Review: The Wicked Prince

When the multi-author collaboration was announced for the newly launched Once Upon a Prince series, the last prince I was expecting anyone to focus on was the cowardly Prince John from the Robin Hood legend. Yet, Celeste Baxendell has taken another twist on the enemies-to-lovers trope and turned it into a touching romance. This book is the most original I've read so far in the series, taking whatever liberties were necessary with the original lore to make it work for this new take. The ARC I was provided of The Wicked Prince presents a gender-swapped Robin Hood, the beautiful cousin of Maid Marian who is propositioned into marrying Prince John so she can stop running from the law and pardon her merry men. The result is an unconventional love story that follows the recent trend of falling in love after marriage.

In this upside-down Robin Hood retelling, Robin is a noble lady who lost her family and possessions in a fire and became an outlaw when the kingdom's taxes grew too high for any commoner to make a living for themself. Aware of his kingdom's struggles and his own pitiful public image, Prince John decides that the best solution to healing the kingdom is by marrying the lovely Robin, who is deemed a hero by the people, and turning her into a princess to gain their approval. Robin, of course, thinks this is a trick at first and wants nothing to do with it. However, John manages to wear her down by proving that his intentions are genuine. She eventually agrees so long as her merry men are pardoned for their crimes. Due to John's reputation, both Robin's men and the rest of the kingdom believe that he had forced her to marry him against her will and was likely an abusive husband. Despite her worst expectations, Robin soon realizes that their marriage is quite the opposite.

Though I never thought I would say this, Robin Hood and Prince John make a very strong couple. They are complementary opposites between Robin's physical skill and strength and John's intelligence and taste for opulence. Robin is described in this story as a beautiful woman who likes to parade around disguised as a man. John sees her potential as a princess and dresses her in gowns that show off her femininity and grace. He also gives her an opportunity to enact the changes she fought for the people for so long, and in doing so, she realizes how difficult it is to be a monarch and that the things she once wanted were not as simple as they seemed. She also uses her skills with weaponry to help John get better at defending himself, which is a great feat considering how physically inept he is. What I liked the most about Prince John, who is typically a villain in the Robin Hood legends, is that he was very self-aware of his own cowardice and physical shortcomings. That sort of humility is rare for a villain who holds a position of power.

Another recurring theme in this book is the willingness to accept change, especially if it could lead to a better life. This version of Robin Hood was so exhausted from fighting all the time that she was in desperate need of a break. Yet, she was so used to an endless action-packed lifestyle that it was difficult for her to even consider an easier one. It took a lot of patience on John's part to wear her down and help her realize how much she needed a chance to rest, settle down, and maybe even accept his love. John, on the other hand, needed something that he believed in so strongly that it could overpower his own cowardice. The book's climax is similar to Laurel of Locksley by Mary Mecham, which is about the daughter of Robin Hood falling in love with her enemy's son. In the end, it didn't matter if anyone understood or accepted the relationship between the two natural enemies as long as they could learn to love and accept each other. That was the driving force behind this book that made it such a powerful love story.

The Wicked Prince by Celeste Baxendell breaks expectations and showcases a unique and heartfelt love story. By skillfully intertwining the enemies-to-lovers trope with a gender-swapped Robin Hood, the author brings a refreshing twist to the Once Upon a Prince series. Her carefully crafted narrative reveals the unconventional union between Robin, the noble lady turned outlaw, and the seemingly cowardly Prince John. Despite their initial differences, Robin and John's complementary qualities create a powerful, dynamic partnership. John's self-awareness and humility as a supposed villain add layers of depth to his character, while Robin's presence challenges perceptions and embraces the opportunity for change. The novel explores the transformative power of love, acceptance, and the willingness to let go of preconceived notions. Ultimately, The Wicked Prince serves as a reminder that genuine connections can flourish in the most unexpected circumstances.


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