The Third Son is the first book in the King of Cardenas series. Let me start off by saying, I’m not a big fan of authors who within the opening pages outright describe the villain and his intentions. I like the intrigue and the journey of seeing him unmasked, however; Elise Marion delivers a satisfying read and kept me guessing.Prince Damien is spoiled and spends his time seducing women, but of course that’s the image he portrays as the third son of the King of Cardenas. Unlike his older brother, Lionus, he won’t be king nor will he be the head of the military like his twin brother, Serge. One night Gypsies are brought to the hall as part of Lionus’ betrothal celebrations and is immediately captivated by one of the dancers, Esmeralda. The attraction is mutual, but will they be allowed to be together?At the heart of the novel is finding out the identity of the masked man who is wreaking havoc around Cardenas by hiring people to infiltrate the royal court and kill the royal family. Immediately the sons of the King, Damien and his brothers, get involved to solve the mystery and at one point ask one of the captured assassins who this masked man was, but of course none of them can describe him. The reasons why the masked man wants the royal family dead is explained within the opening chapter and it’s the journey of finding out his identity and of course the family’s reaction that makes up the bulk of the story. Throw in a scheming ex-mistress and you have what some would say your typical romance novel. I disagree that Marion delivers a contrived plot. On the one hand we learn that Damien isn’t what he appears. He loves astronomy and wants to build a university. To sum up it up, the pretty, bad boy actually has ambitions. Esmeralda isn’t your typical wallflower, the girl has spunk and isn’t afraid to show it. In one particular scene she attends the theatre with Damian and his ex-mistress, Davina, is present. Davina and her friends corner Esmeralda and instead of cowering away she stands up and declares, “Well darling, I must say that though I appreciate the warning, Damien has assured me he has interest only in something fresh and not so worn out. And if that necklace and that gown are any indication of Damien’s personal taste, I believe I shall have to do without his gifts.” Damien confronts Esmeralda and when she tells him why she’s withdrawn (being told he only wants to sleep with her and make her his next mistress would dampen any girl’s feelings) he immediately sets things right by telling her that he wants to know her and that she’s worth knowing. The romance seemed to be a bit rushed on Damien and Esmeralda’s part because within days of meeting on another they are declaring their love for another. A whirlwind romance is fine, but I was a bit disappointed. Marion also uses a bit of foreshadowing with the introduction of some secondary characters who love someone else and yet marry different people. I realize the circumstances as to why these secondary characters chose the route that they did and yet to see history repeating itself broke my heart because she shows us that in life we can make the same mistakes as our ancestors. One thing the author didn’t expand upon, but I’m hoping it is addressed in the second book is why the Queen had such animosity towards her twin sons. We are told she favors Linous and one assumes it’s because he’s the eldest and hence the heir, but somehow I can’t help but think that maybe Linous wasn’t the son of the King and that she herself had loved someone else.Overall I enjoyed it despite a few minor details. The identity of the mysterious masked man was a surprise and yet when the opportunity came for Damien to fight him, that moment was too brief. I feel the author lost a bit of momentum and what should have been a drawn out, climactic scene was just summed up in a few short paragraphs and by the second page it was over. Sure Damian is heartbroken by what he’s had to do and Esmeralda comes to comfort him, but I wanted a little more. I commend Marion for extending the novel beyond that scene. Most authors pretty much wrap the ending after the villain has been dispatched and here we get to see how different choices in life affect Damien and Esmeralda. I also wanted a little more of Esmeralda’s point of view. Mostly what we do know of her comes from Damien and their interactions, but I wanted a little more behind the scene insight to her thinking other than being told she’s there. Despite a few nitpickings I have, it’s an enjoyable read. The epilogue isn’t really one in terms of how most are written, but we get a sneak peak at the second book, The Second Son, which I’m planning to buy.