This one is going to be filed under “never judge a book by it’s cover.” Confession: this one sat on my shelf for literally years after my sister passed it along to me. The only reason I finally read it was because I ran out of stuff to read before Christmas and had depleted my book budget! I should have trusted my sister - this book was amazing!
You can’t really tell from the cover illustration, but this book is set in the Regency period (ie Jane Austen). What sets this book apart from most Regency fiction, is that it gives us an up close view of the life “belowstairs” as wealthy Margaret Macy is forced to hide in plain view as a maid in order to avoid marriage to a dishonorable man. As Margaret learns the realities of life as a servant, she is forced to grow in both physical strength and character.
What makes the book all the more riveting is where Margaret ends up being hired as a servant: the home of the Upchurch brothers, both of whom are former suitors. Margaret turned down a proposal from the younger, less handsome and exciting Nathaniel Uphurch years earlier after becoming enamored of the handsome and charming older brother, Lewis. As Margaret observes them in the silent role of housemaid, she begins to think she misjudged both brothers. Lewis is your typical Regency scoundrel while Nathaniel . . . well, Nathaniel is right up there with Mr. Darcy, in my opinion.
Julie Klassen weaves a story of both romance within the complicated social mores of the Regency era with the intrigue of duels, schemes for inheritances, and even piracy. Above all, we, along with Margaret Macy, get an education in the often ignored toil of the working class during this era and the universal truth that all humanity deserves to be treated with value and respect. I am eager to read more of her books!
I am a huge advocate of “read the book first” when it comes to movie adaptations. Nine times out of ten, the book is better than the movie. So I think that the reverse is true: if you watched the movie first, definitely read the book. I watched a cute Hallmark movie called Once Upon a Prince (no, it wasn’t a Christmas movie!), and when I saw it was based on a book, I decided I needed to read it. After all, one of my favorite authors, Denise Hunter, had two of her books turned into Hallmark movies and neither lived up to the book. Therefore, I had a good feeling about Once Upon a Prince by Rachel Hauck.
My conclusions after reading the book? My assumption was one hundred percent accurate. WAY better than the Hallmark movie.
First of all, what comes immediately to your mind when I mention a Hallmark movie involving a prince? Be honest - cheesy, most likely, but this book was far from cheesy! I don’t know how Hauck managed to make such a believable story out of this premise. Even the fictional country of Brighton felt like it could be real, complete with political conflicts and intrigue. Which brings me to the first major difference between the book and the movie. The movie cut out all of the political parts of the plot, which may sound smart on paper (aren’t politics usually boring?), but in this case I felt it was a huge mistake. The political pressure on Nathanial because of the entail between Brighton and Hessenburg increased the tension and made his inner turmoil more believable.
Also, in the movie Ginny is just your standard “woman with a title that everyone thinks the prince should marry” character. In the book, however, she is somewhat of a straight up villain, and I honestly loved hating her. In the movie, she was forgettable. Here, she is conniving and power hungry, and you honestly worry what she might be capable of. That to me was far more captivating.
The Queen, on the other hand, was awful in the movie but more complex in the book. I could say that about all the characters, but the queen most of all. She grew as a character, and I liked her story arc whereas in the movie I wanted to slap her. She seemed too straight laced and shallow in the movie, but not at all in the book.
The setting of the book (outside of fictional Brighton) was St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, a place I have spent many spring break and summer vacations. The movie was honestly laughable in this regard. It was filmed in Canada, not Georgia, and boy did it show! Hauck, however, does a much better job with the setting. They talk about the heat and humidity (versus the Hallmark movie where they are wearing jackets in the summer and you could see their breath - cringe!), the Spanish moss on the trees, and the biking trails that St. Simons is famous for. She even included two famous landmarks: Christ Church and the lover’s oak in nearby Brunswick. She even mentions Brunswick as the location of the tree and how you have to drive out to it from St. Simon’s - a nice touch that lets me know she did her research. Both these locales play an important part in the romance too.
In the movie, Susanna’s family owns a nursery and Nathaniel gets a job there so he can “learn work ethic.” In the book, her family owns a barbecue place called The Rib Shack by the beach (much more fitting to the setting), and Nathaniel volunteers to help out there after Susanna’s father has a heart attack. I love that Nathaniel is naturally a hard worker and humble. I’m over the poor little rich kid trope where you have to watch them struggle to push a wheelbarrow or something. Plus, Susanna would have had zero patience for a man who couldn’t scrub a toilet, much less fall for him. And it was hilarious when they realized they had the future king of Brighton on his hands and knees scrubbing the bathroom.
Which brings me to a plot point that sometimes bothers people - yes, Nathaniel hides that he is a prince at first. However, this didn’t bother me the way it was portrayed. When they first meet, it would seem weird for him to just blurt out, “oh, I’m royalty,” and they hit it off right away. He loves being able to just be an ordinary guy with Susanna, so you sort of don’t blame him for not bringing it up. Does he wait longer to tell her than he should have? Yes, but you kind of get why.
One thing I loved the most about this book was the spiritual aspect. I’ve read plenty of Christian fiction, but rarely do books include truly supernatural things. This one does. There’s a homeless character named Aurora (not in the movie) who gives prophetic words to Susanna (that come true). Both Susanna and Nathaniel pray with their faces to the ground and talk about feeling God’s presence touch them. At one point, Nathaniel says he feels the brush of an angel’s wing against his face and strength fills him.
There’s one final thing I need to say about this book - it was extremely chaste.
. . . . . SPOILER ALERT - skip to the end to avoid . . . .
There is only one kiss in the whole book and it comes after a proposal like in a Jane Austen novel. Call me shallow, but I like kissing, so normally I would be frustrated with a book like this. However, somehow, Hauck makes the attraction so palpable, that you almost think they have kissed. The only other disappointment was that the name of this series is The Royal Wedding Series, but . . . there’s no wedding. I wish the book hadn’t ended with a proposal and we could have seen more of Nate and Susanna happy and in love.
. . . END OF SPOILER . . .
There are two more books in this series. Book one sets up the plot of book two, and book three features Nathaniel’s brother as the male lead. I definitely plan on reading both!
I am a former English teacher turned homeschool mom of three who writes Christian romance novels on the side. You know, in my huge amount of spare time.