Royal Escape something kept striking me as vaguely familiar.
It wasn't the premise, which is rather intriguing - a princess who longs to leave the royal family. From the outside, being royal looks appealing, what with the glamour and golden page in the history books. From the inside it's a different story altogether, especially for the character Elena, Princess of Wales. Frustrated, disrespected and ostracized by the family and the system, she longs to escape. And for good reason. Someone wants her dead.
The familiarity lies in the characters, which are thinly veiled versions of Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Harry, the Queen and Diana, Princess of Wales. Elena, Princess of Wales is tall, beautiful, graceful and self-centered. She has two sons, Prince Richard and red-headed Prince Larry. Elena's ex-husband is Prince Edward, Prince of Wales who has a mistress named Kay. And then there's Queen Catherine II. Each of these characters are not much different from their real counterparts. Prince Edward is aloof with his children and insecure about his role in life. Queen Catherine, cold and remote, puts duty above everything else. Prince Richard is serious and Prince Larry is impish. Sound familiar?
The problem, when basing characters on real people is that both sides will always come up short. If you make a character weak-willed when the actual person is not, comparisons will be inevitable and disappointing. If the characters are too similar, like Prince Edward and Queen Catherine II, their actions become predictable. In Elena's case she is vulnerable, naive and at the mercy of the system. I kept wondering when she would wake up and grow backbone like Diana had when she was alive.
The saga and foibles of the royals are well documented. By keeping the characters so close to the originals, the story could easily write itself. But the author has added a twist. Diana, err..Elena is alive and well; there is no Dodi Al Fayed character, or tunnel in Paris. There is a funeral, but it isn't Elena's.
Still, someone wants Elena dead and she has some close calls. Her lawyer and protection officer are murdered, bombs go off, and someone attempts to assassinate her and Edward. All of these events make her want to escape the royal system, which she can't do. To quote Michael Corleone in the Godfather III: 'Just when I thought I had escaped..they pull me back in.' That pull is Elena's sons.
Yet, despite these attempts on her life, there is little sense of urgency until she tries to bring her sons with her. Elena is assisted in her escape by Michael, a journalist/undercover agent and Rita, a nurse. Michael and Rita seem more concerned for her safety than she is and the plot meanders until Elena herself is convinced of the gravity of the situation.
The novel picks up towards the end, becoming a page-turner when a bomb threatens the lives of her ex-husband and Prince Richard. Yet despite a devastating turn of events, Elena displays a detachment to the results. In her desire for freedom it's difficult to root for someone who views the death of others as a means to an end.
The premise of Royal Escape is intriguing. Despite the familiarity with the characters, Froetschel makes some gutsy and unexpected moves with the storyline. Although the book is enjoyable, I found the ending to be implausible.
© Marilyn Braun 2011
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