Desert Isle Keeper
How to Catch a Queen
Alyssa Cole spins off her Reluctant Royals series (the hero and heroine in this story both appeared in A Prince on Paper) into a brand new set of tales, starting with How to Catch a Queen, a beautiful story about a woman who’s always wanted to be a queen, a man who never wanted to be king, and the way they both have to adjust their lives to accept each other’s love – and learn how to govern as a team.
Prince Sanyu stands to inherit the throne of Njaza on the death of his terminally ill father – which is imminent – but secretly believes that he’s not strong enough to rule, especially in light of his father’s achievements (he led the kingdom to independence) during his reign. When informed by Musoke, his head advisor, that he must marry to secure the line, Sanyu can only remember the long string of women his father married and ultimately discarded, refusing both their love and their advice, each one declared unworthy and sent packing for trying to rule his heart or his kingdom.
Sanyu, his only child, is the product of his father’s union with his twentieth wife. Many came after her, and Sanyu can’t remember what any of them looked like, let alone the face of his own mother. Understandably, he isn’t thrilled about the notion of marriage for himself, and is determined to take his father’s advice to never let his wife rule him or fall in love with her, but he vows to do his duty and produce heirs for the crown. Then he meets Shanti, and everything changes.
Although not of the nobility, Shanti Mohapti has been groomed to be a suitable royal bride all her life, and has longed to become a queen ever since meeting the queen of her own kingdom, Thesolo. when Shanti was a child. She’s grown into an ideal consort but endured the slings and arrows of rejection from multiple other crowned principalities before landing in a marriage with Sanyu via an emergency virtual matching on the RoyalMatch dating app (introduced in Cole’s Reluctant Royals series, the app matches members of royalty with accomplished commoners or those of royal blood). Though there is a rivalry between the people of Thesolo and the land of Njaza, Shanti wants to make a go of it, to make positive changes in the world.
Shanti and Sanyu are married at the bedside of the dying king moments after meeting face to face, and soon find themselves at odds with their expectations. Shanti is determined to help Njaza in any way she can, but unfortunately, everything and everyone seems to stand in her way. Her suggestions to improve the kingdom are met with rejection by the royal council, led by Musoke and Minister Masane, who looks after the finances of Njaza, and Sanyu’s icy behavior is not encouraging. She has a hard time adjusting to the cultural requirements of the kingdom or convincing it to modernize or let in the outside world, even Thesolo. She soon learns a Njaza queen is expected to be silent and, if she doesn’t please her husband, can be easily divorced in favor of another in four month’s time. Three months have passed. Shanti has only four weeks to convince Sanyu to make the marriage True.
Sanyu loves Shanti’s outspokenness, but his loyalty to his father’s way of governing – to Njaza’s traditions – keeps him from supporting her publicly. He begins to take advice from her in secret during nighttime meetings, which slowly transforms him into a more confident ruler as he steps out of his father’s shadow and into his own light. Respect blossoms into sexual attraction, but will Sanyu and Shanti make the final leap toward love?
How to Catch a Queen is a cracking good tale. Cole’s worldbuilding is, as always, perfection, helped along by some engaging characters.
Sanyu is in an impossible position, and it’s impossible not to sympathize with him. It takes him a while to break away from the silent, cold shell he wears to protect himself, but Shanti is no quitter. When he finally starts becoming more himself, he becomes a delight.
Shanti’s sureness is delightful. Though lonely and isolated, she manages to draw others close to her (we have visits from Nya and Portia from A Duke by Default, who form her inner circle here). Portia is still my favorite Cole contemporary heroine, but Shanti is a delight all her own.
The romance slowly builds throughout the book, and has its complications, as Shanti develops a relationship with activists from Njaza Rise Up – a movement determined to bring equality to the kingdom, which is opposed by Sanyu’s advisors – and becomes fascinated with the equally silenced and stifled Anise, the first queen of Njaza. How and if Njaza embraces its neighbors and its former queens, I will leave for the reader to find out. But the passion of Shanti and Sanyu is so vivid, memorable and easy to believe in.
And oh, is it worth reading. How to Catch a Queen is one of the best romances of the year, and it is a special delight worth indulging in.