The Leopard Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt
2007; second in Princes Trilogy
Setting: 1760 England
This is definitely a character-driven story. I became thoroughly attached to the hero and heroine, and to the heroine’s brothers. I was a bit less thrilled with her 15-year-old sister, but hey, teenage girls 255 years ago were as annoying and self-centered as they are nowadays.
Lady Georgina “George” Maitland is at her country estate to deal with problems with her young sister. She’s basically been the mother figure in the family, taking care of her younger siblings because their father was uncaring and their mother sunk in hypochondria. George quickly becomes very interested in her new land steward, Harry Pye. She defends him when all the locals think he is sabotaging farmers on the neighboring estate in revenge against the lord of that land. George decides that at her age, she wants to experience passion, and Harry is just the type of man she wants. The more time George spends with Harry, the more she comes to admire his ethics and devotion and intelligence; she is however, very reluctant to commit to a permanent relationship or to make Harry feel trapped into marriage. Of course, her family is less than understanding about her affair with a man so much lower on the social and economic ladder than her, although eventually her brothers see Harry’s quality and come to like him personally.
Meanwhile, we learn the sordid history of the neighbors and the secret of Harry’s parentage (no, this isn’t the cliched plot where he is suddenly revealed as an aristocrat by birth). Lord Granville is a bit over the top as the villain—he’s just tooooo evil, a madman with no redeeming qualities who’s abused his wife and sons all his life, treated the people on his land with cruelty.
I can’t describe too much without spoilers, but I must say I loved the interactions between George and her brothers, and their scenes with Harry. The scene at the end in the church is just hysterical in an understated way.
I do question the historical accuracy of the social and cultural elements of this story. Could even a noblewoman have that much legal autonomy and independence in that time period? Would she be so socially acceptable/fashionable when unmarried by age 28? Could the son of a gamekeeper truly rise to the position of steward of large estates and marry the aristocratic lady without both of them being ostracized by Society? This time period is not one I’m very knowledgeable about—but it struck me as odd and requiring a good bit of “suspension of disbelief” while I was reading.