The plot is wildly convoluted, and I lost the thread of who was who more than once, but Reginald Hill's writing is so witty that I found this perfectl...moreThe plot is wildly convoluted, and I lost the thread of who was who more than once, but Reginald Hill's writing is so witty that I found this perfectly on-the-nose depiction of village life very entertaining.(less)
Good Lord this book was angsty! More than once I caught a strange look from a fellow bus passenger when I clapped a hand over my mouth in shock/horror...moreGood Lord this book was angsty! More than once I caught a strange look from a fellow bus passenger when I clapped a hand over my mouth in shock/horror/amazement. It’s a tough one to grade because while I think The Serpent Prince is a very good book, and I absolutely loved parts of it, the sheer bleakness means that I can’t honestly say I enjoyed the experience of reading it. In discussing why I may reveal more information about the book than those who haven’t read it may wish to know, so proceed with caution.
(view spoiler)[As is characteristic for Hoyt, she begins the novel at the moment that Lucy finds Viscount Iddesleigh’s naked, battered body. Iddesleigh – Simon – will be familiar to readers of the other two Princes novels as a friend of de Raaf and Pye’s from the Agrarian society. Unlike his friends, Simon is extravagantly fashionable in his dress, louche in his demeanour, and a well-known rake to boot.
Lucy is almost completely the opposite; a sensible, reliable country miss with little experience of the world outside of Maiden Hill, the small town where she lives and where Simon is dumped by his assailants. The initial stages of their relationship, while well-written, are quite characteristic of this sort of pairing; she sees through his ‘blather’, and he finds her straightforwardness refreshing. Getting to know Simon also makes Lucy aware that, although she was content with her lot, she actually wants more for herself than to live forever in Maiden Hill.
The novel turns much darker with Simon’s realisation that his continued presence in Maiden Hill is putting Lucy at grave risk. Simon’s mission of revenge is dark and bloody, and consumes him even as he objectively knows that it is damaging him mentally as well as physically. Hoyt does not shy away from showing the ugliness of violence, and of duelling with swords in particular, in some scenes which I (as a very squeamish person) found difficult to read. While Simon’s need for vengeance is understandable, it is not romanticised, and it is easy to see why Simon sees this part of himself as a blight on his soul.
Conversely, there are plenty of lovely moments in the book, surrounding Lucy’s relationship with Simon and his family. The love scenes are blisteringly hot, definitely some of the frankest and most original that I have read in historical romance. They work wonderfully because Simon is very experienced with women and not shy about his passion for Lucy, and she, while innocent, is a more earthy country woman than your average aristocratic lady. The love scenes really help to re-emphasise the bond between them and thus never feel excessive or tacked-on, though they are plentiful.
Over the course of the book Simon has some extremely dark moments and it becomes clear that he is a tormented man. He sees Lucy both as his salvation, and as an angel far too good for him, and so he alternately clings to and pushes her away. I found the dynamic believable, and Simon a very sympathetic character, but the dialogue at some of the emotionally fraught moments was stilted, to say the least, which created an emotional distance where I expected to be enthralled. I find it hard to pinpoint exactly what struck me as wrong – perhaps the wordiness, the frequent harping on about souls – but I think Hoyt’s characterisation faltered in the latter part of this book.
Another problem is the book’s rather hasty dénouement, in which Simon’s vengeance is satisfied and his life with Lucy can begin properly. I’m afraid that, given the long-standing nature of Simon’s problems, and how guilt-ridden he is about meting out death in duels (no matter how much he feels they were deserved) I simply didn’t believe in the tidy emotional resolution. I hoped that Simon and Lucy’s relationship would endure, but at the point where the book ends, I still felt that there was a lot of healing to be done and so I couldn’t truly feel the HEA. As much as happily-ever-after epilogues can be sickly, The Serpent Prince would have benefited from something like that to give the reader greater satisfaction at the novel’s ending. As it was, all the anxiety I had felt about Simon’s problems lingered, diminishing my overall enjoyment of the book.
With those caveats, I do think The Serpent Prince is a good book and if not my favourite of the Princes series, it is notable for bringing an (often uncomfortably) visceral realism to some of the staple tropes of historical romance. Never again will I be able to read references to duels or gaming hells without thinking about this book. I’m not sure if it is one that I would re-read, but I’m a continued admirer of Hoyt’s work and will look forward to her novels in future, albeit with the awareness that they may not be easy reading. (hide spoiler)]