The plot description of Nan Ryan's latest is remarkably similar to that of Jude Devereaux The Princess. Both tales involve spoiled beautiful women from imaginary European countries who find love in the arms of tough yet tender all-American males. Well, maybe I just have a weakness for these admittedly farfetched fables, but I consider Devereaux's The Princess one of my all time favorites, and found myself thoroughly enjoying every minute of The Princess Goes West. I guess I'm a sucker for a good fish out of water story.
Here that very regal fish is Princess Marlena, future Queen of tiny Hartz-Coburg. The Princess is beautiful, arrogant, spoiled and.....broke. It seems the country's coffers could use a quick refill, and the only way to achieve that is by either marrying or paying a visit to all those lovely rich Victorian Americans so interested in all things royal. Marriage is out for Marlena, having already bid adieu to one over-the-hill husband. So it's off to America, just in time for the Stock Market crash of 1880.
Princess Marlena's devoted attendant Montillion puts Plan B into action – visit the Wild West, where gold and silver millionaires with smaller stock portfolios abound. When, half way through her trip, Marlena's skin takes on a decidedly yellow tint, faithful Montillion dispatches her to the care of a group of New Mexico nuns, who nurse the fitful princess through her bout with jaundice. And just to be on the safe side, the oh-so resourceful retainer happens to know the exact whereabouts of a princess lookalike to temporarily take the place of the real Princess. Yes, I said it was farfetched, and even silly, but it's also fun. Especially when Virgil Black of the Texas Rangers enters the picture.
Virgil assumes when he sees Marlena in a train depot that she is the "The Queen of the Silver Dollar," a famed saloon singer and the accomplice to a notorious bank robber (and as it happens, the Princess' doppelganger.) The tall Texan quickly arrests Marlena and spirits her away from her bodyguard, not for one minute believing her violent protestations about her identity.
Naturally, Virgil is the one man in a million who can actually handle the royal viper. His laconic attitude and indifference to her comfort, not to mention determination to deliver her to an El Paso jail, infuriate the Princess, or "Red" as Virgil is fond of calling her. It is of course this very same treatment that has the Princess bending over backwards to elicit a reaction out of the stony lawman. The more he ignores her, the more she is intrigued. For his part, Virgil is just hoping to make it across the desert in one piece – the wounds inflicted on him by the Princess are startling to pile up, and having to share a bedroll with the beauty hasn't afforded him much sleep.
As the two trek across the New Mexico frontier nature takes over, in more ways than one. The desert gets even hotter when the cowboy and the princess finally get down to business in a series of steamy interludes that get high marks for energy and creativity.
As countless authors have proved in the past, it's not always easy to keep the actions of just two characters interesting over a couple of hundred pages. But Nan Ryan has done an admirable job of keeping the action moving at a good brisk pace and peppering the pages with lively dialogue. And while the characters remain somewhat superficial much of the time, they do come to life during those aforementioned love scenes, where the chemistry and sexual tension is so thick you can practically cut it with a knife. And as many romance readers will agree, sexual tension is where it's at!
The Princess Goes West is romantic, passionate, and entertaining – in other words, a perfect summer read.