How to Master Your Marquis by Juliana Gray (audiobook) – narrated by Heather Wilds

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Of all her sisters, Princess Stefanie is by far the least amenable to law and order, which is why she’s appalled to find herself masquerading as an unbearably drab clerk for the most honorable barrister in England. But her dull disguise turns out to have its privileges: namely, the opportunity to consort unchaperoned with her employer’s exceedingly handsome nephew, James Lambert, the Marquess of Hatherfield.

Hatherfield quickly realizes that his uncle’s spirited new clerk is, in fact, a lovely young woman of daring habits. The outwardly impeccable marquis isn’t about to reveal her deception. After all, he’s hiding a dangerous secret of his own. But when one too many escapades with the madcap princess bring Hatherfield’s troubled past to light, it is only Stefanie’s sharp wits that stand between the marquis and utter disaster, and only Hatherfield’s daring that can save the princess from the shadowy agents bent on finding her

Rating: B+ for narration and B for content

I reviewed the first title in Ms Gray’s A Princess in Hiding Romance trilogy – How to Tame Your Duke – narrated by Veida Dehmlow, and enjoyed it in spite of a few reservations about both story and performance. This second book in the set boasts a different narrator, and having enjoyed Ms Wild’s performance in Julie Garwood’s Castles, I was keen to listen to her again.

The premise of the series is that three princesses from a minor (and fictional) German principality have to go into hiding following the assassination of their father. Their uncle – the powerful and machiavellian Duke of Olympia – has arranged for each of the girls to be smuggled to different parts of Britain, disguised as young men and given employment in lowly occupations, incognito, in order to ensure their safety. To say I’m not a fan of the whole cross-dressing thing is an understatement, but it’s a tribute to Ms Gray’s storytelling ability that she was able to make me like this book despite my dislike of that particular trope.

Princess Stefanie, the youngest of the three sisters, is the joker in the pack. She’s unconventional, spirited and full of fun, so placing her in the stuffy chambers of one of London’s foremost legal minds may not be the best fit for her, but Olympia has his reasons. At her first meeting with her new employer, Sir John Worthington, she also meets his friend, James Lambert, the Marquis of Hatherfield, who happens to be the most gorgeous man on the planet. As a result, she finds the prospect of spending time under Sir John’s roof a much more attractive one.

Much of the story is told in flashback, a device I rather enjoy. When done well – as here – it really helps to build tension, and I like getting glimpses of the characters “in the present” and then finding out how they got there.

Following the first meeting between the principals in the prologue, we jump forward a few months to the Old Bailey, where Hatherfield is on trial for the murder of his stepmother. It’s clear that he and Stefanie are already in a relationship, but as Stefanie is still in disguise and working for the counsel for the defence, whatever is between them must remain a secret, so as not to reveal Stefanie’s true identity.

Despite the fact that the story centres around a murder trial, there’s a lot of humour in the book, much of it stemming from Stefanie’s rather “manful” attempts to be seen as one of the boys. There’s also some terrific dialogue between her and the Marquis; her natural vivacity and impish sense of humour make her a very attractive character and a perfect match for Hatherfield, who might be the most beautiful man she’s ever seen, but is also a bit of a dull dog. However, he wouldn’t be the perfect romantic hero without a bit of a tortured past, and his is a particularly distressing one. He’s the antithesis of the sort of hero who typically inhabits the pages of many an historical romance, because most of the time he behaves like a responsible adult!

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

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