The Serpent Prince
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While I was reading The Serpent Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt, one word kept popping into my mind: oscillate. The book would constantly swing from “good” to “not so great” and then back to “good” again. As a reviewer, I found this a bit distressing, since it’s easier to write a review about a book when you know exactly how you feel about it.

The book opens in 1760 England, and Miss Lucy Craddock-Hayes is walking down the lane with her manservant when she finds a nude, unconscious man lying in the road. The victim is Simon, the 6th Viscount of Iddesleigh, and he’s been very badly beaten. Lucy takes him back to her home and, despite her father’s wishes, she nurses the Viscount back to health. Here is one of the instances where I thought the book was refreshing. Simon and Lucy are instantly attracted to each other—but, contrary to the common romance novel formula, they acknowledge their feelings almost immediately and are wed near the beginning of the book. I often find myself frustrated by couples’ procrastination in most romance novels, so it was nice to see the inevitable happen more quickly.

After moving to London with her new husband, Lucy begins to see that he harbors a dark secret. Simon is on a mission to avenge his brother’s death by hunting down the men he holds responsible (five men in all) and challenging them to duels—thereby killing them in a “respectable” manner, as opposed to out and out murder. And that’s really all there is to the plot, which was disappointing. There aren’t many twists or red herrings, which you often find in romances—although Simon does find redemption from his bloodlust in the end.

Going back to the word oscillate, Hoyt’s writing would often go from lovely to strained and back again. The title of the book refers to a twisted sort of fairy tale that Simon tells Lucy. The prince in the story is supposed to represent Simon, but the whole thing seems contrived, and it doesn’t really serve a purpose or propel the plot. Also, Hoyt appears to be a big fan of metaphors—some of which work, while others don’t. For example, she says “The theater was as crowded as a corpse bloated with maggots.” Ew. But just a few pages later, she deftly and lyrically describes the beauty of the roses Simon cultivates in his greenhouse. Another spot where Hoyt’s writing was hit-or-miss were the love scenes. I appreciated her description of Lucy’s first time; for once, a romance writer didn’t gloss over the pain that comes with losing one’s virginity, and Lucy doesn’t even get to, uh, reach love’s highest peak, as it were. I found Lucy’s deflowering oddly refreshing, but her description of the couple’s anatomy (Simon’s in particular) and the act of making love sometimes bordered on vulgar.

Hoyt tries very hard to create complex characters—is Simon some sort of obsessed monster, or just the victim of poorly managed grief?—but she often doesn’t quite succeed. Lucy turns out to be a perfect woman, understanding and genteel and wise beyond her years. I found her to be a bit of a “Mary Sue,” to be honest. Her father, a retired sea captain, is completely a one-note character, but I found myself chuckling at him nonetheless. Captain Craddock-Hayes loves to tell sea stories of his time in His Majesty’s Navy, much like my husband (an officer in the U.S. Navy) does in real life. I had to laugh, thinking that some things never change.

All in all. I’m still not sure how I feel about The Serpent Prince. I give Elizabeth Hoyt an “A” for effort—and the book is definitely more action-packed than some other romance novels. I’m just not entirely sure I would read it again.

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