The Leopard Prince, by Elizabeth Hoyt

>> Friday, April 20, 2007

Sometimes all it takes is one book. With her debut, The Raven Prince, Elizabeth Hoyt won herself a spot in my autobuy list. Her next, The Leopard Prince (excerpt) wasn't about any character I remembered from TRP, but that didn't make me any less anxious to read it.

THE ONE THING A LADY MUST NEVER DO
Wealthy Lady Georgina Maitland doesn't want a husband, though she could use a good steward to run her estates. One look at Harry Pye, and Georgina knows she's not just dealing with a servant, but a man.

IS FALL IN LOVE...
Harry has known many aristocrats—including one particular nobleman who is his sworn enemy. But Harry has never met a beautiful lady so independent, uninhibited, and eager to be in his arms.

WITH HER SERVANT.
Still, it's impossible to conduct a discreet liaison when poisoned sheep, murdered villagers, and an enraged magistrate have the county in an uproar. The locals blame Harry for everything. Soon it's all Georgina can do to keep her head above water and Harry's out of the noose...without missing another night of love.
So, does the second book live up to the debut? The answer, I'm very happy to say, is yes. TLP has the same freshness and wonderful energy TRP had. It delivers a delicious cross-class romance between two characters I adored, and only a suspense subplot that becomes completely detached from the rest of the book keeps it from being an A read. Still, a B+ is an excellent grade, anyway.

Lady Georgina Maitland is a rare case in the late 18th century in that she's an unmarried female who's wealthy and independent in her own right, thanks to an inheritance from an forward-thinking aunt. Harry Pye is the steward of one of her estates, and their relationship is a perfectly proper boss-employee one, even if Harry has long felt a very improper degree of lust for his employer.

It's only when George insists on accompanying Harry on a visit to the Yorkshire estate he manages for her that she begins to see him in a different light. As Hoyt puts it, "After the carriage wreck and a bit before the horses ran away, Lady Georgina Maitland noticed that her land steward was a man." Soon they are entangled in a passionate affair, which, given their disparate stations, could only end in heartbreak for both of them.

And worrying about his heart breaking and about losing his post once the affair ends is not Harry's only problem. He grew up right next door to George's estate, leaving only after a violent run-in with one of the local aristocrats who was his father's employer. Now someone is killing that nobleman's sheep and everyone thinks Harry's the culprit, and given that he's just a regular guy (not a nobleman in disguise, or a royal by-blow, or anything like that), he's in real danger of coming to a bad end.

The romance here is probably among the best I've read in months. I loved it because the characters involved were unique and well-drawn, as well as very, very appealing. I think most readers I've seen talking about TLP developed a little crush on Harry, and so did I. He's this quiet but very intense type, the perfect example of the "still waters run deep" thing, but with an irreverent streak that was really endearing and funny.

But I loved George just as much. I loved the unorthodox ways in which her mind worked, I loved her sense of humour, and I loved her refusal to bow to propriety. I also loved how totally she got Harry, who got her just as much, and believed in him even when everyone thought he was guilty.

These were two people who were perfect together. Harry really needed someone like George to drive him crazy, someone to see that he wasn't just a very efficient land steward, but a man with very deep feelings and a very unique sense of humour. And George needed someone like Harry, who saw that beneath the flighty fa├žade is an intelligent woman with a mind of her own and who truly appreciated her attractiveness.

The relationship between these two is passionate and tender at the same time, with the added piquancy of their class differences. I especially liked how Hoyt handled that issue. Oh, I don't know if it would be historically accurate that a land steward would fall in love and marry his employer. I don't really care in the least about it, to be honest. What I loved was how Hoyt had them relating as equals from the first, even as they both were aware of the class issue. There's something that perfectly illustrates this, and it's the way Harry addresses George. All through the book, he calls her "my lady", and it never felt subservient in the least. And I don't know how Hoyt did it, but I could actually hear the change in tones of those "my lady"s, from the very proper one at the beginning of the book, to the very sexy one later on, that was as much an endearment as if he'd been calling her "my love".

So, the actual romance is a straight A, even the ending, which should have bothered me but didn't. Unfortunately, the rest of the stuff that was going on around it made the book a bit less enjoyable, and that lowers my grade a bit.

My problems started around the halfway point. Up until then, the romance and the rest had been well integrated and both aspects wonderfully done. But suddenly it started feeling as if they had nothing to do with each other. It was a bit like when you have a piece of string and you start picking the fibres apart. The first part was the untouched string, the second had the different fibres each on their own... the romance going in one direction, the poisoned sheep plot in another, then the storyline about Georgina's sister in another, neither having much relation to the other.

In the end, I didn't see the point of the subplot about Georgina's sister's seduction, and the sheep-poisoning plot ended up being much less interesting than it first seemed it might be. And actually, I kind of got the feeling that it might have become uninteresting to the author, as well, because at one point it was just wrapped up in a hurry and ended up having practically no importance to the main characters and their relationship.

But did I care? Not very much. All this means is that I'll probably just skim the non-romance parts when I reread this book, which I definitely see myself doing in the future!

PS - Want more? Hoyt guest blogged at Sybil's earlier this week.

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