Prince Stephan has never fit in with his family, between his interest in men and the allure he occasionally finds in cross dressing. It was bad enough when his father was alive, but now that his uncle and brother are in charge, it is clear they wish to see him dead.
With the help of his loyal servant, Warren, Stephan has undertaken a dangerous journey to a neighboring land. The men are posed as brother and sister, and Stephan hopes he can reconnect with Prince Arlen, with whom he had a brief relationship years before, and be given shelter. However, things aren’t as easy as they had seemed, particularly as war looms between the two countries, and now Stephan risks never finding a place he can be safe.
I was drawn to The Castaway Prince initially for the cross dressing angle. It is a theme I enjoy and we do see Stephan not only dressing in women’s clothes, but also get a sense of his interest in feminine things beyond disguise. I found all the characters here mostly likable and I enjoyed the set up to the story. However, things didn’t really come together for me here as well as I would have liked.
The biggest issue I think is that this is a fairly short story and too much time is spent in the set up. We are well into the book before Stephan even encounters Arlen and we spend a lot of time following along as he gets off the boat, gets to the castle, describes the landscape, etc. In a longer story these details would have been helpful, but for a book this short, I felt too much time was wasted here, leaving too little to really learn about any of these men or develop the ultimate relationship. I wanted to root for these men to find happiness together, but I felt like we barely had any time to get to know them together or understand them individually or as a couple.
The other issue is the lack of clarity on just exactly what Stephan is trying to accomplish. Again, this is a short story and we really needed a more direct, clear goal to follow. We know he is going to see Arlen for help and that he hopes their past relationship will have left Arlen fond enough to provide aid, but just what type of help he is actually hoping for is unclear. Stephan notes he can’t actually partner with Arlen as men together aren’t allowed. He doesn’t seem to want Arlen to support him financially or help him escape. The whole story hinges on this “plan” Stephan has concocted, and the lack of clarity as to what exactly that plan is, or what he is even really hoping to accomplish, made the story feel murky and confusing for me.
So while I think there are some nice elements here, and Adler’s writing is smooth and easy to read, the overall story didn’t quite hold together. For a short story, I needed some more clarity of plot and more time to spend with our couple to really feel their connection.