Monday, April 17, 2017

The Prince and I - Karen Hawkins (Pocket - Aug 2015)

Series: Oxenburg Princes (Book 2)

Gregori Romanovin, Oxenburg’s warrior prince, is escorting his grandmother to a house party deep in the Highlands when he and his entourage are robbed at sword point by a group of ruffians led by a man the locals have dubbed “The Scottish Robin Hood.” The battle-savvy prince instantly realizes there’s something different about this thief, and it’s not just the Scottish accent -- it’s the fact that “he” is really a “she.”

Lady Murian, a young widow out for revenge against the powerful earl who killed her husband and stole his birthright, is now living in the woods with her family’s banished retainers. To stay alive, she and her band of men rob rich nobles coming to visit the evil earl. But when she ambushes the Prince of Oxenburg’s golden coach, she gets far more than she expected. For when the prince uncovers her true identity, she’s afraid that he might be the real thief…of her heart.

Good book with a twist on the Robin Hood theme. Max is accompanying his grandmother on a visit to Scotland when they are waylaid by a group of bandits. As an experienced soldier, he realizes that there is something different about them. A confrontation with their leader, which he barely won, reveals that "Robin" is actually a woman. When they have what they want, they disappear as quickly as they appeared, leaving Max frustrated and intrigued.

Murian is the widow of the former owner of Rowallen Castle. Her husband was killed and the castle stolen by the Earl of Loudan, who evicted Murain and all those who served the castle. Determined to find the proof of what happened, she and her people have moved into the woods, and harass the Earl and his guests on a regular basis. She gets more than she bargained for when she stops Max's coach.

I loved their initial confrontation. Max's frustration at being caught unawares was obvious, as was his surprise at the efficiency of the group. I loved the request for "donations" instead of demands (this is important later on). I also liked Max's keen observations that revealed more about the bandits than they realized, leading to a fun exchange with the Grand Duchess about some chickens. The sword fight was exciting, and it was fun to see Max having more difficulty than he expected. The whole confrontation ends up in something of a draw, and Max and company continue their journey to the castle.

We see Murian and her people as they live their lives in the woods, trying to survive while at the same time looking for a way to succeed in their goal. Murian's care and worry for them is obvious, especially as the cold weather approaches. Their worries are worsened when villagers who have helped them are attacked by the earl's people. At the same time, Max has been searching diligently for Murain. When he finally succeeds, he's surprised to find the reasons for her actions.

I loved Max. He can be very imperious, as a prince and a general of his country's army. But he is also loyal and loving to his family, as shown by the way he cares for his grandmother. She irritates him, but he loves her, and will do almost anything for her. He is also very observant, and I loved the way he recognized the straits that Murian and her crew were in.  He wanted to help and brought his men to make repairs without talking to Murian first. I liked that he saw where he had gone wrong and apologized, without getting all sulky. He's also very protective of her, and gets a bit overbearing when he's trying to keep her safe.

Murian was awesome. Her marriage had been an arranged one, but she and Robert fell in love. She had felt right at home with the castle and the people. When Robert was killed while she was away for a few days, she was stunned and heartbroken. When she discovered that the castle had been taken by the earl, she was certain that there had been trickery of some kind and was determined to prove it. I loved her way of getting even with him, by taking all the contents of the castle that could be moved within those few days they had to vacate the castle. She was also incredibly clever, thanks to the unusual education she got from her guardian, and I enjoyed seeing her use those abilities to confound the earl and also Max at the beginning. She is also very stubborn and it is hard to make her see reason when her activities become more dangerous. I did enjoy seeing her stand up to Max when he needed it.

I loved the development of their relationship. It started out as friendship and Max's sense of justice compelled him to help her regain the castle. As they spent days together working on the village repairs, that friendship started to change. There had been sparks of attraction from the start, but both tried to ignore them, until they became too strong to do so. It wasn't too long until they were taking every chance they could get to get their hands on each other. But both have very definite views on the idea of a relationship. Max is a soldier who has seen too much death and unhappiness. He doesn't intend to marry because he never wants to put a woman through the grief of losing her husband. Murian has no intention of deserting her people, and falling for a man who cannot stay in Scotland is something she doesn't want. But hearts can't be denied, and decisions will have to be made. When the end came, Max's solution was perhaps implausible, but definitely romantic. I thoroughly enjoyed the epilogue, both for the view of their future and the setup for the next book.

I also adored the Grand Duchess. She is quite the piece of work, with very definite opinions and her own set of morals. Her part in the confrontation with the bandits was hilarious, especially when it came to the chickens. She also had her own reasons for wanting to visit Rowallen Castle, though Max had a terrible time getting her to tell him the whole story. I just had to shake my head when she finally got around to telling it all. She also has quite the mind of her own, and no qualms about using her Gypsy heritage to bend people to her will (something about turning people into goats gets their attention). Her appearance in Murian's village was unexpected, and watching her and Murian put their heads together for their own plan to find their missing items was pretty funny, as was Max's reaction.

The mystery of the truth behind Robert's death and the loss of the castle was very well done. The earl was definitely a bad guy with no redeeming value. His actions against the Grand Duchess were also so very wrong, and the discovery that she wasn't the only one to lose to him at cards wasn't really a surprise. I loved how he got what was coming to him at the end, with the coup de grace coming from an unexpected connection to Max's other reason for being there.

I also loved the descriptions and characterizations of the other members of Murian's village. Each one was unique with their own personalities and quirks. I loved Ian's protectiveness toward all of them, and how he tried to keep Murian from going too wild with her plans. I also enjoyed the various widows and their attempts to push Murian and Max together. 

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