Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Published: 14th May 2019

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Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Pages: 421
Format: Paperback
Genre: New Adult
★ ★ ★ – 3 Stars

What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colours shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.

This is the alternate reality we all wanted in 2016 and while it’s good to see what was possible in an ideal world, it also felt slightly over the top at times. It isn’t just the reimaging of the 2016 election, it’s also a complete rewrite of the British monarchy with a lot of perfect world mentalities that aren’t always refreshing and sometimes come across as plain unrealistic.

It was an enjoyable narrative, I wasn’t head over heels about it but I liked the characters, they were interesting and had complexities and their own issues to overcome. This is a modern story with the realisation that not everyone is a white male and seeing such a diverse group of characters come together in one book and administration was great. The romance between Henry and Alex is sweet, I liked the secrecy and their slow but fast relationship, and while I understood the risks, I wasn’t obsessed with this romance. You spend a lot of time waiting for the secrets to be exposed, but it was interesting to see the build-up and the anticipation kept me engaged because I wanted to see how it would play out.

The guise of international relations and meetings helps push this relationship along with plane travel and secret meetings. It’s a cruel reminder that not everyone has a 24 hour flight to the UK or America and you can duck over for clandestine romantic meetings. One thing I kept thinking about was bodyguards and paparazzi. The amount of secret meetings these two got was amazing, there only seemed to be one personal guard for each of them that let them do whatever they wanted. It was hard to imagine that actually happening.

The ages of the characters brings this firmly into the New Adult category and not YA because most of the main characters are in their early 20s and the consenting, vigorous sexual encounters Alex and Henry both enjoy is also a bit much for your younger teen. It isn’t overly graphic, but there is a lot of lust between Alex and Henry and McQuiston isn’t shy in the writing. The text and email exchanges between Henry and Alex are some of the best bits. It alternates between fun and flirty, to serious and deep, to drunk and sexual.

Whether it’s because Alex was the main voice we got to see more of his personality shine but I never quite got more of Henry’s. We’re told he’s shy and nervous about coming out, plus his public persona versus his private is naturally different, but while we are given facts about his interests and hobbies they felt like a one dimensional addition. I don’t think I noticed at the time, but as I thought more about it I couldn’t see Henry as having quite as much explored depth as Alex, even with all the information about him. Some characters I forgot existed entirely until they turned up again which was fine they weren’t always part of the story, but Alex felt the most developed out of all of them.

It’s a curious experience to not truly connect with a main character until the final 100 pages but it wasn’t until the very end did I actually become invested in Alex. I loved how McQuiston explores the aftermath and Alex’s reaction to it because that was when I felt a connection to him. His coping mechanism resonated with me and I adored how McQuiston put us in the moment as Alex experiences emotions and events around him, it felt like a completely different way than he’d been presented previously.

This is a book for those in the US who know and understand their political system. It’s for a specific group and for those outside the US it is possible to still understand what is going so we know what is at stake, and to McQuiston’s credit enough is explained that I understood without needing to know the full ins and out of the political system. Having a main character the son of the president there’s going to be a lot of inescapable politics in the story and their life. McQuiston alternates between barely a mention to suddenly flooding the pages and back again. There are a few jabs to the US and UK political environment I quite enjoyed, though it’s also a “wink, wink” kind of moment in some places that rely on you knowing about the political system and past events. Even as a non-American I know more than I care too about the US political system simple because you can’t really ignore it, but even things I didn’t completely understand I understood was a Thing and meant Something but not understanding didn’t mean I was lost on the story. McQuiston uses characters and the plot well to discuss the political world.

In terms of story it is predictable, but people seem to not mind that when it’s a romance. It is an idealised, utopian world where even the few issues there were never felt like actual issues, but people don’t seem to mind that either. I didn’t hate it, I think understanding though that the utopian world that’s created here can actually go beyond normalcy and possible and into unrealistic events and situations.

What I found curious is that looking at it, the book doesn’t seem long, but reading it, it is long. I felt like it was never going to end, and as I say, I didn’t hate it, but waiting and waiting for The Thing to happen so we could move on from it took most of the book. The consequences are over and done with relatively simply. Both the UK and US press never would have let half of this stuff happen, and while you can become focused on the romance and the group of twenty somethings making friends and having fun, you can’t really ignore the fake, idealistic world they are existing in. McQuiston is trying too hard to make it perfect and it doesn’t always come across as a good thing when you do it this poorly.

You can purchase Red, White, and Royal Blue via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Fishpond

Amazon | Amazon Aust

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