The other day I watched What A Girl Wants, twice in a row (I will not apologize for this guilty pleasure). And then The Princess Diaries. So, naturally, I was in a royal sort of mood. And this romance, which has been on my TBR pile for a while, waiting for its time, felt like the absolute right thing to start reading.
“One can never read too many fairy tales.”
Naledi Smith is in the middle of grad school, juggling classes and lab work and finding a practicum and holding down jobs (and wow…cue the flashbacks). So, she doesn’t have time to deal with the scam emails about her being betrothed to an African prince. She’s a former foster kid, she knows she has no family, doesn’t belong anywhere, and can only rely on herself. Prince Thabiso, heir to the throne of the small nation of Thesolo, comes to NYC for a few important meetings and, while there, plans to confront his missing betrothed. But a misunderstanding of identity leads to Naledi and Thabiso getting to know each other (in many ways, wink wink) under false pretenses…as in, Thabiso keeps his real identity a secret once he realizes Naledi doesn’t recognize him. They have instant chemistry, but when Thabiso’s secrets are inevitably revealed, will their budding relationship survive the shock?
So, other than Red, White and Royal Blue, which is a bit like apples and oranges, I think, this is the first legit royal romance I have ever read. Despite my love for these kinds of stories in movies (and real life, because like, who doesn’t love Prince Harry and Meghan Markle?), I have maybe always been nervous that this sub-genre would be too cheesy or unrealistic. Which is weird because, again, the aforementioned Harry and Meghan. But you know, brains are weird and convince us of a lot of things. Anyways, back to the point, this was my first real foray into royal romance. And honestly, it was just a lot of fun! Cole did a great job with two major romance tropes, mistaken identity and forced (manipulated?) proximity, to really develop the relationship. The whole “goddess-chosen betrothal” aspect was a bit over the top for me, but I respect that it helped avoid having to deal with the fact that Naledi knew nothing about the country and people she came from and, therefore, had a high chance of not being accepted by the government/population. I mean, things were still rocky, but they had enough issues without adding that one to the mix.
I enjoyed the colliding of two very different worlds when the two first met; it made for some amusing scenes. And although Thabiso made some uncomfortably stalker-y moves to start, it was easy to see why and that his heart was at least in the right place. Plus, his privileged position that made it all possible was a clear part of that process, and as he realized with time how questionable some of his actions were, he made clear moves to change and be better, which I appreciated. A lot of perspective growth for him, overall, throughout the novel. As for Naledi, her growth was more of the emotional kind. She begins so very closed off (absolutely reasonably so, considering her childhood), and I enjoyed watching her slowly start to trust (and then re-trust) Thabiso. Plus, her self-confidence in going after things she wanted and setting healthy boundaries in other parts of her life was wonderful to watch as well. I really loved the science aspects too. Naledi’s grad student position and practicum situation, as well as the way it re-showed Thabiso what kind of positive influence he could have and encouraged him to use his position in that way, was a lovely additional piece of the novel. I do always love a nerdy lady MC. Plus, three cheers for highlighting the importance of public health!
As for the family drama power grab situation in Thesolo that the story built to…I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. It was a bit thin, developmentally. And I felt kind of a lot was left hanging at the end (like, Naledi’s grandparents…among a number of other things). It did a great job setting up getting Ledi to Thesolo and highlighted her education/skills, but it just sort of fell flat. Mainly, I think this is because the end was overall kind of rushed. I could have used like one or two more chapters to let the “finale” part settle out and to give a little bit more info and closure on some of the topics and characters that had been introduced. Personal preference here, but I feel like that about a lot of romance novels, honestly. This one just felt particularly fast.
Thabiso and Ledi had some fantastic chemistry and I really was so entertained by their story. It was great escapism and a really well-framed story, as far as the “young [orphan] girl dreams of being a princess and then her dreams come true,” trope is concerned. Some parts, regarding the pacing and (some) of the sex scenes weren’t quite it for me, but some other pieces, like the public health recognition and dialogue and settings, were great. My overall impression was positive and I’ll keep the next books in the series on my TBR back-burner for next time I’m feeling in the mood for some traditional romance.