The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Story Title:  The Royal We
Author Names: Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Category:   Published Book
Story Url: Google Play Link (57-pages available to download free!)
Story Url: Story Link ($1.99)
Content Rating:  Teen
ID: ISBN-10: 1455557110; ISBN-13: 978-1455557110
Status: Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition (April 26, 2016
Length:   496 Pages
Story Summary: American Bex Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister Lacey was always the romantic, the one who daydreamed of being a princess. But it’s adventure-seeking Bex who goes to Oxford and meets dreamy Nick across the hall – and Bex who finds herself accidentally in love with the heir to the British throne. Nick is wonderful, but he comes with unimaginable baggage: a complicated family, hysterical tabloids tracking his every move, and a public that expected its future king to marry a Brit. On the eve of the most talked-about wedding of the century, Bex looks back on how much she’s had to give up for true love… and exactly whose heart she may yet have to break.

Gioia’s Rec:
I’m a tad conflicted about this awesome book.  I mean, I’m totally recommending it, but maybe only for those of you who don’t mind mild to moderate levels of angst.  The Royal We is very well-written. It’s beautifully researched. It’s frequently, screamingly hilarious.  The historical inserts, ever so slightly altered to protect their real-life muses, made my history-geek heart go bumpity-bump!  The authors even included a cameo of some of my favorite tiaras in the collection of the real Queen of the UK (and one peer)! (With the caveat that I’m guessing on the 6th tiara’s identity.)

But the angst. Oh! the angst! Anyone who reads my recs should know by now that I don’t do well with angst.  I’m a complete wimp.

The story could be described as fanfiction of the real-life romance of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, except that the role of Kate is played by an American girl named Bex. I was expecting her to be extremely Mary Sue-ish, to be honest, but she’s not.  She’s well-rounded to the extent that I want to bop her on the head sometimes over certain human flaws.  Still, she’s written as someone I could befriend and for whom I would enthusiastically wish good things.

My need to like the protagonists may seem silly, but this is why I still can’t watch Seinfeld.  I hate it when the protagonists are jerks.  Here, Bex and Nicholas, the stand-in for Prince William, are very easy to like and cheer on.

The problem for me is the amount of screentime that the angst gets in contrast to the happy days.  If I were to chart the highs and lows of Bex’s Happiness Meter ™ in The Royal We, it might look something like this:

That chart covers a timeframe of many years, and most of the life depicted is great. But you’ll notice there are a lot of gaps, which I should have made bigger on my chart.  That’s because the book tends to have these great moments of rapture or despair, and then fast forwards big blocks of what we are assured are joyful times, resuming the narrative when something dramatically good or bad happens again.  This relationship’s dramatic moments are understandably given the spotlight.  But because the narrative skims over most of the normal, everyday sunshine bits, there were several times where I had a hard time understanding why Bex was fighting to keep this relationship alive.

I understand skipping over the mundane, honest.  It would’ve made this book tediously long and boring.  The Royal We is neither.  I stayed up all night to read this book, locking myself away from reality as I inhaled the captivating tale.

The characterizations are particularly great.  I love how absolutely normal these people felt.  Yes, it’s about an ordinary girl meeting a prince.  But it’s amazing how the authors made the Prince in question feel like someone I would’ve hung out with in college.  I understood their motivations for most of the book because it felt like they were my friends.   The novel invites you to befriend Bex and Nick, embrace them for their own humanity (fictional though it is), and forget about their real-world counterparts.

Bex is our narrator, and that really works well for this book.  The authors do a fantastic job of show, not tell.  I understand Bex’s thought processes, her heart.  When she expresses deep, committed love for Nick, I absolutely believe it and embrace those emotions whole-heartedly.  It’s why I cried more than once over this book, just as I also cackled and snickered and got frustrated at all the right points.

Beginning in the opening chapter, Bex has a tendency to take the blame for a lot of things that aren’t her fault.  By the end of the book she mostly does a better job of standing up for herself.  There was one confrontation at Westminster Abbey in which she does a particularly good job of drawing a line between what she will and won’t accept blame for.  But then she almost immediately – again! – blames herself in part for others’ deplorable actions.

In a few painful places, Bex is treated very badly by a few of the people she loves dearly.  And rather than be very blunt about how they have repaid her many acts of kindness and sacrifice with selfish gimme! gimme! behavior, she worries that she provoked them into their choices. She seems to think that if she had just tried harder, worked harder to accommodate their unreasonable demands, that her so-called loved ones wouldn’t have decided to stab her in the back. That drives me nuts. But that dynamic characterization and those emotionally-evocative scenes are also what really sells this book. (And that pleasing-others flaw is nicely addressed in a bonus chapter from the POV of Prince Freddie, the stand-in for Prince Harry.)

I said earlier that this was a sort-of fanfic about the real British royals, but ultimately, that’s an over-simplistic and maybe an undeserved label.  It’s true that the setting was borrowed. And although the historical players were renamed and the 20th-century history was slightly, fascinatingly altered, the real-world framework of this story (Average!Girl with BFF sister meets Prince in college. Girl is mocked for new-money, un-sophisticated origins. Girl and Prince fall in love. Hijinks ensue.) was mostly left intact. The novel’s royal characters are obviously inspired by, and occasional satires of, some of the lesser-known, real-life British royals.  (The alter egos of the actual Earl & Countess of Wessex are just perfect, in all the best ways.) But labeling the novel as mere fanfic is unfair because it wouldn’t be worth a read if it were populated solely with 2-dimensional imitations and a plot everyone already knows.

And it is worth reading. And dang it, that sounds like I’m again damning a story with faint praise, which isn’t my intention.  Every time I came up for air during my marathon read, thoroughly enchanted by the characters and story, I gleefully would check the page count and bask in the knowledge that I still had hundreds of pages to go.  I kept mentally high-fiving myself each time my remaining page count was still high.  I felt like I was losing a whole circle of friends when I realized I had less than a hundred pages left. I never wanted it to end.

So, allow me to stop prevaricating and just say it:  I wasn’t completely sold on the feasibility of their relationship. There. Whew.  I got it out.  I hate saying that. I really, really liked Nick and Bex.  But because the authors had to skip over so many mundane, sunshine days…and weeks…and years…by the end of the book I was distracted from the satisfying conclusion by both my desire to defend Bex from blame for something done to her (for which she was again accepting accusations and blame) and by the problems which they had never learned to solve (though they had at last acknowledged and set goals to address those issues).

Their relationship could be the poster child for the Pre-Marital Counseling Is Essential To All Successful Marriages campaign, which I’ve just started, in my head.  As an old married woman, I kept cringing at the avoidance tactics and poor communication skills I saw exhibited in their relationship (and in this review!). It wouldn’t have been so painful to watch if those weren’t traits I recognize from my own early years of marriage. This is what premarital counseling from an impartial, qualified therapist or pastor is for.  Someone needed to help them set up rules for when they fight. Someone needed to help them establish rules for when they are having a hard time communicating, for whatever reason – military deployment, busy schedule, tense surroundings, sleep deprivation, family drama.

I think that, ultimately, Bex and Nick will be okay and will start developing those rules for their marriage.  But I would’ve enjoyed the book a lot more if we could’ve spent more time watching them make their relationship work, rather than just going up and down a line graph from nauseating lows to dizzying highs, without ever understanding why they want to fight for this relationship.

Maybe my complaints boil down to this: The Royal We is a fascinating, hilarious, thought-provoking book about what it takes to build a healthy marriage under the most immense stress this planet can dish out.  However, as a woman married for over 25-years, I was frustrated that the book left out what, in my experience, makes up the best parts of marriage: The every-day, mundane, sunshine moments of hanging out with your best friend.  And while I was drawn in by the protagonists, with my happiness linked to their highs and lows as if they were my friends, I needed a better awareness of why I’m supposed to root for them as a couple, not just as individuals.  I needed to see them succeed at the nuts-and-bolts part of a relationship.  Instead, those parts were largely left to the imagination.

I’m reminded – to a much lesser degree – of my complaint about My Fair Lady. I loved those characters. But at the end of the film, we’re suddenly supposed to accept that Prof. Higgins and Eliza are a good team as a couple. That Eliza practically runs his household, knows where his slippers are, and is indispensable to the Professor. But the movie had focused too much time on their speech therapy, fighting, the horse race, the ball, etc., and none on showing them as compatible.  The Royal We is nowhere near that bad. Not even close. But my basic nitpick is similar, if on a smaller scale.

So, if you get a kick out of history, you enjoy satire, you love witty female protagonists and the men who respect them, you want to make a new group of friends and be sucked into a beautiful romance and exciting plot, you’ll really like this book.  I anticipate multiple re-reads. If you are better than I am at respecting the role turmoil plays in the maturing of a happy, strong relationship, you’ll love this book.   Either way, you should all read it.  The first 57-pages are available for free. I’m betting that those of you who read them will be just as hooked as I was.

(Incidentally, if you use the Google Opinion Rewards app, answering simple surveys for Google Play Credit, you can quickly get enough to cover the cost of this $2 book, as I did.)

 

About Gioia

I'm a wife and mother and, when not tied up with responsibilities, I read non-stop. I love to share my favorite stories with others, thus the existence of my blog.
This entry was posted in Alternate Universe, ANGST! ANGST! ANGST!, Character Study, Chick Lit, Comeuppance/Vindication/Schadenfreude, Drama/Angst, Fluff, Friendship/Mentorship, Het: M/F, Historical, Historical Novel or Setting, Humor/Parody, Hurt/Comfort, Introspective, Published Novel, Reunion-fic, Romance, Tragedy and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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