The Royal We
A fictional spin on the courtship of Kate Middleton and Prince William, The Royal We doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable aspects of royal life and has more details and heft than your typical pauper-meets-prince romance. The supporting cast (his brother, her sister) truly shines. However, the leads were bland, and the deviations from the real Wills and Kate throw the story just enough out of whack that I felt like the characters would not get the current real-life HEA of the real deal.
American Rebecca “Bex” Porter takes a year abroad at Oxford and fortuitously (and inexplicably) gets assigned to the empty dorm room in the same hall as Nicholas Lyons, Prince of Wales. Soon, she and Nick are a hot item, protected in Oxford by a press agreement to let the heir study in peace. Once they graduate, things become more complicated. What does Nick mean by hiding their relationship for years? How can Bex handle her twin Lacey’s desire to use Bex’s status to become famous herself? Can Bex transform herself into someone acceptable to the crown and the country, and does she want to?
Bex and Nick are obviously based on Kate and William, and their story follows the same basic plot as the real-life one: the university meet, the secret dating, the break-up, the reunion. In some ways, this works well, because the story becomes more plausible. Unlike many royal romance novels, The Royal We doesn’t rush, giving itself a decade to resolve the story. It has unpleasant relatives without nefarious inheritance schemes and press incidents that sound real. The workings of Nick’s inner circle and the young, affluent European party circuit feel authentic. The setting is immersive and addictive, and I felt like I was getting a reasonably accurate depiction of “insider” life.
Unfortunately, when the authors deviate to fictionalize the story, the changes become less realistic. Traits feel forced so they can be like but yet unlike the real story. If, for instance, you can’t have a dead Diana, you have to have some other problem so the hero is leery of the public eye. But it can’t be switched to his father or he’d be inheriting, so the whole Nick’s mother situation ends up implausible. It’s been rumored that Kate Middleton plotted attending St. Andrews at that time to be near Prince William; to make Bex un-Middletonian, she is so detached from social aspirations that at one point she’s surprised to realize that if she married Nick, she’d be queen. That’s idiotic – nobody who dated a prince wouldn’t have thought of that. And you know what? If Kate Middleton concocted a Grand Plan to be Queen of England and executed it, I say more power to her. At least it shows that she’s motivated and ambitious, neither of which is true for Bex. I’d rather read about a heroine with a Grand Plan to catch herself the hero than a heroine with no Grand Plan at all, except possibly to be drunk in love, or just drunk. Bex and Nick spend a LOT of time drunk. (That part, I think, is realistic).
The blandness of the protagonists means I was never able to feel their supposed grand passion strongly enough to be invested in their outcome. There’s a whole lot of Bex telling us that she loves Nick and that they are right for each other, but not a lot of evidence beyond their shared enjoyment of a cheesy CW-type show. Nick likes Bex because… I hate to say it, but we’re going down the road of “refreshingly unpolished and genuine,” which is such a cliche. The stakes of Bex losing her personality and self in a palace makeover didn’t feel too high, since I didn’t have a strong sense of who she was. Ironically, this same lack of personality also made her makeover feel more Stepford-y, because the authors failed to show me Bex finding an element of herself that she wanted to be true to and carrying it through the process (as, for instance, Kate Middleton has done with her athleticism.) The authors also had them spend too much time apart. Their relationship came to feel based on inertia, to the point that when Bex has to make a crisis decision about whether or not to leave Nick for another man, I actually was excited to think she might do it. Alas.
That being said, there were some great, great supporting characters in this novel. Nick’s little brother Freddie is the roguish spare (loosely based, of course, on Prince Harry.) I really believed in him as a charmer with a sharp edge, loyal to Nick but inwardly equally lost about his own path, interested in giving and having a good time but maybe not having as much fun as he makes it look. Meanwhile, Bex’s twin Lacey is competitive, outgoing, and attention-hungry, of the “all press is good press” variety. While she loves Bex, Lacey’s never been eclipsed by her twin before, and she believes that if Bex loves her, she’ll show it by sharing Nick’s spotlight with Lacey. This is one area in which the real-life switches (from sister to twin, from no Pippa/Harry relationship to a Lacey/Freddie affair) enhance the story rather than detracts from it. Other strong supporting characters include the gimlet-eyed Queen Eleanor, who bluntly gets her way, tough, pragmatic Bea (nicknamed Lady Bollocks for her initials, BLKS), and Clive, Bex’s first boyfriend at Oxford who struggles to balance his desire to be a journalist with the discretion and loyalty demanded being a member of Nick’s inner circle.
The first-person author voice is lively, which I expected because I really enjoy the authors’s blog. They have the breadth to write very funny passages and serious passages equally, but they do keep sex scenes off-camera. (I liked that Bex was allowed to have a non-Nick sex life).
Although the book has flaws, the parts that I liked were engaging enough that I resented my life every time it pulled me away from reading. I like limelight stories, and it’s one of the best I’ve read. If it doesn’t get to “great,” it’s still a solid and largely realistic effort in a very difficult subgenre.