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New Faces 7:

An interview with Gaelen Foley

The Pirate Prince by Gaelen Foley
(Fawcett, $5.99, R) ISBN: 0-449-00247-0
I bought The Pirate Prince after one of my list friends gave it a rave review. I was intrigued by the setting Italy in 1785, of all places, not England, Scotland or America. I admit to being less enthralled by the premise. I am afraid I have never been big on pirates (except the Pittsburgh kind.)

Having read Gaelen Foley's debut novel, I must admit that, while it has a number of flaws quite common to first books, The Pirate Prince provided me with several hours of painless entertainment. A perfect beach book.

I must begin by noting that this is a work of historical romantic fantasy (or do I mean fantastical historical romance.) The setting is completely imaginary, the plot is highly improbable, and the tone is quite modern. But if you are willing to accept these caveats, you are in for a rip roaring, sensual tale.

The story begins as a man rows into the secret caves and tunnels of the Fiore under the island kingdom of Ascension. Our hero is Lazar de Fiore, the only surviving son of the last rightful king of Ascension. Fifteen years earlier, his entire family had been murdered by conspirators in league with Genoa which wanted to gain control of the kingdom's wealth. Lazar had escaped by jumping into the sea. Now he has returned to gain revenge against the man who organized the coup, Ottavio Monteverdi. Monteverdi's reward was the governorship of the island under Genoa's tutelage. Ascension has suffered grievously under Monteverdi's rule.

Lazar plans to use his singular knowledge of the tunnels to find a way to open the city's gates to his pirate followers. Upon capturing the city, the one time prince plans to force Monteverdi to witness the murder of his daughter Allegra and other relatives before killing the man himself.

Allegra Monteverdi has only recently returned to Ascension after nine years in Paris. There she has imbibed radical notions about the rights of citizens and the duties of rulers. Since returning home, she has embarked on a career of charitable acts to try to alleviate some of the suffering that has resulted from her father's and Genoa's exploitation. She has even agreed to marry her father's protege and expected successor, Domenic Clemente. She believes the marriage will permit her to do more to help the people of Ascension.

When Allegra leaves the ball marking her father's anniversary in power to join the more enticing celebrations in town, she and Lazar encounter one another. And Lazar is surprisingly smitten by the feisty young woman whose demise he has planned. His liking for Allegra forces him to rethink his planned vendetta and, in exchange for her accompanying him, he spares the lives of the other Monteverdis (and thereby saves his soul.)

Thus Lazar and Allegra begin their duel of hearts. He wants her love but believes his life since the dread day of his family's murder makes him unworthy. She, who idolized the mythical Lazar all her young life, wants him to become the prince and restore his country.

Lazar will not force Allegra, but he rather gradually introduces her to the power of sensuality. And what an introduction. I usually find the "everything but penetration" approach to sustaining sexual tension in a story a bit tiresome. But Foley did a fine job with the somewhat lengthy "foreplay" and the long awaited consummation. Good thing I was reading on the beach and the ocean was nearby when I needed to cool off.

Why I am not out and out recommending this book? After all, Lazar is a fine tortured hero; Allegra is an admirable heroine. There are adventures galore, poignant moments, a couple of truly villainous villains all the ingredients for a fine romance, it would seem.

There are two reasons. One is idiosyncratic. I found the tone jarringly modern and felt there were simply too many anachronisms and inaccuracies that pulled me out of the story. Other readers might well not have the same response. The second has to do with the plot device Foley uses at the end of the book and its less than satisfactory denouement. I don't mean less than satisfactory in the HEA sense, but rather Foley simply didn't quite succeed in tying up all the loose ends as well as she might have.

I should conclude by saying that I am glad I took Falcon's recommendation and read The Pirate Prince. There were more things right than wrong about the book. This is a most impressive first novel and I believe that Gaelen Foley will have a fine career as a romance author. I know I will be looking forward to the sequel to The Pirate Prince.

--Jean Mason

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