The Chase

The Winter Prince
by Cheryl Sawyer
(Signet, $14.00, PG) ISBN 0-451-22044-7
The Winter Prince comes with a large caveat for romance readers: this novel is long on history, but short on actual romance, at least of the variety expected by most readers. If, however, you enjoy historical fiction then this book may well captivate you.

It is 1642 England, and King Charles I is feuding with Parliament. Lovely young Mary Villiers, the king’s adoptive daughter, is married to James Stuart, the Duke of Richmond. Both Mary and James support their king and his wife, Queen Henrietta-Maria, and Mary is determined to do all she can to help bring about a reconciliation between the king and Parliament.

Enter Prince Rupert of Bohemia, beloved nephew to the king and a brilliant commander on the battlefield. Rupert is stunned to find that the king and his court have fled London; when he arrives in England, the court is in Dover. To Rupert’s way of thinking, the only way to deal with Parliament is by force.

In the midst of the English Civil War, Prince Rupert and Mary fight a powerful attraction to each other. Parliament, however, gets wind of their flirtation and the king’s enemies spread rumors of an affair between the two. Mary will struggle to aid her king and queen and stay faithful to her husband, while war rages throughout the kingdom.

That’s a very brief outline of a complex and fascinating story. History buffs will already know how it ends; what makes the tale even more engrossing is that Mary and Rupert really existed. Prince Rupert of the Rhine was indeed one of the ill-fated King Charles’s trusted commanders, and Lady Mary, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, may or may not have been his lover. Regardless, their story here is intriguing, and under Ms. Sawyer’s sure pen, their characters come to life.

The real star of the story, however, is the history itself. Clearly the author has a passion for the time period, and she never makes a false move. Readers will feel they are right in the middle of the exiled Court. As for the romance, it’s bittersweet at best. As with many of the great romantic lovers, readers will be left with the feeling of “if only.” If only they hadn’t been trapped by the politics of war, if only both had been free to follow their hearts, if only they’d met in a different place and time... Rupert and Mary will be remembered not so much for what they were, but for what they might have been.

Romance lovers will have to make do with a touch or a glance, rather than the kind of heavy passion most of us are used to in our reading. It’s interesting how, in the hands of a skilled author like Ms. Sawyer, that glance can carry as much tenderness and emotion as a full-blown affair.

If you can appreciate a historical novel with a dash of romance, The Winter Prince is well worth your time.

--Cathy Sova

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