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After 6 long years, book 5 of Elizabeth Elliott’s the Montagues series, The Princess was finally published in June of this year. I was quite excited because every year I’d check at least once for any news without any luck whatsoever. Then again, the author stopped publishing for a long time before book 4, The Dark Knight (titled The Assassin before publication) was published in 2012. I like her writing a lot but big gaps between installments hinders the enjoyment sometimes. My discovery of her work was rather sudden; I had read the first 3 books already by then and enjoyed them enough to continue on with the series.
Before I get into my review, I want to mention a few things here about the series in case a new reader wants to know: The first 3 books, The Warlord (#1- 1995), Betrothed (#2 - 1996) and Scoundrel (#3 - 1996) were connected to each-other by characters. Set in the medieval era, more precisely around Edward I’s reign, the first 2 books are of the Montague brothers Kenric and Guy. Book 3 is regency set, of a descendant of one of the brothers. I count book 3 as a standalone release. Book 4 is also set around the time of 1 and 2, however, the storyline veered away from the original Montagues. In book 2 we were introduced to Dante Chiavari, who turned out to be the brother of the heroine of book 2, Claudia. He was a minor but a mysterious character and I was totally interested in knowing more about him. In that sense, The Dark Knight and The Princess are more connected than the previous 3 books. In fact, the Montagues were barely mentioned in the new release.
Dante is Italian and had a sad past when his parents were murdered by his greedy uncle. He came to England with his elder brother and only sister Claudia. Elder brother was another greedy bastard that died in book 1 or 2 in a battle with one of the Montague brothers. But Claudia and Guy fell in love and married. Dante, however, couldn’t fall in love with anyone. The darkness of how his parents were murdered, with the urge for brutal vengeance against the man who did so and took away the riches and lands that should’ve been his and Claudia’s, was eating at him for a long time. At a point while growing up, Dante came in contact with one of Kind Edward’s closest advisers, Mordecai. He’s also a mysterious individual with supernatural powers. He can see into the future and people believe in him. He’s also trained in many tactics to bring any enemy of the King down. Assassination was one of the most common deeds and Mordecai had trained people in the past just for that purpose. Dante became one of them. The King’s Assassin that everyone whispered about but no one would directly point a finger towards him cause they were scared. Yet, Dante had dark hair and intense green eyes; a handsome man by all means.
So far Dante has done what he deemed was his job successfully. Never disappointing. He was exceptionally skilled, quite ruthless and determined to do the deed as efficiently as was possible. But lately he’s been wanting to retire and travel to Italy to take care of his own business that I mentioned in the previous paragraph. It’s then he’s given one last assignment by the King to seek out a Marcher baron and his family due to some feud or the other. That’s how he came to know Avalene, the love of his life, the said Baron’s daughter. He went to investigate in disguise of a Knight, helped Avalene escape her own mean uncle and aunt, making her falling in love with him in the process. She had no Knight in Shining Armor because her father had pretty much abandoned her to her uncle’s mercy after her mother’s death, and rarely kept in contact after his second marriage. She wanted out but didn’t know how that was possible, especially since she was recently engaged to a Welshman, the son of an Earl, Faulke Segrave. Avalene had no love for this guy knowing he likes brewing trouble around Welsh, leading rebellions against the King of England. I don’t exactly remember how it happened but Avalene really didn’t want to marry Faulke.
Long story short, though Dante had kept his identity a secret for a while in the story, it’s eventually outed by Faulke in a quest to save his betrothed. Even after knowing the truth, Avalene couldn’t help falling more in love with Dante because he’d done everything to keep her safe when he was supposed to be killing her. He didn’t think he’d ever have any chance of having Avalene as his wife but in the end, Dante made it possible. Among whatever chaos was going on between England and Welsh, he wins Avalene with the King’s grudging blessing. Mostly because the King had another plan in mind for Faulke.
Faulke had been a thorn in Edward’s side for a while now. I didn’t like him when he was introduced in book 4. He seemed quite volatile in temperament, and after reading he had also been widowed 3 times with 3 daughters from each wives and that he’s been rumored to have murdered them for their riches...Well, it certainly didn’t endear him to me. Avalene was no one special in that sense but he wanted her. With her now engaged to Dante, Faulke had no reasons to not rebel once again. However, at the same time, King’s eldest daughter, Isabel had returned to England from Rheinbaden, a small country in Germany (I think so since her people all spoke German). She was married to the crown prince Hartman for many years until he died a year or so ago. Isabel had no children and had no other reason to remain there. But we get to know more behind her return to England in The Princess.
Isabel had been living in Rheinbaden since her engagement with Hartman at the age of 6. The King there decided it was better to groom her in their ways and Edward send Isabel right away. So, in that sense, England is a *new* country to her. I forgot how old she was when the story began but not more than 25. She was married to Hartman at 12, borne a child that died at birth. She didn’t conceive again. It seemed she’d lived her life and Hartman lived his own after that until his death by accident. He obviously had many mistresses and hardly any contact with his wife after Isabel was ‘declared’ barren.
Sadly, as we come to know from Isabel herself, that the marriage was not a bed of roses even at their early days. She was infatuated with Hartman’s blonde goodlooks but he never really took to her. Probably not at all. Sex became duty to them to conceive an heir, and when that failed, the marriage pretty much crumbled. Hartman had mistresses as long as Isabel could remember. She was young and naïve and tolerated them all through the marriage just because she thought she was barren and couldn’t give him what he wanted. It also seemed that sex wasn’t as enjoyable to her either. Isabel was quite happy to not have to tolerate Hartman’s “visits”. :/ He had bastards with his favorite mistress and that girl had taunted Isabel all her life with this fact. Hartman never said a word, instead beat Isabel up if she ever tried to say anything against that b!tch or asked him to break it off. So all in all, you can guess how horrible it was for her. The political scenario of Rheinbaden after Hartman’s death became very unsettled. Isabel didn’t mourn his passing all that much and was relived to be out of that miserable place. But she knew she’d know no happiness because there were very few people she could trust in Rheinbaden, even fewer now that she’s in England. She still wasn’t sure if she could count her father among them.
Seems like (from my review) that I didn’t like Isabel in book 4 since she came off very haughty and unreachable. Cold, if I’m more precise. But then, she was a Princess who was groomed to become a Queen someday. The Princess is more her story than Faulke’s, #1 reason is it’s told from the first person POV, whereas the others books in this series were in third person narrative. I don’t hate first person narrative precisely but I don’t enjoy it overmuch either. It rather diminishes the chance of knowing the other characters properly since it reads more like one specific character’s monologue if it’s not executed well. Did The Princess pass that test? I’ll talk about it later.
Back to my review. After her arrival in England, Isabel learned that her father had planned another marriage for her which would take place ASAP. Like she couldn’t even breathe in England’s air and she was again being made the pawn for another political game. Isabel knew it and hated the fact that this is what she really is to the males of this demented gameplay. But the King must be obeyed and Isabel would meet the man she’s to marry ASAP. Someone she’d never set her eyes upon before today. She was nervous, unhappy but she has to maintain that cold and calm visage of The Princess so her betrothed knows who she is.
And what a introduction it was between our two main characters; Isabel all aloof and regal, ready to conquer her would be fiancé and Faulke all dirty and smelly, angry and vicious, not appreciating the fact that he’d lost another betrothed and being forced to marry someone else! Their first impression was... eh, neither was very impressed. Isabel couldn’t even see Faulke clearly due to the amount of dirt that was on him. And Faulke was simply taken aback. I really liked their conversation where Isabel is so unimpressed with Faulke she couldn’t imagine what the hell those court ladies saw in him, because she’d already heard about his womanizing reputation. She was rather, plainly speaking, oh seesh, not another one FFS! This time I have to be more careful and not let myself be humiliated once again. Also, she was worried that her barren state would eventually wreak their marriage if Faulke’s womanizing ways didn’t. It was like her worst nightmare playing at her again but there was no escape for her.
I hardly knew Faulke’s exact thoughts since it was all Isabel’s POV, which was a big bummer TBH. And not until the next day when Isabel saw him in all his finery, clean and clothed befitted his station, is when she understood why Faulke was so desired by those women. He was tall and extremely handsome; had dark hair that he kept long, neatly trimmed beard, and with intense blue eyes. I thought they had superb chemistry because, by then, it was quite certain that he was totally interested in Isabel, though she didn’t know if she could trust him. Isabel’s self-confidence has taken such a bad beating in Rheinbaden that she was sure it was more to do with the fact that she’s bringing in a lot of riches in the marriage, also that the marriage will elevate his status. She was more worried that she’s going to make a fool of herself again the way she had with Hartman and pay the price once again. That’s why she was taken aback when they have the opportunity to talk alone. Faulke turns out to be a genuine guy, quite genuinely interested in her. I was too since I didn’t know what to expect of him. His worry over losing Isabel like his previous wives seemed pretty solid. So he remained very protective of her throughout the story until it was all resolved. Probably even after that but we don’t really get much of an epilogue to prove that point.
Until their marriage everything was going well. I was gearing up for a good banter mingling with explosive chemistry. Unfortunately, the moment they married and their first night together, Isabel became Faulke’s ‘kitten’, in more ways than one and I was like someone kill me now, pls. *eyeroll* They were into each-other, just.like.that. Even though they still had reasons to distrust one another, they were already halfway in love. I mean, huh? Wtf just happened?? I hate to say but it killed the fun I was previously having. I wanted to see their relationship gradually build, growing stronger, especially when there was chemistry but they both regarded each-other strangers they were being forced to marry. It felt like both fell in lust, rather than love and all done.
Another thing that bugged me exceptionally was how modern Isabel’s POV read. Especially when, at one point, she uses the word “sexy” to describe Faulke’s attractiveness. All that was needed was to add “washboard abs” to complete this mess. -_- I don’t think people in the 1200s used that word. Hell, not even in the Regency era! Then WHY? That put me off so bad, even worse than how the first person POV went throughout the story. Needless to say I wasn’t impressed with any of it.
I don’t wanna go into the more intriguing parts of the story that kind of saved it for me; the betrayal and the murder plot and other things that were going on in such a volatile time. Those bits were gooood TBH! Though I later came to appreciate the fact that Faulke loved Isabel as I totally thought she deserved someone to love her deeply, I still wished their relationship was gradually build solving trust issues carefully rather the way it was. I couldn’t see why they’d fall in love that easily with all that was going on in and around their marriage.
And so, in the end, whereas I hoped for a ‘bang’ after such a long wait, I found a rather tame and predictable story that didn’t live up to my expectations. As I mentioned earlier, there was barely an epilogue so the ending seemed very rushed. I still think it could’ve been way better because the storyline was going the right way...until it wasn’t. :( 3.5 stars. No idea if the series has come to an end because I found no hint of another installment anywhere but I’ll keep my fingers crossed.