Reluctant Royals, Book 1
Heat Factor: Realistically sexy
Character Chemistry: Sweet and respectful, despite hero’s massive amounts of deception
Plot Development: Fine until they go to Africa
Overall: Would recommend
Imagine: You’re minding your own business, when you start getting unsolicited emails from someone claiming to be the personal assistant to the prince of some random African country. Furthermore, these emails assert that you are the long-lost betrothed of said prince, and all you need to do to claim your birthright is to send a copy of your birth certificate, driver’s license, and all medical records.
Thus begins A Princess in Theory, and our heroine, Naledi, sensible woman that she is, immediately deletes said emails. She has enough on her plate, what with working multiple jobs while putting herself through a graduate program in epidemiology.
Of course, in this case, the emails are not a scam, and Naledi is, in fact the long-lost betrothed of an African prince, and this African prince happens to look like this:
The real fun begins when Prince Thabiso of Thesolo and his sexy beard and his sexy bod show up in NYC. He plans on making Naledi apologize for turning her back on her heritage, because nothing screams monarchy like being completely out of touch with reality. However, he quickly realizes that… she has no idea who he is, or that the scammy emails she’s been getting are not actually a scam, or that she’s anything besides an orphan who grew up in foster care after her parents died in a car accident when she was a kid. Also, she’s a hottie, so he pretends to be a normal in order to get to know her.
When their first evening together ends with her firing him, he decides that it will be a great plan to bribe her neighbor into going on vacation so that he can move in across the hall. Writing that sentence, I realize that his whole schtick is extremely creepy – though, to be fair, his assistant tells him he’s being a stalker, and Naledi is also not impressed. However, he wins her over by lots of groveling and also some cooking, and things get hot and heavy. There’s just one small problem: he still hasn’t told her who he really is.
Please note: Thabiso is really bad at pretending to be a normal. When Thabiso first meets Naledi, she mistakes him for a fellow server. He then does things like demand that patrons thank him for serving them (because he’s a prince and literally no one has ever ignored him before) and light the dessert buffet on fire (accidentally). It later becomes painfully obvious that Thabiso is obscenely rich, so she does things like bring him on the Subway for the first time (“Are those cats frolicking on the tracks?”).
About midway through the book, Naledi finds out who Thabiso really is, in a scene chock full of public humiliation. At this point, the plot unravels a bit. Basically, they head to Thesolo, where she’ll do field research on a mysterious disease, and also be reintroduced to her heritage. There is some conflict with the royal family and an evil villain introduced late in the game. Really, it feels like a completely separate book.
In terms of the development of their relationship, however, it sort of works. The first half of the book is on her turf, and the second half is on his. And even though the challenges they face are completely different, what does remain constant is the mutual respect (and attraction) Thabiso and Naledi feel for each other – enough that Naledi forgives him for his egregious lies.
Maybe she forgives him because the sex is hot. The sex is hot. I especially appreciate that Cole shows us explicitly that every orgasm Naledi has is because of clitoral stimulation.
Or maybe she forgives him because he is really good at groveling.
I read this book because it made the New York Times list of 100 notable books of 2018. It was the only romance novel on the list. Their take was basically, this book has a girl in STEM! Also includes gaslighting and consent. And I agree that Naledi is an imminently likable heroine, and give bonus points for the woman in science angle, but… how many romance novels has this reviewer read? A lot of romance novels written in the past few years deal with consent and other power dynamics within relationships in thoughtful ways. Even historicals, which aren’t just bodice rippers any more!
Do I agree with the NYT that this is the best romance novel of the year? Maybe not. But I couldn’t put it down, and immediately read the sequel.
Buy Now: Amazon