Prince Joe is among the most beloved old categories. It’s a vintage Suzanne Brockmann, featuring her hallmark SEALs fighting terrorists while meeting up with fine noble women. When I mocked a bit of the novel on Twitter, the small taste of outrage that I would snark on Prince Joe leads me to believe that this review will not be too popular. Honestly, Prince Joe didn’t do it for me.
Hark! A plot summary: Joe Catalanotto is a Navy SEAL who happens to look just like a selfish, boorish buttnoid of a prince of some small mythical country named -stan, and when Prince Borrish Buttnoid finds himself the target of an assassination attempt, Joe steps in to pose as the prince, draw out the terrorist, and kick their grody asses. Media consultant Veronica St. John, who is cultured, classy, and sister-in-law to Prince B. Buttnoid, is on hand to instruct Joe on how to act, walk, talk, and pose entirely as the prince so as to fool everyone from the media to the ambassadors he sees every day. The two of them have instant attraction, but they try like people who know they must remain professional to resist the draw they feel towards one another.
While I liked Joe, some of the plot and much of the heroine left me disappointed. First: the terrorist organization is called “Cloud of Death.” CLOUD OF DEATH. I read that to Hubby and we giggled like 12 year old boys. Extremely flatulent terrorists only! And, as I said on Twitter, if anyone walks up to the hero and says “Pull my finger,” I’ll know who the villain is! They’ll fart in his general direction.
Cloud of Death. HA! Seriously. I’m amazed that Joe isn’t a member of the Basic Entry-level Armed Naval Organization (B.E.A.N.O.).
WARNING: The rest of my review details what I didn’t like about the book but discusses a plot point towards the end that could be construed as a spoiler. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK, K? K.
Air biscuit terrorists notwithstanding, what pushed the book into high-C territory for me is the idea that Joe would realize he cares for Veronica, and on the basis of a few days’ involvement and a short-term mission, he’s going to bust out with the geologic expression of his love, then get all asshurt when she says, “Wait, what now?” He may be able to assess a situation in seconds and plan his tactical maneuvers accordingly but he might as well have used a tank to give a Yugo a parking ticket for the finesse and forethought he showed in jumping the gun with Veronica. It was too much, too soon, and too out of step with his character. Veronica recognizes the danger of his job; how does Joe not consider her side of the situation – or the danger to himself of being possibly distracted and changing everything about his off-duty routine? I get that he must live in the extreme present because his job demands his total focus on whatever is happening right now, but tactical planning is part of his auto-pilot and how does he not do even a bit of that?
The other main conflict between them, though, was based on misunderstanding and presumption. Joe presumed that Veronica was “slumming” with a lower class guy, when the thought never entered her mind – and none of her actions backed up his presumption either. Most of his misassesment was in his head. Veronica, however, correctly assessed that his job was dangerous, that he’d disappear into classified assignments on active duty with an hour’s notice and might not come back – and that fear made her want to squish her feelings down so they wouldn’t be so large that she couldn’t ignore them. (Yeah, because that always works).
The primary plot that forces Joe into the role of Prince Tedric is orchestrated by a villain who isn’t chilling because he talks a lot and spends time grandstanding and pontificating. It was like watching Heinz Doofenschmirtz tell Perry the Platypus all about his plans to over take the tri state area. Diosdado would swing from heartless slaughter to show off his cruelty to self-important sermonizing about what an almighty terrorist badass he is. It wasn’t quite enough to make him fearsome; it made him seem weak and beatable.
But in between the giant jumps in relationship status and the weird villain, the attraction and growth of the relationship between Veronica and Joe was contained mostly in dialogue, and even when he didn’t interpret what she said correctly (and repeatedly), it was a crackling good time to listen to them speak to one another. Veronica is unfamiliar with the entire concept of the Navy SEALs, so the answers to her questions reveal the skill level and the training required to attain that status, as well as the dedication and truly physical and mental elite condition of the men who become SEALs.
The story finds its foundation in a romance standard I never tire of reading. In historicals it could be the difference between a gentleman and a nobleman, but in contemporaries like this one, it’s a little different. The comments on the difference between Joe and Tedric, who look alike but are so different in character, position them in a comparison of nobility as well. Tedric, who is noble by birth and elite due to his status as a member of a royal family, is reduced a thousand times in attractiveness and heroism by Joe, who is of lower status by birth, but increasingly noble through achievement and character, and who is elite due to his talent, training, and mental, physical and intellectual strength. Joe’s heroism is built through small moments and bits of revealed information, and while his elite status rests on the fact that he’s a SEAL, Brockmann doesn’t allow that to be a shortcut in his character development. She shows him working out, responding to calls for duty, and interacting with his team, and each scene combines to make the whole of Joe’s character fascinating.
I can see why so many readers hold his book in high regard: it’s very much about the hero, and it’s a good example of Brockmann’s ability to craft a character in dialogue, in small scenes, and in tiny details. I wish that Veronica had been more distinct, or that the continuation of tension between them had been based on more than “We just got to scrumpin’, and now I want to make your my permanent scrump-buddy.” “OMGWUT?” Joe is a great hero, and the manner in which he’s constructed is totally swoon-worthy. I wish the rest of the book had been as swoony, too.