After spending some time in the Royal Navy, Lord Matthew Weston, the youngest of four sons, went into ballooning to supplement his navy pension. He's been working on some inventions to make flying the balloons safer, but for the most part, his life isn't the exciting adventure he wished it was. Then one day, while offering balloon rides in Paris, he chanced to meet a lovely young woman who sparked his interest in a way no one ever had before. They spent six magical days together and even got married on a lark, but at the end of those days, Matthew awoke one morning to find his beautiful bride gone. When he went searching for her, he found that she was not the woman he'd thought she was, but in fact, was royalty. Deciding he'd been played, Matthew vowed never to think of her again, but over the past year, he's discovered that's easier said than done. Now the Princess is back on his doorstep, asking for his help. But dare he trust her a second time?
While her homeland of Avalonia was in a state of political unrest, Princess Tatiana Pruzinsky spent some time abroad. During a sojourn in Paris, she escaped her royal guard, and wanting to know for once what it would be like to not have the pressures of her royal position hanging over her head, she pretended to simply be Tatiana, the lady in waiting. She'd been married before, and despite it being an arranged union, she gave her heart to her husband, only to have him break it by cheating on her repeatedly. Now that she was free again, she wanted to find out what it would be like to have a relationship on her terms. She met a man who stirred her in exciting new ways and truth be told, stole her heart, but soon she realized that she couldn't abandon her people forever. So she abandoned Matthew instead.
Now she's vowed to find the lost crown jewels that appear to have gone missing around the time an aunt left Avalonia fifty years earlier and went into exile in England. Tatiana needs to travel to the places her aunt visited, without raising suspicions about what she's searching for, and to do that she needs an escort. Who better to show her around the English countryside than her own husband? Tatiana has also realized that she still has feelings for Matthew and hopes to reignite the spark they shared in Paris before their travels are over. But an evil cousin is also searching for the jewels and poses a danger to the lovebirds. Not to mention, when all is said and done, can she really ask Matthew to give up his life to become the consort of a princess, when her first husband found that life untenable?
I'm now five books into Victoria Alexander's Effington Family & Friends series, and I have to say that while I do derive some enjoyment from these books, for the most part they haven't been stand-outs for me. Her Highness, My Wife is my least favorite of the series so far. It's not that I didn't enjoy it at all, but I did see a lot of missed opportunities for deepening the plot and character development that would have made it a much more engaging read. When I picked it up and found out that the heroine is the cousin of the hero from the previous book, The Prince's Bride; that she is also a royal princess of Avalonia, the fictional nation that was introduced in that same book; and that she is going on a quest to find the missing crown jewels, also a continuation of an earlier plot point, I thought perhaps this was going to be a fun treasure hunt story. Unfortunately the plot kind of meanders around almost as much as Tatiana and Matthew meander around through England. I think that if the author had created more intrigue around this "adventure," such as them finding clues along the way, or the villain being in hot pursuit throughout the story and them barely finding each missing piece of the puzzle before she did, it would have been more fun to read. As is, it's a bit dull with the hero and heroine traveling from place to place, only to discover that there isn't any new information to be found in those locations. Nothing particularly exciting occurs until about two-thirds of the way into the story, when Tatiana's room is ransacked, an important letter is stolen, and she and Matthew end up on an ill-fated balloon ride, which I kind of saw coming. The evil princess who is also looking for the jewels doesn't even show up until after that, but she does little more than make a verbal threat. Then there's not much more of note until the very end. Even that, IMHO, could have been played out in a much more dramatic fashion than what it was. So, in the end, I would call this an OK read, but not one that held my attention very well.
Matthew is a likable enough hero. He certainly isn't a jerk or anything, but he does seem to be completely lacking in direction. He's been out of touch with his family for ten years due to some mysterious falling out with his father that led to him being disinherited. I kept waiting and waiting to find out exactly what it was that happened to cause this family rift, and I'm sorry to say that no satisfactory answer was ever given beyond that he and his father were a lot alike in personality and that they often argued. How that created such disharmony as to make Matthew stay away for so long and not even write his family a letter during that time is still a head-scratcher for me. He seemed to think that his brothers wouldn't forgive him, but what exactly he did that he thought was so unforgivable was never specified, which was a bit frustrating. Then when he does reunite with them it's easy-peasy, with no issues at all. As the youngest son of four, Matthew spent some time serving in the navy, after which he went into ballooning to supplement his naval pension, with hopes of perhaps earning enough money from competitions to start his own shipping company. I thought him earning his livelihood as an aeronaut was a unique twist and not something I've seen before in romance. He's even a bit of a tinkerer when it comes to the mechanics of flying the balloons, so I thought he was going to be a geeky hero, which I would have loved. Unfortunately we soon discover that his seeming passion for it doesn't really exist and it was only a means to an end. Matthew just seems to be struggling to know what to do with his life even after Tatiana returns and he realizes he's still in love with her, so consequently I struggled to make a genuine connection with his character.
Tatiana is an OK heroine. I didn't strongly dislike her, but there were several things about her character that gave me pause. She was dishonest with Matthew from the start, when they first met in Paris, not telling him she was a princess. It was the classic story of royalty posing as a commoner to temporarily escape the pressures of their position. The problem I had with it, though, is that she strung him along, even going so far as to marry him, and then just dumped him by walking out while he was asleep, which seemed rather cowardly and cruel. She claims she never stopped loving him, but that she realized she had a responsibility to her people, although the exact nature of that responsibility is somewhat murky. She eventually goes in search of the missing jewels, but that doesn't occur until over a year later. As a widow, it seems that Tatiana could have simply been honest with Matthew from the start, had her fun, and then walked away in the light of day, without marrying the poor guy and giving him non-existent hope. Of course, she comes back after all that time, asking for his help, but still not being honest with him about why she needs him. In fact, she practically wears her ability to lie convincingly like a badge of honor, always telling Matthew that she's a better liar than he is. I also can't blame Matthew for being upset about her leaving him without a word, yet every time he brings it up as a point of contention in their relationship, she simply apologizes in what I felt was a somewhat flippant manner and refuses to talk to him about it anymore, as though he's the one in the wrong. In this way and others, Tatiana sometimes comes off as a bit entitled. It might seem from my criticism that I did dislike her when I didn't per se. It's just that she did a lot of things that didn't make much sense to me and that didn't endear her to me, so it was very difficult for me to relate to her or sympathize.
As a couple Matthew and Tatiana didn't really spark off the pages for me. They were obviously wildly attracted to one another to have engaged in their brief but passionate affair in Paris that occurred before the events of this book. However, I didn't quite understand their attraction to one another much less them falling love, because I couldn't feel it. From the very beginning of the story, the reader is dropped into the scenario that they met, fell in love, and got married during a short six day span, but Tatiana walked away. Now she's back more than fifteen months later, and they're supposedly still in love although they don't really trust each other. From Matthew's perspective this made sense, because of how Tatiana left him, but Tatiana's mistrust of Matthew made less sense. She supposedly lacks trust because of her first husband's numerous infidelities, but Matthew never gave her any reason to distrust him on that count or any other as far as I could tell. They keep bringing the trust issue up, but nothing really occurs to rebuild their trust. They more or less just get over it. For me, trust is an absolute must in a romance, so having a huge disconnect in this area was a detractor. Also when they finally do reconnect, it's like everything else in the story. It was just too easy. The stakes simply weren't high enough to suit me. Perhaps if the author had pared down some other parts of the story in favor of a few flashbacks to Matthew and Tatiana's time together in Paris, I would have understood their connection better. But as is, I had a hard time believing in their love even though I will admit that the emotional connection between them did improve somewhat as the story progressed.
In Her Highness, My Wife, there aren't a lot of stand-out supporting characters, but we do get to visit with a few other characters from the series. The Dowager Duchess of Roxborough, the Effington matriarch, is an old friend of Matthew's grandmother, as well as Tatiana's aunt, who Tatiana believes may have taken the jewels to England when she went into exile fifty years ago. Tatiana hopes that the Dowager might have information that will help in her search. Also some other past characters show up at a couple of different balls including Thomas and Marianne (The Marriage Lesson), and Randall (who is Tatiana's cousin and the grandson of the exiled aunt) and Jocelyn (The Prince's Bride). Then there's Matthew's friend, Ephraim, publisher of the tabloid-style newspaper for whom Marianne wrote her stories in The Marriage Lesson. He tries to persuade Matthew to do the same, but he refuses. And of course, there's the villainous Princess Valentina, who was also one of the villains of The Prince's Bride.
I felt that Her Highness, My Wife had a number of weaknesses that could have been shored up to create a stronger and more interesting story. I also thought it contained quite a bit of extraneous dialogue and narration that could have been pared down to make more room for actual storytelling. I would consider all the previous books of the Effington Family & Friends series that I've read so far to be romantic comedy, because they do contain a lot of humor, even though some of it wasn't entirely to my taste. However, I'm not quite sure I can say the same of this book. It is pretty light, but the humor wasn't nearly as witty and obvious as with the other books. Overall, this is a very slow-paced read. It's a whole lot of book with not very much happening to hold my attention. If there had been more character development, more plot development, more action in their "adventure," or even more witty humor, it would have been better. I've certainly read far worse books (At least with this one I had no trouble following what was happening even if it wasn't a whole lot.), which is why I decided to give it three stars, but it just wasn't a particularly engaging read.
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