In some alternate world, the US saw its first female President, Ellen Claremont, be elected following President Obama’s second term. She has been divorced and remarried, with her ex-husband serving as a Senator from California. She has children, including a college-aged son named Alex. Over in the UK, instead of Queen Elizabeth II we have Queen Mary (possibly the royal name given to Princess Margaret, Elizabeth’s sister) and she has a daughter named Princess Catherine. Catherine, in turn, married an actor named Arthur who played James Bond in the cinema and they had three children, her second son being Henry who is just a shade older than Alex, and Alex doesn’t like Henry at all.
President Claremont’s first term as President is coming to a close, which means re-elections are looming on the horizon. All of her children, including Alex, are part of her re-election campaign, and at the same time, Alex is attending Georgetown. At this time the Princess Catherine’s eldest son, Prince Phillip, is getting married and the First Family has been invited to attend, which they do. This does not entirely sit well with Alex given his feelings towards Henry, which he’s positive are reciprocated. While at the reception Alex gets drunk, has an ugly encounter with Henry, the wedding cake suffers a terrible fate, and hilarity ensues. Because of Alex’s PR blunder, he’s ordered to later make a goodwill trip to London and put on a show that he and Henry are in actuality best of friends, regardless of how they truly feel. That is the catch. How they truly feel, for as they start to get to know each other, and as the public image is lowered for a more personal, authentic one towards each other, their opinions begin to change. They start chatting more often. At first it’s laced with insults and sarcasm, but eventually, an honest dialogue emerges. Then, during another face-to-face visit, something happens that alters their relationship forever.
Author Casey McQuiston wrote this fictional gay romance novel sort of as a response to how 2016 turned out. Instead of the political and royal figureheads, we have here in the US and in the UK, we were given ones from a sort of parallel universe thereby allowing her to tell the tales of Alex and Henry. What makes this novel work so well is her character writing. The universe in which they live in is rich with details, especially the political machinations (there is some very interesting political intrigue regarding someone Alex knows) that Alex must deal with as well as the social implications that Henry, as a member of the Royal Family, must also contend with. But it is with these two characters that McQuiston pours her soul into thereby giving life to them. Even as they go on their own character arcs (especially Alex), there remains a consistency to who and what they are even as they evolve and grow as people. Even as Alex comes off as somewhat unlikeable at the beginning, by the time his feelings for Henry begin to awaken he is transformed into someone that we can at least not detest, and by we get into the last third of the book he’s someone that we’re not only rooting for, he becomes a character that we can genuinely care about. Henry is different in that he has that royal veneer about him. He’s totally pleasant as one might expect, but even as Alex starts to see his real self he immediately becomes a likable, if somewhat sad, character. McQuiston perfectly uses their growing relationship to see both of them actually begin to blossom as they discover feelings within themselves and for each other. As I read through all of this I could sense that something bad was going to happen, and lo it most certainly did. McQuiston captures the public backlash of these two getting together repeatedly for what is clearly more than just a friendly visit. First, the challenges are strictly of the heart as they each have to admit what it is they are feeling, then the challenges they face have international implications, but McQuiston continually keeps it focused on Alex and Henry in how this fallout is affecting them. It’s a masterful reminder that despite whatever position we come into, whether it is one we attain from hard work or one that we are born into, that at the end of the day we are still people and that must take precedence.
This book completely caught me by surprise. I never imagined myself reading a romance novel that wasn’t in some sort of sci-fi or fantasy genre setting, but through an unusual twist of circumstances I discovered this book. Before reading Red, White & Royal Blue there had been only a handful of authors to cross my path whose work I would fall madly in love with, three of those being Gini Koch of the “Alien – Katherine/Kitty-Katt” series, Jonathan Latt, author of The Geek, and more recently K.D. Edwards, author of “The Tarot Sequence” series of books, the first being The Last Sun (the follow-up novel The Hanged Man is slated to come out in September). I have read and re-read their books repeatedly because they each have created characters that I have also fallen in love with. Now I’m thrilled to say that I can add another author to that group as McQuiston has delivered a novel that I just could not put down. I never thought I would go for romance novels, even if they were of a gay nature, but her writing was so powerful that at the end of the day this book proved that what transcends genres is nothing more than just outstanding quality. Her depictions of Alex and Henry, especially as their feelings truly awoke within themselves for each other, was so beautifully written that for a time I no longer felt like an old gay man (I will soon be 58), but instead I actually felt young again and with that came the innocent feelings of hopefulness and optimism, not to mention a reminder of that emotional rush one feels when falling in love. Through Alex and Henry not only did I get to experience that all over again, but McQuiston also gave something that many hopeless romantics (yes, we gay men can also be hopeless romantics) fantasize over, and that is being swept up in love by a true Prince. It’s a theme that has existed in fairy tales for hundreds of years, and now she has given us one that us gay men can latch on to and, vicariously through Alex, experience being swept off our feet by a dashing Prince. If there is a downside to this book is that I was absolutely saddened when I got to the last page and there was no more story. Despite the fact that Alex and Henry are just fictional characters, they were so well-written and portrayed in this book that they truly became alive in my mind, and having the book come to an end felt like I had to say goodbye to them, which is something that I didn’t want to do. Just as they made each other’s lives better through their love and relationship, getting to know them in this book oddly enough made my life better. Reading their story actually made me happy, so for that I say THANK YOU Casey McQuiston for writing a most remarkable tale. Your idea for this story that you imagined while on an I-10 off-ramp has been embraced by this old gay man who lives just off of I-10. Maybe if you should choose to write more about these two it could be told from Henry’s perspective. In the meantime, I think I will give Red, White & Royal Blue another joyous re-read!!!
Red, White & Royal Blue receives 5 out of 5 Crowns!!!