Amalie Howard is one of those “auto-squee” authors on this blog. Reviewer Amber was super excited for the first book in Amalie’s new series, THE PRINCESS STAKES, and it’s no surprise that we have another “must-read” on our hands.
Author: Amalie Howard
Series: Multicultural Regency, #1
Release Date: 6/29/21
Review Copy: via NetGalley*
Born to an Indian maharaja and a British noblewoman, Princess Sarani Rao has it all: beauty, riches, and a crown. But when Sarani’s father is murdered, her only hope is the next ship out—captained by the boy she once loved…and spurned.
Captain Rhystan Huntley, the reluctant Duke of Embry, is loath to give up his life at sea. But duty is calling him home, and this is his final voyage. Leave it to fate that the one woman he’s ever loved must escape to England on his ship.
I’ve read a few of Amalie Howard’s historical romance novels and have admired how she always puts a unique spin on a story that makes it feel fresh and new, while still invoking classic historical romance vibes. Based on the blurb I knew this story would take place partly on the high seas, which is a familiar setting for these epic romances, but our heroine being from India was a distinctive twist on what I would typically read in this genre. The stunning gown on the front cover did a great job of setting the scene and drawling me in, too!
What I Loved
I grew up reading old school romance and Amalie Howard’s heroines say all the things those past heroines thought in their heads but would never say out loud. Her leading ladies are outspoken, quick-witted, and they never back down from their men. Sarani had all those attributes and so much more! When her father dies, Princess Sarani is forced to flee her homeland and book passage to England, where she hopes to reconnect with her mother’s titled family. Sarani, while mourning her dads passing, was determined to pull herself up by her bootstraps and figure out a plan. I loved her grit and will to survive, even when faced with having to work for her passage under the ships ruthless captain. The very same man that she once loved and was willing to run away with. She’s not completely defenseless, though, because she’s been trained to fight and can wield deadly kukri. It was very cool to see Sarani in a dress and knocking men down after pulling out her cleverly concealed weapons. Pockets in dresses are amazing, right?!
Being stuck on a ship made for many close encounters between Sarani and Rhystan. Sarani being Sarani, she wasn’t going to be intimidated by the Duke of Embry. She gave him hell at every turn, and I loved watching them try to one-up each other. There were so many hilarious scenes where Sarani would purposely sabotage a duty and no matter what punishment Rhys gave to her she would keep her cool and just do the chore. Her calm demeanor, even going so far as to throw him a smile after shoveling pig crap, really got under Rhys’ skin. I was amused by the tension and loved the sparks between them.
Even though the story is set in the present, we got very insightful flash backs to Princess Sarani’s time growing up in India and her budding romance with the Rhystan. While she lived in a time fraught with violence and British occupation, we got a beautiful peek into her culture and heritage. I learned about eastern poetry, myths, and her traditions, which, while they weren’t on every page, felt like a good mix of history and romance.
What I didn’t Love
Overall, the Princess Stakes was a great story, but I thought their concocted fake engagement plan was doomed from the start. Sarani’s plan was to simply change her name to Sara and use her mom’s maiden name to blend into British Society. Rhystan convinces her that to truly be safe from her father’s murderers she’ll need to enter into society as his fiancé because no one would question a Duke. The fact that the British ton is notoriously close nit and would instantly try to sniff out who the new Lady in town was that captured an eligible Duke didn’t seem to make either of them worry. Neither did the fact that Rhys’ mother wasn’t going to be satisfied with his match to Lady Sara, and would be instantly wary of his sudden engagement. Add in the fact that Sarani’s mother running away with a maharaja was England’s biggest scandal – AND she’s using her mother’s maiden name! There was no way this could end in anything except scandal and the downfall of the Embry name. Rhystan’s whole reason for returning to England was to see his sister married to a respectable peer, which wouldn’t be possible if he brought home an Indian Princess. Once they got settled into their charade, they started to see all the holes in their plan, but as a reader I was very distracted by their naivety.
The Princess Stakes took me on a voyage across an ocean filled with adventure, assassins, passion, and a second chance at love. If you like a heroine that can rock a ballgown AND kick butt using a wickedly sharp kukri then THE PRINCESS STAKES is the historical romance for you!