anna doesn’t want to be cheated on again.
Hoyt also tries to create a she-villain in the book, in the form of a blackmailing town busybody who is out for Anna’s blood. But the stakes are never high and the reader is never really led to believe that this villain will succeed in hurting Anna.
But aside from those small complaints, I really liked this book. The characters made it for me – Anna and Edward were not at all conventional romance leads, but they had such chemistry that they were a joy to read.
I will definitely be picking up more Elizabeth Hoyt books – and adding her onto that small list of regency romance authors I trust with my genre cravings.