A grieving Amelia Coombs comes to Paris to visit her fiancé’s grave along with his mother. Her situation is not made easier when she experiences language problems with her carriage driver. An Italian stranger comes to her assistance. Since he is wearing all black and a crucifix, she mistakes him for a priest. Count Andreas Briccetti does not correct her error and tells her he is Father Dominic Soranzo from Venice. The real Father Dominic was his tutor as a boy.
During the following days, she meets up with him several times at the cemetery and is drawn to his warmth and compassion. It is when she is about to return to England that she realizes her feelings have deepened to love. Since her second love is as unavailable to her as her first, she decides to devote her life to selfless service as her dear Father Dominic has.
Four years later, Amelia remains unwed even though her mother has tried to push suitors on her. When Lady Madelyn Langtry invites Amelia to join her, her husband, and stepchildren on a trip to Venice, Amelia accepts with pleasure. She will have a break from her mother’s pressure.
One of the first things Amelia does upon arriving in Venice is try to track down Father Dominic. She learns he has died and visits his grave. There she encounters Andreas and learns his true identity. Andreas remembers their acquaintance with bemused fondness; to have had such a platonic relationship with a beautiful woman is quite out-of-character for him.
A year and a half earlier, Andreas had wanted to marry Lady Madelyn, but she had married Robert Langtry instead. He now approaches her as an intermediary with the British to assist in the Venetians’ overthrowing the Austrian occupations. Amelia’s Venetian holiday will enmesh her in a dangerous conspiracy.
The unusual Venice setting and the plot’s use of the political situation of the time sets The Merchant Prince apart from other Regency romances. Ms. Huntington is a relatively new author in the subgenre, but she has already made a name for herself as one of its most talented writers. By utilizing such a novel setting in this book, she demonstrates she is able to move beyond the traditional narrow restrictions of the Regency romance.
The Merchant Prince, however, has several problems that keep it from rising above three-heart status. In Paris, Amelia shows signs of having a passionate heart, but four years later at the age of twenty-one she’s matured into a prosaic blandness. She’s supposed to be the romance’s heroine, but she’s mostly overshadowed by the more vibrant Lady Madelyn. It’s only near the end of the story that she finally does something that seems more in character with the impetuous girl first glimpsed in Paris.
Andreas seems to be too vibrant and dramatic for the bland Amelia. He is an intriguing combination of fop, flirt, and patriot. He doesn’t seem to have completely recovered from the disappointment of Madelyn’s marriage to another. A romantic hero needs to be ready to give his heart to the heroine, willingly or no, but Andreas seems to be more devoted to his previous love and to the cause freedom for Venice to have much enthusiasm left for Amelia. Andreas’s foppish manner is only partly an act to lull the Austrians into believing he is a friend of the regime. He really does have an over-the-top attitude towards some things that’s quite charming and decidedly different from most British Regency heroes.
What many readers may find the story’s biggest drawback is that it does not stand alone. It seems a continuation of Lady Madelyn’s tale in Mistletoe Mayhem rather than a complete story in itself. Since I had not read the earlier book, I was unfamiliar with three of the four central characters and their mutual history. The attempts to fill in the backstory are too incomplete to be really satisfying. Readers who’ve read Mistletoe Mayhem may enjoy learning what becomes of the characters, but readers who are new to them may feel at a loss as I did.