Teddy Hollis doesn’t begrudge the fact that he only gets bit parts in plays, while his twin sister, Belle, is the hottest commodity on London stages. He does start to wonder at the cost of fame when his sister is forced to hide a “delicate situation,” giving Teddy the chance to star as Prince Florizel in a production of Sleeping Beauty. The only hitch: no one can know Teddy is playing the character, lest his sister’s career be ruined. Not long after Teddy assumes the role (and his sister’s dressing room at the theatre), sumptuous bouquets start arriving, addressed to “The Real Beauty.” Obviously, Teddy knows this must be a secret admirer of his sister’s, but that doesn’t stop him from enjoying a little stolen attention. After all, this secret admirer might think he’s wooing Belle, but it’s Teddy that he’s seeing on stage. So Teddy keeps the heart-felt notes and gives the flowers to the chorus girls, since getting caught with a huge bouquet would give away the fact that he’s filling in for his sister.
One day, during the brief window of time between the matinee and the evening shows, Teddy decides to venture out for a quick meal…only to run face-first into a well-heeled man obviously waiting for someone at the back entrance to the theatre. The two share a brief exchange before going their separate ways. When Teddy literally runs into the same man the very next day, he decides introductions are in order and meets Dr. Basil Goodall. He also has the horrifying thought that Basil is Belle’s secret admirer and the one who’s been sending all the flowers. Hoping to nip trouble in the bud, Teddy tries to gently dissuade Basil from pursuing anything with Belle, only to have Basil admit that he’s never been interested in Belle. But as the men get to know one another better, Teddy starts to wonder just who it is that Basil really admires…
The Pantomime Prince is a historical, holiday offering from author Samantha SoRelle. It’s set in 1880s London and all the action takes place in or around the theatre where Teddy is performing. I thought the very limited setting worked very well with this short story. The interactions between Teddy and the house staff and other performers made the theatre setting feel very rich. The first chunk of the book details a few nights where Teddy receives the bouquets and the scenes contain a wealth of description. Teddy’s exchanges with the house manager (who delivers the bouquets) reinforce Teddy’s social situation: an actor playing bit parts and firmly in his famous sister’s shadow. The scenes also provide an interesting breakdown of the content of the bouquets and what the different flowers mean. And, of course, the personal notes that leave Teddy yearning to one day be on the receiving end of such tender sentiments. During this part of the book, it felt entirely possible that Teddy really was just managing an awkward situation with one of his sister’s admirers.
The second part of the book shifts away from dressing rooms and bouquet descriptions to make room for Basil. Even though he is the love interest, his first appearance was just a literal run-in with Teddy where they exchanged just a few lines. They ran into one another (again, literally) the next day and it was painfully obvious that Basil was hoping to confess that he knew Teddy was filling in for his sister and that Basil really was trying to woo Teddy. I liked how SoRelle incorporated the bouquets into the scene where Basil starts to think Teddy doesn’t or couldn’t return his affections. Given the time period, Basil obviously couldn’t just ask Teddy about it. Adding to Basil’s cold feet is the way Teddy starts to talk about Basil. To the reader, Teddy’s dialogue is innocuous, but to a gay man in victorian England who’s already suspecting the man he wants to woo isn’t receptive, it was easy to imagine Basil reading between the lines to arrive at the wrong conclusion.
Despite Basil increasingly feeling like his chances at romancing Teddy were dwindling, the two do go out and share a meal together. Therein lies my one criticism: this one shared meal is off-page. The story was so short and Basil physically appears so infrequently, it really felt like I was missing a major element of the story by not getting to see these two bonding. After this off-page meal, we learn from Teddy that they had an absolutely marvelous time together and that they got on like a house on fire. The fact that these two enjoyed one another’s company so much is exactly why, the next day, Teddy so viscerally feels Basil’s absence from the audience and helps Teddy to realize the truth about all the bouquets and about Basil. It was still enjoyable to watch Teddy have his epiphany and chase a chance at happiness. It just felt a bit imbalanced because Basil didn’t feel quite as fleshed out as Teddy did.
Overall, this was a sweet little get-together. If you are a fan of historical pieces or symbolism, then you’ll enjoy this story. Readers who enjoy plots that revolve around misunderstandings will love all the crossed signals in this story, too. Teddy assumes he’s on the receiving end of attention meant for his sister; Basil assumes Teddy’s not interested because he gives the bouquets away. Yet everything comes together for a happily ever after.