The Soldier Prince by Aarti V Raman hit me in just the right way that weekend I finally decided to clean out my in-box. And you know what? I liked this. Quite a bit. Like enough that I want the next two books in the series...um, by tomorrow would be great.
Sasha Ray is a perfectly ordinary Indian-American girl from New Jersey working as a waitress in New York City while struggling to pay for college. In fact the only semi-exciting thing to happen to her is the mystery hunk who sits in her station every day, always orders the chicken parm salad with two cups of espresso, pays cash, and leaves her a 40% tip. Then, as he pays for his meal, he forks over a wade of cash and tells the staff to feed whomever comes into the deli for free until his money runs out. How was Sasha to know he was not only royalty but a former special ops soldier?
Alexander Heinrickson is "the spare" and witnessed his mother's murder while he was accompanying her on a humanitarian mission. It broke him. In his grief he left everything behind, the girl he loved, his family, and joined the Marines. Then, after his tour, he joined a private special ops firm because...well, romance hero. Anyway, he finally walked away from all of that eight months ago but has not been able to haul himself back home to Stellangard. But it looks like someone is there to change his mind. He's being followed. By a small band of mercenaries who are determined to do him harm (turns out they want to kidnap him). Nothing he's not capable of handling, well that is until Sasha shows up to warn him. Now she's in danger and he has to protect her while he tries to figure out who is out to get him. That means he cannot avoid home any longer and oh, she's going to have to come to Stellangard until he unravels the mess.
This book is basically a Harlequin on steroids with all sorts of delicious tropey-ness that sucked me right in. Yes, the plot is slightly absurd - sort of like if a Harlequin Presents and a Harlequin Romantic Suspense had a baby - but it's all in good fun with the author laying down a thick frosting of fairy tale. If you recently watched the Prince Harry / Meghan Markle royal wedding for the 12th time (you know who you are...) this is the book for you.
Sasha is a nice American girl with a nice American life. She's strong and brave without being a cliche and will acknowledge when she makes a muck of things, even though she always has good intentions. Alexander (AKA Xander) is all Alpha still grieving over his mother's death when he was a teenager. Oh, and the girl he left behind? Turns out she married his brother - the Crown Prince - and there are still "feelings" there. So yeah, all the delicious tropes, all the angsty baggage, gorge at the trough my greedy category romance fans!
There are, however, a few slight bumps in the road. Raman is not an American - which, in and of itself, is not a problem. But the early chapters of this book take place in New York City and it all feels a little "off." The turns of phrase, the edges around the setting - it's nothing that an American beta reader couldn't have helped smooth out a bit. Also, there's some head-hopping. Not a ton, but occasionally the author will leave the third person point-of-view of Sasha or Xander and briefly move it to a secondary character. Again, nothing intrinsically wrong with this (I'm not a vehement head-hopping hater) but the transitions aren't always smooth and I found myself backtracking to previous paragraphs because I missed the "hop."
But I really enjoyed this - slightly absurd fairy tale plot and all. The author has created an interesting and sympathetic cast of characters, has laid the foundation for a good on-going suspense thread, and hits all the buttons that light up the part of my brain addicted to category romance. I need another series like a hole in the head, and in fact am a little burnt out on them, but damn if I don't want more of this world. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got an author newsletter to sign up for.
Final Grade = B