From the BLURB:
His blue eyes beguiled. His muscular form could have satisfied any fantasy. He had a delicious foreign accent-and to top it off, he was royalty! What woman would dare refuse the most sought-after lover in Europe? Miss Twice-a-Jilt Penelope Trask, that's who. And, unfortunately for Damien, marrying Penelope was the only way to inherit his kingdom. Good thing this enchantingly infuriating woman didn't seem completely immune to his many charms. The passionate way she returned his kisses told Damien he wasn't the only one head over heels. But wooing was difficult amid assassination attempts, wild magic, and desire so strong it threatened t to overwhelm him every time they touched. Why had no one mentioned the road to happily-ever-after was so difficult?
This is the first book in Jennifer Ashley’s ‘Nvengaria’ series.
I recently discovered Ms. Ashley’s ‘Highland Pleasures’ series – and fell absolutely in love with the first book; ‘The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie’. So I thought to give Ms. Ashley’s backlist a try.
‘Penelope and Prince Charming’ is a tricky book to classify. ‘Leisure Books’ label it as ‘Historical Romance’ – but that genre discounts all the heavy fable and mythology the book is grounded in.
Damien is Prince Regent of the fictional European country, Nvengaria. His people are very superstitious, to the point that they have a ‘Mage’ council (think Merlin being advisor to King Arthur). This Mage council predicts that Damien will marry the princess of the Trask family line, which has familial roots to Nvengaria from centuries ago. The superstition leads Damien and his royal entourage to Oxfordshire, where Penelope Trask is an English rose whose world is about to be turned upside down by an age-old prophecy that sounds like something out of a fairytale…
‘Penelope and Prince Charming’ is set in the 1800’s, and most of it takes place in the English countryside. In that respect it is an historical romance. But Ashley also lends a heavy fantastical hand to the storyline. There are demons that hunt the prince, called ‘Logosh’. And Penelope and Damien fall instantly in love because of the prophecy – and are physically and sexually drawn to one another because of it too.
The historical/fairytale does feel like a bit of an odd mash-up of genres. Mostly because the fairytale aspect doesn’t become a focus until the latter-half of the book, so by the time it is mentioned it’s a bit out of left-field and a tad hard to swallow. It’s just a bit of a jarring genre to get your head around, and didn’t really work for me.
Because of the fairytale romance, I wasn’t much of a fan of Damien and Penelope. Their romance came a little too easy for my liking – which is a by-product of their passions being driven by an intangible ‘prophecy’. Ashley does address the issue of whether or not Damien and Penelope are really in love, or just under a spell… but it was a case of too little too late for me. I prefer nitty-gritty, will-they-or-won’t-they tension to my romantic couplings, so Damien/Penelope really weren’t my cup of tea. But I cannot fault Jennifer Ashley’s sex scenes. She is extremely talented at writing tasteful, yet steamy smut – and just as in ‘The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie’, they were a delight to read.
She blushed. “You really should not say things like that.”
“You must grow used to me complimenting your body. Your backside is fine, as are your breasts.” He looked into the water. “And your toes are adorable.”
“Now you have become Prince Charming again.”
His look turned curious. “Is that how you think of me?”
“No, I think of you as exasperating. I do not know what to think of you.”
I wouldn’t totally discount Jennifer Ashley’s backlist (or the books under her various pseudonyms – Ashley Gardner, Allyson James and Laurien Gardner). It’s just that this particular series wasn’t to my liking. If you want to read an uncomplicated and thoroughly romantic series, give ‘Nvengaria’ a whirl. But I was initially drawn to Ms. Ashley because of her book ‘The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie’, which features a very complicated romance and an even more complex leading man.
I will probably give her other books a try, if for nothing else but to read more of her wonderfully smutty sex scenes.