Alyssa Cole is such a talented writer. I have liked everything I have read by her so far, and A Princess in Theory is no exception. This is a fanciful story, a modern fairytale, in which the prince of a make-believe African kingdom finds his long-lost betrothed and proceeds to beguile, lose and win her all over again. What could have been a clichéd plot is made magical by Cole’s writing.
Naledi Smith née Ajoua is an independent New Yorker through and through. She was orphaned at an early age, and was in and out of foster homes throughout her childhood. She has only a hazy memory of her parents, and her upbringing has left her wary and feeling unwanted, as though she has “defective Velcro” – no one sticks with her, no one can love her. Her adult relationships since she moved to college have reinforced this feeling, so she maintains an outwardly friendly demeanor while keeping people at arms’ length.
Naledi, a brilliant PhD student, is currently studying epidemiology at The Institute. She works two jobs to pay for college and her living expenses, and she has no time and no money for leisure. One monetary mistake could have a domino effect on her life plans of becoming a notable scientist. The pressure of keeping up with the quotidian while safeguarding her future is intense.
Recently, she’s been receiving spam email from one Likotsi Adelele from the Kingdom of Thesolo, reminding her that she is the betrothed of the most exalted Prince Thabiso and asking her to provide official pieces of documentation to verify her identity. Finally, driven beyond bearing by a terrible day, she tells Likotsi to take a hike in succinct Anglo-Saxon. And the emails stop.
More than twenty years earlier, Goddess Ingoka had spoken through her priestesses and had chosen Naledi as the future queen and betrothed her to His Royal Highness Prince, Bringer of Light and Love, Thabiso Moshoeshoe of Thesolo. They were just toddlers, but ever since then, Thabiso has been conscious of a connection to Naledi even when her parents broke all promises and ran away with her to America. Those wounds of the past have festered in the minds of all Thesoloians, including Thabiso, and he is determined to find his betrothed and demand answers.
Luckily, he’s on his way to America for a round of talks with various key people whose assistance would have a great impact on his kingdom and his people. Thabiso is the public face of Thesolo and he cares deeply and works hard to be a good caretaker while shepherding advancement of their national concerns. However, he is overworked to the point of being fed up and is seeking a respite from the constant pressure of being the sole heir.
So when he meets Naledi for the first time in the kitchens of The Institute and she thrusts a plate of kale into his hands and calls him “Jamal,” he decides to roll with it. As it turns out, his princely training makes him terrible at being a subservient waiter. At first Naledi consoles him over that ineptitude, but even she’s infuriated when he sets the chocolate fondue on fire.
Thabiso then decides to make another bid for her attention by moving in to the apartment opposite hers. He sends the occupant of that apartment off on an all-expenses-paid vacation and brushes off all of his personal assistant ‘s admonitions that he’s going full-on stalker mode.
But egging him on is the thread of connection that had built up between him and Naledi in that godforsaken kitchen. He is fascinated by her beauty and her air of capability, and he is well aware that she is taken with his looks. And just perhaps, there’s Goddess Ingoka’s influence acting on both of them.
The two of them really know how to talk to each other, to open up about themselves, to share ideas. Sexual chemistry is well and good, but conversation is sexier. Given the short timeline of the novel, the relationship development has to happen quickly, but it does not feel at all rushed. It feels like a gradually tightening connection that’s complex and tender. They’re both vulnerable to each other, while rejoicing that the other likes them for who they are. This is the first time each of them feels that. She, because of her foster care experience, and he, because of his royal experience – neither has been appreciated for their individuality.
Thabiso is so enamored with being liked for himself that he is reluctant to divulge his the truth about his connection to Naledi. And of course, she finds out, publicly, at a party at which a number of important and influential people are present. How is she then going to forgive him for his betrayal? Is she going to fulfill her destiny to be princess of Thesolo?
One thing I really enjoy about Cole’s books is the authenticity of her research. The biological details in this book are on point as are the world-building of cosmopolitan New York City and the Kingdom of Thesolo. I enjoy seeing characters who have interests and passions beyond their relationship with each other, so it’s wonderful to see how dedicated both Naledi and Thabiso are to their respective careers.
I want to make a point about the sex scenes in this book. Like most romance readers, I have read scores of them over the years, yet there are some standouts. Those have unfailingly been so because the scenes are organic to the story and the characters – none of that action could’ve happened to two other people – and are imbued with deeply-felt emotions. The scenes between Naledi and Thabiso are just about perfect for where they are in their relationship, what has happened in the past between them, and a harbinger of things to come for their future together.
If you’ve never read Cole, or never read a lighthearted story by her before, do pick up A Princess in Theory. I promise you won’t regret it.
Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes and Noble/Kobo
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