Robyn Reviews: Red, White, and Royal Blue

‘Red, White, & Royal Blue’ is pure escapist fiction. Since its release it’s garnered constant comparisons to fanfiction for its idealism, tooth-rotting sweetness, and amalgamation of romance tropes between – of all people – the First Son of the first female US President and the Prince of England. Naturally, it’s an absolutely implausible read – but it’s also laugh-out-loud funny, joyously fun, and a much needed ray of light in a genre which contains too much tragedy. If you’re willing to go along for the ride, ‘Red, White, & Royal Blue’ is deserving of its reputation of one of the best books in the LGBTQIA+ romance genre.

Alex Claremont-Diaz is tabloid fodder – the twenty-one year old son of the first female US president, and the first half-Mexican in the White House. His entire life revolves around politics – and with election year approaching, it’s more important than ever that he remains the perfect marketing strategy. So, when photos leak of an apparent confrontation with his arch-nemesis – none other than His Royal Highness Prince Henry, grandson of Her Majesty the Queen of England – damage control is essential. Enter a clever scheme: a fake friendship between Alex and Henry stretching back years. Alex and his arch-nemesis must put their longstanding enmity aside and play nicely for the paparazzi. Except the more time they spend together, the more it becomes clear that they don’t hate each other after all… and the only thing more damaging for both of them than enmity is love.

Both Alex and Henry are instantly loveable characters. Alex is a charmer – intelligent, witty, and determined, he’s the consummate politician, always looking for the right thing to say (unless Henry’s involved). But underneath the politician’s sheen he’s a hot mess – unsure what he wants to have for lunch, let alone the direction of his entire life, and clueless about his own personal life even with things staring him in the face. Alex’s relationship with his sister is heartwarming, and his relationship with his mother complicated, but overall filled with love. (There’s a scene involving a PowerPoint which sums it up perfectly and is one of the funniest scenes ever put to paper).

Henry is, in many ways, an American caricature of what a British person should be like – uptight and repressed, faultlessly polite, but beneath that veneer kind, caring, and exceptionally poetic. It’s impossible not to like him. There has never been an outwardly gay member of the British royal family, and Henry’s relationship with his sexuality – and how it affects his perception of himself – is heartbreaking to read about. However, this is always a hopeful and optimistic book, and it’s always clear he’ll get a happy ever after.

The plot is stereotypical romance – enemies forced to play nice and pretend to be friends end up in a secret relationship which will undoubtedly be revealed at the worst possible time – but the characters and writing make it so much more. Alex and Henry get themselves into ridiculous situations and force you to laugh, cry, and gasp right along with them. Their chemistry is electric, but so too is the chemistry between the books many friendships – Alex’s White House Trio, Henry and his sister Bea, Henry and his friend from Eton Pez. There are elements which stretch the bounds of plausibility to its limit, but you want to believe it’s possible – you want to believe that Alex and Henry can beat the odds. (And yes, the Prince probably can’t just conveniently obtain the keys to the V&A for a midnight visit – but everyone wants to believe it could happen).

Overall, ‘Red, White, & Royal Blue’ is the sort of tooth-rotting fluff that everyone wants to read on a bad day. It’s ridiculous and over-the-top, but so likeable that it’s hard to care. Recommended for all fans of romance and LGBT fiction, and everyone who wants something happy and optimistic to get through hard times.

Published by St Martin’s Griffin
Paperback: May 14th 2019

Robyn Reviews: Where Dreams Descend

Where Dreams Descend is a beautifully atmospheric book with gorgeous, lyrical prose and a protagonist you’re always rooting for. Its marketed as loosely inspired by The Phantom of the Opera, and not being familiar with that I can’t say how similar it is, but it’s a very strong tale that stands up on its own. Circus books have almost become a subgenre in their own right since the publication of The Night Circus, and while this isn’t the strongest circus-inspired novel I’ve ever read, it’s highly enjoyable and I’m looking forward to the sequel.

The book follows Kallia, a female magician in a world where male magicians have all the power. Kallia is a showgirl, the star of Hellfire House – a casino run by the enigmatic and mysterious Jack, a male magician who returned several years ago to take over his father’s business. Kallia and Jack made a pact – she would stay and work for him as long as he taught her magic. However, when Kallia discovers a competition being held in the nearby town of Glorian – a competition to find the best magician to headline the Conquering Circus – Kallia decides its time to leave Hellfire House behind and make her own way in the world. But Jack isn’t keen to let his star go, and Glorian is full of secrets – secrets which are increasingly dangerous, especially to a woman dabbling in a man’s world.

Kallia is undoubtedly the star of the book. She’s a fantastic character – spunky, daring, unfazed by limits and determined to be the best at all cost. She radiates confidence to the point of cockiness, but inside she’s lonely and completely out of her depth. Her upbringing was incredibly sheltered and she knows little of the world, so she envelopes herself in layers of sparkle and surety until she isn’t sure how much of the true Kallia is left. I adored her interactions with the other magicians, particularly Daron Demarco, and the stars of the Conquering Circus.

Jack and Demarco, the other major characters, are more mysterious. Demarco was once the Daring Demarco, a famous magician – but after a trick went wrong and ended in tragedy, he disappeared from the circuit. His quest for answers brings him to the competition where he bribes his way in to be a judge – but he’s forgotten what it’s like to be amongst other magicians, and all his secrets are in danger of being revealed to the world. I like Demarco – he seems to have a good heart, and he’s one of very few people to respect Kallia for who she was, rather than judge her on the basis of gender – but as more about him is revealed, it becomes clear that he might not be the hero he’s painted as after all. Jack, on the other hand, is always painted as far more of a villain – the man who trapped Kallia at the Hellfire House and refuses to let her go – but is he truly evil or just trying to protect a girl he cares about? There are very few answers about Jack in this book – hopefully there’ll be more of a focus on him in the sequel.

I was disappointed that Kallia’s assistant, Aaros, was never more of a focus. A thief essentially adopted by Kallia, his character had a huge amount of potential, little of which was ever used. He had some cracking scenes and lines, but I hope he becomes more than a prop in subsequent books.

The main issue with this book is the air of mystery. The writing expertly creates a sense of foreboding, and many questions are raised – about Jack, Demarco, Glorian, the mayor, the competition – but there are few answers. I understand that this is the first book in a planned duology, so answers will hopefully come, but there’s a sense of lack of completeness which grates. I like books to stand alone even when part of a series, and this doesn’t quite manage to make itself fully its own story.

Overall, this is a recommended read for fans of gorgeous prose and books about the circus – with the caveat that it doesn’t have all the answers and the next book won’t be out for at least another year.

 

Published by Wednesday Books
Hardback: 1st September 2020