Title: Red, White & Royal Blue
Author: Casey McQuiston
My rating: 3.5/5
Goodreads rating: 4.48/5
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, LGBT
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.
The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.
As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?
INCOMING. AN UNPOPULAR OPINION. I liked this book. I didn’t love this book. If you are looking for a fluffy, sweet and ultimately predictable NA (I should stress that this is a New Adult due to the many sex scenes) novel, then this is your book. But that’s why this book is no more than a 3.5 stars for me. There were points where the plot was too fluffy, though the stakes were high for both of the characters there was no suspense. At times the book was lovely and romantic and other times it felt like it relied too heavily on this sweetness for there to be more edge. The plot was very predictable. Not to say it wasn’t enjoyable, but you could probably guess the plot of this book in a heartbeat, which isn’t great if you want to read something with plot twists that actually have some long-lasting consequences. Let me break down my critique.
So as I said the plot is predictable. Everything you think is going to happen in the book happens. Yes, there are some curveballs, but these are not impactful. As I write this review, it’s hard to say that this plot is substantive. It’s a shame as well because the book had many elements which, if developed, could have made this story more than what it was. I did appreciate the simplicity of the story- two queer people falling in love. Sadly, such relationships are atypical in literature, so it was both interesting and lovely watching the romance play out. I’m a sucker for enemies to lovers as well so this book already had me in its corner at the beginning. However, not to give too many spoilers away, even this trope was diluted sadly.
I think what this book was missing was a solid subplot. We did have some subplots but they were either giving too little attention or they felt like an add on, not well integrated into the main story. While this romance happening in the background of re-election was fun and added some needed tension into the story, it still didn’t feel whole. It’s the only purpose was to add tension to the main story. When the ending of that subplot occurred I didn’t feel I great swell of emotion or satisfaction. Mainly because it was predictable.
Both characters were fun to read. Alex seemed to have a stick up his arse for most of the book, but he did grow on me. He felt real and he was given some depth through the questioning of his sexuality (partially through some very funny scenes) as well as how best he could help out others (is it truly through politics?). Simply, by the end of the novel, I was completely satisfied with his character arc.
Now onto Henry. I liked Henry at the start. I liked Henry in the end. But gosh I wanted more character development. That’s not to say he didn’t have character development, he definitely has a character arc. But he deserved his own POV. This would single-handedly improve the story plot wise and Henry’s character. I need to see his struggles much more intimately than a few conversations with Alex. And can we talk about his mental health please? It was obvious he had anxiety and this isn’t explored in detail at all. A Henry POV would be so helpfully with fleshing out his character more than a prince who sometimes doesn’t say prince like things.
Secondary characters fulfilled their purpose I guess. I liked them enough especially June and Luna. While I believe Luna was well used within the story and had some hidden depth, June, however, was pitifully underdeveloped. There were hints of depth other than a supportive older sister, mostly to do with her relationship with her and Alex’s mother. This whole family dynamic while touched upon was not satisfyingly dealt with. I’m not really asking for big character arcs, Luna being a great example of a side character treated well, but sometimes, the story could have slowed down to deal with the side characters instead of using them as pure props for the story (this is the extreme case for characters associated with Henry).
Quick and smooth, I enjoyed the witty dialogue and how McQuiston wrote the steamier scenes. For the most part, the writing in this book was solid. Nothing out of the ballpark and nothing extremely dire. For the most part. Then some parts read as not so good fanfiction. Firstly, there’s only so many times I can read ‘I love you’ paragraphs before I start to skim reading. I understand why a lot of this book had to be more tell than show, the two lovers are thousands of miles apart. But the point still stands. This is more of a plot issue than writing issue, but I would also have loved to read more actual love scenes then lust scenes.
Then onto the climax/resolution. This is more of a character issue, but how the Queen was written was so poor. I feel for most of this book you are supposed to make some comparisons to our real universe, and naturally, I was making comparisons to my own Queen (I’m from the UK for any of you who didn’t know) and though this royal family is completely different, the Queen was just wrong. Simplistic characterisation with shallow motivations made some of the climactic scenes read like bad fanfiction.
Lastly, I want to talk about politics. Though most of the plot surrounds politics and most of the political comments felt ‘in-book’ and realistic for the context, some political parts of the book were painful to read. Characters would suddenly go on a tirade about politics which was obviously supposed to be something the readers directly think about, but it felt clunky and unnatural. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a liberal/left-wing, black woman. I like political activism in the book- when treated naturally. Sometimes it felt like I was being pandered too. This was not most of the time- but it happened enough for me to feel annoyed. How McQuiston treated politics most of the time was entertaining, but not particularly insightful.
Verdict: The romance was cute, the plot smooth, and writing solid. However when one of the main characters is notably more underdeveloped compared to the other main character, when the plot is too simple and light, and when parts of the writing are borderline cringe, I can only give this book more than a cautious recommendation. The shining light of the book was the gay romance, however predictable it was.