Reluctant Royals, Book # 3
Heat Factor: Toasty warm and playful, too
Character Chemistry: The more I get to know you, the more I adore your hidden gem qualities
Plot: Let’s have a fake engagement and we both get something
Overall: With multiple opportunities for stupid misunderstanding angst, it was soooooo satisfying to read an adult relationship
Well hello, Alyssa Cole. I see what all the hype is about. This book is sweet and fun and has so many feels!
Nya and Johan both have issues. Nya is recovering from learning that her father has been controlling her for his entire life (a combination of emotional manipulation and poison was very effective). Johan was bullied as a child and also lost his mother unexpectedly when he was 17, so he has learned to use a carefree, playboy personality as a smoke screen (he seems to have aaaaaaaall the sex).
From their personal emotional baggage to a ridiculous game Nya plays to nonsense associated with the referendum, there are plenty of opportunities for conflicts between Nya and Johan to arise from misunderstandings and a lack of communication, but Cole doesn’t do that to us. I do love it when people who supposedly love each other actually … I don’t know … talk to each other about problems or concerns instead of making messes by way of assumption and mistrust. There’s one great moment that springs to mind during which Johan learns something about Nya that seems particularly damning, and he just asks her about it and then believes her. What crazy non-drama is this? Love, love, love grown-ups acting like grown-ups, even when they do have some heavy emotional baggage to navigate in order to make their relationship work.
I usually don’t seek out or love romance novels with imaginary settings (there’s usually enough imagination going on in the books I read), but the imaginary benevolent monarchies work for this book. Nya is related to royalty from the imaginary African monarchy, Thesolo, while Johan is the stepson of the King of the imaginary European monarchy, Liechtienbourg. Their experiences are shaped by the physical setting in which they were raised. She’s demure and has a hard time getting out of her shell like she wants to, while he is, like, Europe’s favorite playboy prince. (See what she did there?) After two years not really talking to each other in New York, they have some forced proximity during royal wedding festivities in Thesolo, culminating in a spontaneous fake engagement that isn’t totally nuts because it’ll help the royal family of Liechtienbourg with a referendum while Nya gets to have a little adventure and stick it to her dad.
Another aspect of this story that I particularly enjoyed centered on representation. If you’re doing a reading challenge and are looking for a book by an author of color or featuring protagonists of color, look no further! But this book wasn’t particularly centered on race or the interracial relationship. Nya and Johan were simply themselves. We can see from the cover that it looks like Nya checks a “representation” box, but that’s not all, readers! For most of the book, it sort of flies under the radar (pay attention!), but Johan does not identify as straight, and I think Cole intentionally did not have him self-identify as bisexual either. He’s just not straight. This also doesn’t really matter for the story, except that it facilitates a conversation with Johan’s brother. Now we arrive at a well-executed storyline that provides some meaningful discussion of culture and identity. We get numerous hints that Johan’s younger brother Lukas is trying to express an authentic identity, and, as the heir to the throne, is having a really hard time. What’s a royal to do? It’s not like there’s an opportunity to fly under the radar, and celebrity gossip is brutal. The answer might be a HEA for everyone.
This book was great. Give it a go!
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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