May 11 2020

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Ah, if only, if only. I’ve enjoyed enough romance novels to be able to differentiate between the wonderful modern-day version and the traditional version described by Sir Walter Scott, and only sometimes do the twain meet in ways more convincing than mere bad plotting. It’s bittersweet to feel that this charming tale of the First Son of the United States of America and the youngest prince in the direct line of the English monarchy falling in love with one another should feel at once realistic and achingly unlikely, a fact acknowledged by Casey McQuiston in her, er, acknowledgments when she mentions that the germination of the book came to a screeching halt following the debacle of America’s 2016 presidential election. But if you’d like to escape our present, miserable reality for a convincingly realistic parallel world with wildly different people in the White House and Buckingham Palace, then by all means crack this book open for some truly lovely writing about being in love against all odds.

Note: if progressive politics dismays you a/o you’re a member of #Cult45, you probably won’t like this book, and that’s too bad for you.

Anyway, Alex Claremont-Diaz is the younger child of America’s first female president, white Texan Ellen Claremont and her ex-husband, the Mexican-American Senator from California Oscar Diaz. Ever since an unpleasant encounter at the Olympics, Alex has held a grudge against Prince Henry, the youngest grandson of England’s reigning Queen Mary, but after the two accidentally fall into a cake together at Henry’s older brother’s wedding, political forces go into overdrive to cover up any hint of tension between the two. Towards this end, Alex and Henry are forced into bff photo ops, then slowly begin to discover that they actually like each other. And then they begin to discover that they actually like each other. Chaos ensues against a backdrop of international politics.

As with all romance novels, the reader’s buying into the relationship proceedings will depend on their own views in re a healthy romance. Personally, I’m of a mind with Oscar in his estimation of Alex and Henry’s relationship: it could all turn out to be a disaster in the end but that doesn’t mean love isn’t worth fighting for in the meantime. I’m not so convinced of a pledge of True Love from two young men in their early 20s in the first openly gay relationship each has ever had, especially when it’s primarily been conducted long distance for months, but I’m a curmudgeon so. The book does end in a good place, but I’d be intensely surprised if the two were still together ten, even five years down the line: YMMV, of course. I did like that a good chunk of the book deals with Alex realizing that he’s bi, a topic that isn’t often covered in romance but is extremely well-handled here. I was also really impressed by how Ms McQuiston got all the voices to sound authentically of their backgrounds. As someone with an Anglo-American upbringing, I’m super sensitive to missteps in this regard, so the authenticity of voice in this book is honestly one of the most impressive literary achievements I’ve read in decades. I don’t necessarily believe in the depiction of British monarchy (too rigid) and press (not aggressive enough) here, but the portrayal of American politics was both realistic and aspirational, a panacea to the “how the fuck did we get here?” times we’re living in now.

Red, White & Royal Blue was a good, escapist read, and I’m very much looking forward to Ms McQuiston’s next book, a queer time-travel romance with female leads. Also, I frigging love her round, over-sized tortoise-shell glasses and wish I could get away with wearing same.

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