Claimed follows up on Captured, and is the third book in Jennifer Chance's Crowns & Gowns series. The main character int his one is Nicki Clark, the windsurfing, rock climbing, trouble making member of the quartet. And then there's her love interest, Stefan, who is repeatedly called an ambassador but evidently isn't, and is instead some random bureaucrat related to the royal family. He certainly never serves as an ambassador, and there's no mention of him doing so in the past or future, that's for sure. Stefan and Nicki are already attracted to each other at the beginning of the book, having been playing with each other for the few weeks that Nicki and her friends have been in Garronia already, but things get amped up when Nicki volunteers to serve as a cover story so Stefan and some other officials can go to Turkey, which is on bad terms with Garronia, and look for the Crown Prince, Ari, who disappeared in a plane crash a year ago. The area where they think Ari is happens to be hosting a windsurfing competition that Nicki covered before, so her presence there as a travel writer supposedly makes sense. I don't totally buy this thinking; involving not only a civilian, but a foreign civilian, and the best friend of the girl who's slated to marry the heir to the throne, doesn't really seem like a sound strategy, even if she does have a (tenuous) connection to the area you're going to.
This book is, again, much plot-heavier than the first in the series. It's also not as well-edited as its predecessors. There's the issue of Stefan being called an ambassador when he's not; that Nicki thinks Lauren has told Em and Fran about Nicki's heart condition, when it was stated in the second book that Em already knew because she and Nicki had been college roommates; that Henry Smithson was Lauren's ex, when they were never actually together... You get the idea. Chance started contradicting numerous things that she had already established, and it started grating on me. They were all small things, but they all added up and basically told me that she wasn't keeping track of what she was actually writing down. And then there are numerous editorial errors, too--typos, missing punctuation marks (particularly quotation marks), and mis-used words. It's rather disappointing, because the first two books were well-edited and I don't see why that should have suddenly changed here.
The plot is fun, with Nicki trying to be all "secret agent" while basically having a fling with Stefan, but again, I couldn't really take it too seriously and it made the whole thing a little hard to refrain from rolling my eyes at. There were a few things that seemed like they would develop into something, but didn't--when Nicki's windsurfing board malfunctions, for example, I was all primed to find out it was an act of sabotage from someone who'd guessed what she and Stefan were up to, but it never amounted to anything and just faded into the background. And the ease with which Nicki and Stefan ultimately accomplished their mission was somewhat of a joke, too, and only served for the "big reveal" about Nicki's condition, which she stupidly kept secret the entire time because hey, you're so gung-ho about this mission, why not risk jeopardizing it? (And seriously, what's the deal with all this fainting and near-fainting and heart-racing business if it's ultimately nothing? It seems like, even if Nicki never actually got checked out, she'd be aware of her body's needs with hydration, etc. to keep it somewhat under control after hiding it for so long.)
Stefan and Nicki's relationship was lighthearted and serious at the same time, but the plot in this was so unbalanced. They were essentially already together, so it couldn't really count as a full-blown romance, and yet the spy/rescue mission plot wasn't really well-developed enough for it to serve as a novel in that genre, either. Overall, it felt a bit uneven and not sure of what it wanted to be. I'm still looking forward to Fran's book, but this one was disappointing in relation to the great improvement that occurred in Captured.
3 stars out of 5.