At the tender age of thirteen, Prince Lazar di Fiore bore witness to the murder of his parents and younger siblings at the hands of his father's treacherous advisors. He alone managed to escape with his life, but just barely, and what transpired for him next made him almost wish he'd died. Throughout the years to come, the only thing that kept him alive was his burning need to exact vengeance. Lazar grew strong and eventually came to command his own pirate fleet. After years of planning, he returns to his island nation of Ascension with one goal in mind-to murder the daughter of his sworn enemy in front of the man before killing him. However, Lazar's mind is so tortured by the demons of the past that once his mission is complete, he plans to take his own life to end his torment once and for all. But he never expected the woman he came to kill would steal his heart and give him a reason to live.
After Allegra Monteverdi's mother died in an apparent suicide years ago, she was sent away to live with an aunt in Paris away from the influence of her father. She has no idea that her own flesh and blood was capable of treason and was involved in the death of the beloved royal family of Ascension. Since girlhood, she has had a crush on the legendary Prince Lazar. Allegra loves her country and its people and frequently, goes out into the slums to offer kindness to those in need. She doesn't agree with many of the political views of those in power, including her fiancé, who is expected to inherit the governorship once she marries him. Allegra doesn't love the man, but is willing to marry him, thinking it will put her in a position to better help the Ascenioners. She soon discovers though, that her fiancé is anything but the proper gentleman he appears to be on the outside when he attempts to rape her in her own garden. Her savior is a rough and dangerous-looking pirate whom she almost immediately trusts against all reason, but when he reveals his real motive for being there, Allegra eventually finds herself begging at his knees for her family's lives. She agrees to become Lazar's prisoner in exchange for him allowing them to live, and is surprised when he treats her with kindness and respect. Soon, her heart belongs to her captor, and when she finally realizes that he is indeed the lost Prince of Ascension, she knows that the only right thing for him to do is returning to lead his people. But can she convince this stubborn man to take up his birthright, and if she does, will she lose him to the horrors of his past in the process?
The Pirate Prince was Gaelen Foley's first published romance sixteen years ago, and what a debut it was. I absolutely loved this story of a lost prince turned pirate, finally returning to his island nation to take up the throne that is his birthright. The country in question is the fictional island of Ascension located in the Mediterranean off the coast of Italy (yes, there is a real Ascension Island, but it's located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean). The story has a fairy tale quality to it, what with all the legends of the lost boy prince who the locals believe will one day return to make their land prosperous again. At the same time though, there is plenty of angst, drama, conflict, high seas adventure, and exotic locales. It's also a moving tale of redemption, enemies turned to lovers, and the power of love to overcome the pain of the past. Everything just came together to make this a wonderful book, and I enjoyed every minute of reading it.
Allegra is the daughter of the governor of Ascension who took over rulership of the country after the murders of its entire royal family fifteen years earlier. Little does she know though, that her father and the council were responsible for the killings, and when her mother found out and tried to do something about it, they silenced her as well. Allegra grew up in Paris under the guardianship of an aunt, but now she's back on Ascension and engaged to a nobleman. Unfortunately, neither her fiancé nor her father truly appreciate her for the gentle, intelligent, and kindhearted woman that she is. She's very much a progressive, independent thinker who forms her own opinions on political matters. She's also a very charitable person who makes a habit of going out among the poor to bring them food and medicine. It was so sweet that all her life, Allegra has been enthralled by the legends of the lost prince, Lazar, and has harbored a huge crush on him. Of course, when she meets the man in the flesh, she can't believe it's truly him at first, mainly because his dark and dangerous pirate persona is nothing like her fairy tale fantasy. Lazar's kidnapping of Allegra doesn't do much for his case either, but it was utterly adorable how she kind of enjoyed being kidnapped, at least until he started to use her as a pawn in his scheme to exact revenge on her father for his treachery. In spite of everything that happens between them in those opening chapters, Allegra eventually sees the truth of the situation and exhibits a level of trust in her pirate prince that is very sweet and heartfelt. Even when he threatens her, she instinctively knows he won't hurt her. She's so selfless that she almost always puts everyone else's needs above her own, and her love for Lazar is deep and true, a once in a lifetime love that she never thought to find. Allegra is also quite stubborn, and it's her love for him that causes her to push Lazar to do what she knows in her heart is right even when it angers him. She's incredibly supportive of him and wants him to succeed in what she sees as the most important mission of his life, namely retaking his throne.
Lazar only returned to Ascension with the intention of exacting revenge on the Monteverdi's for the murders of his entire family to which he bore witness, and also for the tortured existence he's led since then. Lazar's plan is to kill Allegra in front of her father to give him a taste of the horror he experienced, before killing him and the entire Monteverdi family. Admittedly though, his stomach quails at the thought of killing a woman, and an innocent one at that, which is something his conscience has never allowed him to do before. In fact, he's so much of a gentleman, he won't even kill in front of a woman. Lazar is attracted to Allegra from the moment he meets her, and after kidnapping her, he begins to like her as a person too, especially when he realizes her allegiance to his dead father. Still, he repeatedly tries to convince himself that killing her is the only way to truly get the revenge he's seeking. However, from the moment he laid eyes on her, I could see the wheels turning in his head. Allegra is nothing like what he expected her to be, so when she throws herself on his mercy, begging him not to execute her family, he's helpless to resist her. Instead, Lazar takes her as his captive in payment for their lives, and despite being upset with him for his treachery, Allegra can't help but respect him, especially as she gets to know the man inside. After spending two years as the slave and plaything of an Arab prince in North Africa, Lazar is a deeply tortured soul. In fact, he's so tormented, he's prepared to die by his own hand as soon as his revenge is complete. He feels he has nothing to live for until a slip of a girl unwittingly throws a lifeline of hope to his blackened soul, making him want something he didn't even know he needed. His simple heartfelt plea of "Love me" was achingly beautiful. By offering him her unconditional love and pushing him to accept his birthright, she gives him something to fight for. I love that even when Lazar initially intends to be cruel to Allegra, he simply cannot bring himself to do it and always ends up being gentle instead. The only time he hurts her, and then only with his words, is when he's trying to drive her away, because he feels he's cursed and would only bring about her death if she stayed with him. Otherwise, he was a wonderful hero, who has definitely earned a spot on my favorite heroes list.
The Pirate Prince had a number of notable secondary characters, but the only one I know will continue on in the series is Darius, a young boy who suffered the same fate as Lazar but was rescued by Lazar and Allegra. Darius has the heart of a lion and will become the hero of Princess, the next book in The Ascension Trilogy, where I suspect he may be paired with Lazar and Allegra's daughter. The Pirate Prince was a deeply emotional and swoon-worthy romance that has everything I look for in a love story: relatable characters I could root for, adventure, steamy love scenes, and best of all a truly romantic and passionate story that made me feel what the characters were feeling and made me believe in their HEA. Oftentimes an author's earlier works show their greenness as a writer, but that certainly wasn't the case for Gaelen Foley. This debut book was just as good as some of her later ones. and I can't wait to continue the series.
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