His Royal Secret
There’s something about royalty falling for us “normal” folk that is endlessly entertaining. From the (fairly) recent The Prince and Me to wonderful Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, the fantasy has been kept alive for years. Plus, it has real-world examples – look at William and Kate, or go back in time to when Grace Kelly married the Prince of Monaco. The possibility exists, and we are suckers for it. So when His Royal Secret came up for review, I happily went about finding myself a copy, and sat down all excited. Unfortunately, I was not as captivated by this new romance as I hoped.
James is the Prince of Wales in a slightly altered contemporary England (basically, think of it as if Queen Victoria never ruled, and the line stayed with the House of Hanover). He has spent his entire life under the microscope of royalty, regularly part of the news cycle, followed by reporters and paparazzi alike. So it’s pretty surprising that no one has figured out that James is gay.
One day, on holiday in Kenya, James takes shelter from a storm with a young man named Ben. Ben is intelligent, attractive and interested, and after an arousing game of chess-turned-seduction, James and Ben sleep together. The drama arises the following morning, as James discovers that Ben is actually a reporter.
Before they can work things out, though, James has to run back to England, where his grandfather the king has had a stroke. A month passes, and the two reunite in England, where Ben has been transferred. Both James and Ben have been thinking of each other, and Ben hopes to reconnect with the prince, at least to explain himself. To James’ relief, he never told anyone about their encounter, after some moral, ethical, and professional internal wrestling.
Shortly thereafter, Ben and James have embarked on a no-holds-barred, fuck buddies scenario. They are adamant about having no strings attached, but James is epically bad at keeping things that way. He makes Ben breakfast, introduces him to his long-term girlfriend beard, Cassandra (who has recently fallen in love, which kicks off a subplot about how to break up a long-term relationship that never actually existed), and shares way more about his younger sister Amelia than is really healthy for a friends-with-benefits sort of deal.
A sidenote about Amelia, though – I absolutely love her character. A large part of the reason James is not out and proud is out of concern for what might happen to his sister. If he has to abdicate, Amelia will be next in line, and she has serious mental issues that would make the job a living hell. These issues are handled truthfully and with respect. There’s a moment where her brain is 100% against her, and it’s brutal, but it works really well. Props to the author for this one.
Basically, this story is about lovers-to-friends, which is a great juxtaposition to what we normally expect. It sounds like something that I would absolutely adore. So why didn’t I?
I think my issue with the story is that I didn’t connect with either Ben or James. Not only that, I didn’t really like either one. If I sympathized with either hero, this would have been a fabulous story. But in the end, it just didn’t work for me.
Ben is grouchy. Not just grouchy, he’s angry. At what, I’m not sure, but it just seems to be a generalized “at the world” that gets directed at James fairly regularly. I wanted to like James, and I enjoyed his progression in the story, but he just comes across as boring. And while the author plants seeds of their romance throughout their fun sexy times, it was almost as if the characters themselves were fighting against falling in love, like they just wanted to keep having meaningless sex until forced to fall in love by the plot.
There were parts I really enjoyed, characters I wanted more of. Amelia was fabulous, and their uncle (a villain, of sorts) was really interesting, if unfeeling. The drama between James and Ben, between James and his family, and with the differences in station kept me interested as I was reading. I really liked how the royal family was portrayed, along with the consequences of James being gay and coming out. I could have stood to read more of that. Just…with different characters.
His Royal Secret was probably my easiest read this summer – I loved the writing style and was really looking forward to the plot. Sadly, the end result was kinda…blah. It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t think it was particularly great either. Looking back on it, it reads a lot like fanfiction. Actually, I think I’ve read a modern-day Merlin fanfic version that reminds me of this. That’s not an insult – I happen to really enjoy the creativity of fanfiction – but it wasn’t what I was looking for. I’m still planning on reading the sequel, though. Even if I wasn’t particularly emotionally invested, I still want to see how James’ and Ben’s story works out.