Book Review: The Reluctant Heiress by Eva Ibbotson

Publication Date: April 30th 2009 by Speak

Summary: Being an heiress in 1920s Austria with nothing but a broken-down castle to your name and nary a penny in your purse could be frustrating for anyone but the Princess Theresa-Maria of Pfaffenstein. “Tessa,” however, is thrilled with her situation, as it allows her to concentrate on her love of the arts—and no one in the Viennese opera company need know that their delightful and charming under-wardrobe mistress is really a princess. But when the dashing self-made millionaire Guy Farne arrives at the opera in search of suitable entertainment for his high society guests, Tessa realizes that there may be more to life—and love—than just music. But while the attraction between them is undeniable, Guy’s insufferable snob of a fiancée only solidifies Tessa’s determination to keep her true identity a secret. Yet, after a chance meeting with the handsome Englishman, Tessa’s reserve begins to melt, and she starts to wonder if it’s not too late for a fairytale ending…

Review Overview:

  • Rich, captivating story but writing is tough to get into
  • Leaves you with an appreciation for the opera
  • Romance was lacking but overall a sweet novel

A Princess undercover, a beautiful castle, and a self-made male protagonist. It sounds like the perfect fairy tale. THE RELUCTANT HEIRESS is a charming story of Tess, Princess of Pfaffenstein, who wants nothing more to serve the arts, and Guy, the self-made millionaire who wants his chance at true love.

I didn’t think I was going to make it through this book, to be quite honest. The beginning was agonizingly slow, and Eva Ibbotson’s writing style was tough to get used to. I did not like how I was presented with each character’s background from the very beginning. There was no joy in peeling the layers to the characters when they were just handed over to me. It almost felt like the story was going off tangent and I wanted to get the story going already.

With that said, once the introductions were out of the way, I was hooked. At the beginning, I was almost annoyed at the endless vivid descriptions of just about everything from the stage scenery to the property of Pfaffenstein. However, the more I read the book, the more I realized just how wonderful it was to be able to paint the grounds and interior of Pfaffenstein. It seemed like such a fairy tale setting and I could not get enough of the castle. The plot was very well developed and I couldn’t wait to read just how everything would turn out.

And dare I say it? I’ve only had one bad experience with opera at the Met in New York City, but THE RELUCTANT HEIRESS made me want to go see another one to give it another chance. Ibbotson weaves the opera into the play wonderfully from describing the scenery and costumes to the aria. I could picture the opera from backstage, but also from the very front row. Opera, I learned, is not my kind of entertainment, but THE RELUCTANT HEIRESS has provided me a bit of appreciation for the fine art.

Ibbotson weaves such a lovely story, and I wish I could like it more. However, I found the romance lacking in passion. I did feel a connection between Guy and Tessa, but the romance in the book was strained. The characters had reason to hold back, but it would have been nice to see at least a little public display of affection. There was a connection, but there was a lack of chemistry that suggested anything more than best friends.

What made this novel also tough to read was the amount of disdain that I felt for Nerine, Guy’s bride to be. From the very beginning that her character is introduced, I knew I wasn’t going to like her. She has no positive qualities to redeem her character. It was agonizing every time the perspective changed to her point of view because every single one of her thoughts was garbage to me.

THE RELUCTANT HEIRESS is a beautifully written story, but the story was so lacking in the romance department. I honestly wished that I felt the chemistry between Guy and Tessa because I would have loved to give this book a higher rating. I would recommend this book to those who love castles, operas, and historical romances.


  1. I love the premise of the story, but I’m sorry to hear that it’s lacking in the romance department. I think I’ll read this, but I might wait for a bit of a lull because if a book is hard to get into, I need the time for it. Great review :)

  2. Aw, what a shame. This one seemed really good (and that cover is beautiful). I may still give it a chance, but after what you mentioned about Nerine…I don’t know if I can go through that again, after just finishing the Luxe series and wanting to stab myself in the eye every time it was Lina’s perspective. :-P

        1. Well at least there’s something redeeming with Lina. Like you know that she’s not well off to begin with… but Nerine… she already has money. She’s just extra greedy. She just wants MORE.

  3. Hm, I’m disappointed to hear that about the romance. I do get a….distant? vibe from her books. I do love castles and historical romance though, so I think I’ll keep this on the TBR but lower it a little in priority. Thank you for your helpful review.

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