As country miss, Lucy Craddock-Hayes is walking home from her charitable endeavors in the village, she nearly trips over the body of a gorgeous naked man lying by the side of the road. At first she believes him dead, but when the man begins to moan, Lucy is instantly spurred into action. With the help of her manservant, she transports the man back to her home where she carefully nurses him back to health. When he finally awakens, Lucy is shocked to hear that he is Simon Iddesleigh, a viscount.
Simon was set upon by three ruffians near his townhouse in London, and left for dead in the country. He knows that he has enemies who would wish him harm, but allows Lucy to believe that it was merely thieves. As Simon spends time with Lucy during his recovery, they begin to develop feelings for one another. Simon sees Lucy as his perfect angel, but knows he has a blackness in his soul which he cannot allow to corrupt her innocence. Simon has an unquenchable thirst for revenge, and is hell-bent on making his brother's murderers pay for their crime. He has already killed two men in duels and was planning the demise of two more before he was attacked. Now he must return to London to finish what he started, but once back home, Simon realizes that he simply cannot live without his sweet angel. Lucy has always sensed the turmoil in Simon's soul and wants to help bear his burdens, but he refuses to share what troubles him for fear that she will leave him. Lucy is an intelligent woman though, and when she discovers the truth about Simon's duels, will she truly be able to stand by her man when what he is doing flies in the face of everything she believes about right and wrong?
The Serpent Prince was a fabulous wrap-up to an already wonderful series. It carried a lot of weight and depth that kept my mind engaged throughout. The story is a study in contrasts with a very potent mixture of light and dark, innocence and eroticism. Lucy is the lightness and sweetness to Simon's darkness and pain. Simon hasn't known anyone as virtuous and kind as Lucy since the death of his brother, and he subconsciously senses that his "angel" can bring the light of her goodness and decency into the black abyss of his soul to save him. It is also about the redemption of a man who was so consumed by the pain of the past and a thirst for vengeance that he felt he was beyond saving, and a gentle reminder of what it truly means to be patient and forgiving in the face of wrongdoing. The Serpent Prince is also a lovely story of two people discovering their true selves and in doing so, finding the one person who is perfect for them, that they can trust completely and to whom they can reveal that true self, warts and all. Overall, this was a beautifully written book that, in my opinion, went beyond mere romance into the realm of what it truly means to love someone unconditionally with all your heart and soul.
In The Raven Prince, I fell in love with Edward's intelligence, earthiness and even his temperamental nature. In The Leopard Prince, I fell for Harry's calm, quiet, everyman persona. In both of their books, Simon is portrayed as a dandified peacock, and I have to admit some skepticism on whether I would like him as a hero. Now after reading his book, I can honestly say that in spite of his perfectly powdered wig, exquisitely embroidered waistcoats and gaudy red-heeled pumps, this dandy is one of the sexiest heroes I've had the pleasure of reading. I don't think I'll ever judge a book by its cover again.;-) Simon is an utterly charming rogue who seems to hide who he really is behind all the pomp and circumstance of his outer facade. He also has a tendency to babble a whole lot of nonsense for the same reason. Yet, Simon is thoroughly quick-witted and poetic but can be oh-so-naughty with words, skillfully weaving double entendres into his conversations and bantering like a pro. Underneath that devil-may-care facade though, lurks a deep, dark pain and a man who is utterly consumed by his plans for retribution against his brother's murderers. I thought that the author did an amazing job with conveying the toll that the revenge was taking on Simon, and how it was completely ravaging him, both physically and emotionally. In spite of the intensity of his anger toward those who wronged his family, Simon can still, at times, be a thoroughly vulnerable and broken man who has a heartbreaking need for Lucy's presence. It is like he is a drained and starving man who just soaks up her love and light and purity and wants to take it into himself to cleanse his bitter soul. Even though Simon deeply yearns for Lucy, there are times that he seems to be afraid of corrupting his perfect "angel" and is almost embarrassed by the intensity of his desire for her. For all his worldliness, occasionally he could even be brought to a blush by merely being around his lovely wife. I thought this was absolutely adorable and an ingenious way for the author to convey the goodness in him. All in all, Simon is a larger-than-life character who really stole the show in this book.
Opposite an ostentatious and deeply wounded character like Simon, Lucy could have been a shrinking violet, but I thought she held her own pretty well. She is the plain country girl who stands out in stark contrast to the sophisticated ladies of the ton with whom Simon usually keeps company, but that is what makes her so perfect for him. Unlike Simon she has had a good life with fond memories of a gentle, loving mother, and although her father is a blustery former sea captain, it is obvious that he loves her dearly too. She draws on that background filled with affection to become a rock in Simon's life and keep him grounded through his trials. She is also an artist who can see beneath the surface disarmingly well which really frightens Simon but doesn't stop him from wanting to get closer to her. While Lucy's life has been nice, it has also been a bit dull, but she didn't realize how much so until Simon came into her life with his flamboyant charms and awakened her to what she had been missing. Lucy was always extremely generous toward the people in the village where she grew up, and she was equally unselfish with Simon right from the start, always willingly giving everything he needed without question. That's not to say that she is a doormat though, because she does fight for what she believes is right and when Simon tried her patience one too many times with his unwillingness to change, she took drastic measures which become the wake-up call that he so desperately needed.
There were many things to like about The Serpent Prince, including what I consider some very swoon-worthy romantic moments. Early on, Simon and Lucy exchanged some sweet, innocent looks and touches that conveyed so much meaning. Then the timing of Simon's marriage proposal was actually a surprise to me. Even though it ended up being one of his flurry of words that never quite got to the point, I thought it was very romantic nonetheless. It is also rather rare these days for a couple in any romance genre to wait until their wedding night to consummate their relationship, but Simon and Lucy did just that. Except for one moment of weakness, Simon behaved like a perfect gentleman refusing to even touch or kiss Lucy for fear of giving in to temptation and despoiling his bride before the wedding. I thought this was really sweet because it showed that the anticipation of the act can build much better sexual tension than giving into lust in the heat of the moment. As I mentioned earlier, Simon seemed afraid of corrupting Lucy and this was quite evident in the sexual realm. Even after they were married, he sometimes played coy with her, but she was always completely responsive to his sexual overtures. This is where that combination of innocence and eroticism came in, creating a very beguiling and heady brew. The love scenes are an area in which Elizabeth Hoyt really excels in her writing. All of them, including a scene where Simon verbally relates his fantasies to Lucy, were thoroughly sensual and erotic without ever truly crossing that boundary.
I also liked the inclusion of another fairy tale with the twist being that the hero got to tell it this time. Unlike the tales in the last two books, it was quite dark and dreary, but ended up suiting Simon and his personality perfectly. In fact, I thought that the overall darkness in tone gave the book a slightly Gothic flair. As to things I didn't like, there was virtually nothing. I might have liked to see the author explore Simon's childhood a bit more, but what was there explained his behavior quite a bit. The ending was perhaps a tad rushed. It might have been nice to draw it out a little longer or have an epilogue, but it was fine the way it was too. I thought that having it end on Christmas day was actually a nice touch. What better time of year for forgiveness and new beginnings? Overall, The Serpent Prince was a fabulous ending to the Princes Trilogy, that has earned its spot on my keeper shelf right next to its predecessors The Raven Prince and The Leopard Prince. I've noticed that Ms. Hoyt has been working on a short story sequel, The Ice Princess, which she has been adding a chapter at a time to her website and is free to her readers. Not being one who likes to torture myself, I will probably wait until it is complete before reading it, but I look forward to checking it out along with Ms. Hoyt's other works.
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