Monday 5 May 2014
#CBR6 Book 43: "The Sandalwood Princess" by Loretta Chase
Rating: 3.5 stars
Philip Astonley, youngest son of the Viscount Felkoner, also known as the Falcon to a select few (which is surprising to me as it's not exactly a secret identity very different from his family name), is hired by the wealthy and powerful Marquess of Hedgrave to steal a sandalwood statue and bring it from India to England. He can barely believe his luck when he discovers that the statue is given as a gift to Miss Amanda Davencourt as a farewell gift from her dear friend, the Rani Simhi, also known in India as the Great Lioness. He ambushes Amanda on her way home and steals the statue, but discovers that the rani is close on his trail and has poisoned his servant, near fatally. In order to get passage on the next ship to London, he has to pretend that his servant is one of Hedgrave lawyers, while he is in fact said man's valet.
It just so happens that Amanda Davencourt is on board the same ship, along with her chaperone and one of the rani's most dangerous servants, who ran away to escape his mistress' wrath once he discovered that Amanda had been attacked. Amanda knows that Hedgrave wanted the statue, and suspects that his lawyer may have it in his possession. She fully believes Philip's ruse that he is a servant, though, which also causes difficulties on the long journey back to England as the Philip tries to get to know her to discover if she's one of the rani's clever accomplices or just as innocent and naive as she seems to be. As they spend more time together, Amanda and Philip grow more attracted to each other, and as she believes him to be a simple valet, it's not like anything can come from their shipboard attraction.
Amanda isn't quite as innocent and sheltered as Philip believes, and manages to steal the sandalwood statue back before Philip and his servant are about to leave the ship in Portsmouth. Having been promised fifty thousand pounds for the artifact, not to mention because his professional pride has been wounded, outsmarted by a spinster, Philip tracks Amanda down to her remote estate in Yorkshire and manages to convince her that he was fired when his employer discovered the statue was missing. He's hired to be her butler, and shortly after also takes the duties as secretary. Amanda is writing a book about Indian gods and mythology and while she is clearly a brilliant scholar, she's not very organised. Philip makes himself completely indispensable to her and her household, plotting and scheming how he can get Amanda to remove the sandalwood statue from her bank vault so he can steal it back. Meanwhile, Padji, the Rani's erstwhile enforcer and now Amanda's temperamental cook is deeply suspicious of Philip's motives and does whatever he can to keep the rogue and his beloved mistress from growing closer.
The Sandalwood Princess is one of Loretta Chase's early romances, first published in 1990. Unlike most of her more recent romances, it's more in the style of Georgette Heyer's novels, with a very chaste romance and a very slow build-up. Anyone expecting crazy smexy-times must look elsewhere. For a lot of the novel, very little happens. Most of Philip and Amanda's relationship is gradually changed. It takes them months on board the ship back to London to get close to each other, and Philip spends at least two thirds of a year in Yorkshire as her devoted servant. All this while concealing his true motives and social rank from her. He's determined to carry out his mission, even after he falls in love with Amanda.
My favourite part of the book is absolutely the last third. Too much of the story just doesn't seem to go anywhere, even though I much prefer a slow-burning and gradual romantic development to a couple who fall madly in love with each other over the course of a week (or less). There are a few unexpected twists revealed towards the end of the book, that raises it from a mere three stars, and the constant scheming and double-crossing of the protagonists is a delight. I would say that this is a novel to check out if you are a Loretta Chase completeist, but not the one to begin with if you're interested in trying her books. I would recommend Lord of Scoundrels or Mr. Impossible as good jumping-on points.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.