Going to the Castle by Nicole Burnham
(Silh. Romance #1563, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-19563-X
****
The problem with escapist romances set in small, nonexistent principalities with handsome prince heroes is that often they bear so little resemblance to anything in real life that they're hard to connect with on any level whatsoever. Not so with Going to the Castle, Nicole Burnham's debut novel. The hero is a prince, true, but he's definitely human, and the heroine even more so.

In fact, when the story opens, you might say she's down and dirty. Relief worker Jennifer Allen is digging a latrine in a refugee camp in war-torn Rasovo when she gets the word that Antony diTalora, the "Playboy Prince" from the neighboring country of San Rimini, is about to pay a visit. Jennifer doesn't believe it. Prince Antony? Visiting a refugee camp? Not on his life, not when there are other, cleaner charities around in which to enhance his family's image.

Antony indeed makes a duty call to the refugee camp, planning to present a hefty check to the director and smile for the journalists' cameras. He's taken aback to learn that the woman who picked him up from the helicopter is none other than the director herself, Miss Allen, an American. Antony is intrigued by the beautiful woman who is so compassionate toward the desperate people in the camp. When Jennifer explains the need for volunteer workers, which far outstrips the need for monetary donations, Antony finds himself vowing to help her.

One way he can do so is to invite her to San Rimini to address a scholarship fundraiser, one he sponsors. Antony is willing to require that scholarship recipients do service work, and what better service than helping in the refugee camp? Plus, it will give him a chance to get to know Jennifer, and a bit of relief from the society women his father is forcing down his throat in hopes of a marriage. Before Jennifer knows what hit her, she's "going to the castle".

Antony is quite a guy under the sophisticated exterior. He chafes at the restrictions put upon him by his father, and it's fun to see him jolted out of his insulated world of parties and socialites and become an active voice for those in need. Jennifer does what all good heroines do - she helps the hero become a better person.

As for Jennifer, she enters the castle fully aware that this is a Cinderella setup and the pumpkin leaves at midnight. But she's in for a surprise when she finds that the prince is truly attracted to her, and she to him. A kiss on a stairway sets events in motion that will force Antony and Jennifer to choose - and to put aside their preconceived ideas.

Going to the Castle manages a nearly-impossible task. San Rimini not only sounds like a plausible place, it sounds real, and Jennifer and Antony do, too. Their gentle love story is a sweet tale of overcoming the odds to find the right soulmate. It's definitely worth a look.

--Cathy Sova


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