Tracey Livesay’s American Royalty is a spin on the Meghan Markle-Prince Harry romance that transcends fanfic to deliver a good time, but requires significant suspension of disbelief with the UK setting and the royal family.
Jameson Lloyd, Duke of Wessex, wants to leave his royal roots behind and live quietly as a philosophy professor. He’s far enough from the line of succession to be able to get away with it. Until, that is, scandalous behavior by all the more senior royals leaves him the most popular (or rather, least UNpopular) option to host a concert which the Queen hopes will raise awareness for her late husband’s climate causes and also maybe put some shine back on the monarchy. Each royal is supposed to choose an act. Completely detached from popular culture, Jameson asks a student to list some current performers, and chooses Duchess because in this context, her stage name strikes him as amusing.
Duchess, aka Dani Nelson, is a hip-hop artist with a cosmetics line she wants to take to the next level (à la Rihanna and Fenty Beauty). Unfortunately, a cute, young, blonde, and white pop one-hit wonder has taken to fabricating a beef with Duchess via social media, so the cosmetics companies she hopes will invest are refusing to deal with her because Duchess being a stalking target means she has an “image problem.” The royal performance is the opportunity Dani needs. But she needs to lie low first, and away from her stalker – and ends up staying at Jameson’s country house. Yes, it’s a bit contrived, but this pacing choice is effective. It gives the two a chance to get to know each other and avoids a rushed meeting at the concert. Dani and Jameson are attracted to each other’s images in the press and video, and once they meet, it’s irresistible.
I liked that Duchess is an authentic hip hop performer. She is not a clean-cut Meghan Markle-type entertainer whose most controversial gig was appearing on Deal or No Deal. She twerks in thongs and raps about sex (the Duchess lyrics which top off chapters are fantastically plausible) and brings a vivid swagger to everything she does. Duchess’s world is very believable. A male director wants her to be more subservient-looking in her video shoots. Her manager prioritizes the music which makes him money over opportunities which benefit Dani. The cosmetics companies demand she have an image more palatable to white investors (none of whom, by the way, are the target market for her products). A young, white male pop star is both her friend and someone who draws credibility from his association with/proximity to a Black artist. All of it feels very authentic.
Unfortunately, Jameson’s settings (UK, university, and royal) are not credible. The speech patterns of the UK are not reflected here, nor are intangibles like the sense of humor. Jameson, a philosophy professor, gives a large hall-based lecture on Plato’s Cave dramatically acted out by a set of students. It’s cringey and doesn’t seem like UK university style at all.
I understand that American Royalty’s UK royal family is meant to be its own thing (while of course also being the Windsors), but there is simply nothing about them that says Royal Family at all. For instance, Jameson is an Irish surname used as a first name, and it’s really not something I can imagine coming anywhere near UK royals. Jameson launches a prize named after his late grandfather, the Prince Consort, called the John Foster Lloyd Prize. Titles are part of the names of royals and, as evidenced by the real-life Duke of Edinburgh awards (named after Prince Philip), the birth name would be omitted before the title would ever be. The Queen is obsessed with trying to manipulate public opinion rather than trying to remain aloof from it (Duchess is more of a ‘rise above’ person than the royal, which is a role reversal that doesn’t feel authentic). A blunt talker, the Queen lectures Jameson: “You owe me. You owe your mother. You owe this family.” It sounds more like a Godfather than a monarch, and it does not have the cadences of upper-class UK diction. Duchess is not asked to adjust her act for the concert honoring the late prince, nor is she given any protocol briefings before meeting the royals backstage. I feel like at least someone would have said something like ‘Perform the radio edit’ or ‘No costumes exposing butt cheeks.’
The combination of these factors is why I really loved the first half of the book, which focuses on Duchess, her career, and her early meeting with Jameson, and why the second half (which focuses on the royal story) brought my overall grade down to a B+. Still, American Royalty is a fun and sexy read that I strongly recommend for a lighthearted, royally good time.
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I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.