Author: Casey McQuiston
Rating: 5 Stars
Dates read: 19 Apr 19 – 21 Apr 19
Publication date: 14 May 2019
Publisher: St Martin’s Griffin
Genre(s): LGBTQ, Romance, Contemporary
ve with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends…
First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.
The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.
As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?
I received an eARC of this book courtesy of St. Martin’s Griffin and NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review*
I want to start by saying that this book meant a lot to me. I’m not in politics, I’m not someone who identifies as LGBTQ, but none of that matters, because this book speaks for us all. I cannot avoid talking about the things addressed in this book. And so, with the publication of this book nearing, I warn you that I cannot write a review that doesn’t contain plot points, character development, and the ending. The majority of this review will, like normal, be spoiler free, but bits of this review will contain spoilers.
I read this book expecting fluffy contemporary themes. I read this book knowing there was a gay romance between the Prince of England and between the First Son of the United States, and I was all for it. I read this book expecting YA angst, romantic elements, light politics, and to be honest, not a a lot more. I really couldn’t have been more wrong.
This book was well written, funny, clever, knowledgeable, and so current. The author has absolutely mastered making this book feel so real and so raw. The characters are genuine, complex, reliable, and the relationships they have are those you expect to find in real life, and less in fiction. The themes and stories are also close to the bone, the issues faced throughout are represented EXACTLY how I would expect them to be in the world’s media, the political landscape concerning close to real elections, and the general people’s reactions worryingly real and phobic.
As always, let’s start with the characters. I really don’t know how to explain how much I love these characters. They’re glorious in their honesty, they interact brilliantly, and they’re flawed. A flawed character on his or her own is something that is difficult to perfect, and McQuiston has managed to create a book full of them. Whether it was the European or American side of the Atlantic, each character had been thought through, their importance to the plot planned, real, and understandable. There was no true character that proved to be an antagonist, more the ideas explored and the way stories handled, again something I think was a powerful message to carry in the subtext of the plot.
Alex and Henry were brilliant. They were the adorable squishes that I was desperate for them to be, yet this was far from their only claim on their story. They were paradoxically powerful and vulnerable, a wonderful mix of completely different and extremely similar. They were loving and kind, but they did not do this at the expense of others. They sacrificed themselves and their own happiness rather than those around them. They fought through the life they lived in the book with grace and grit and were so much more than I expected from the leads in a romantic novel. I believed in them and I routed for them, not because they were wonderful together (they were), not because I wanted them to be happy together (I did want this), but because they stood up and were themselves to everyone around them. And they were themselves throughout the book, they grew and evolved individually and together, and were impeccable examples of romantic leads being their romance and yet being so much more than their romantic storyline.
The rest of the super six were just phenomenal. I have to say that June is formidable and possibly the most gutsy of the lot. I never really realised until the end just how influential she was, but her companionship, tenacity, and intellect were actually quite inspirational. I loved Nora’s powerful intelligence and absolute certainty in who she was. She oozed everything I would expect from a lesbian computer whizz, but she never did it at the cost of anyone else’s shine. Bea was everything I imagined a female version of Prince Harry to be. She battled through her father’s death in her own was, embraced press vitriole and the Daily-Mail-all-over title of ‘Powder Princess’ with impeccable grace and almost gratitude. She was unabashedly herself, a feminine power in a royal family full of powerful women that were different from her. She used their insistance on taking her down to forge a new path for herself, one based in addiction support, familial support, and ultimately trans-atlantic friendship. I feel like she is the royal we celebrate in Harry, and was a really great example of a woman neither pushing ahead of her masculine siblings, nor being hidden by them. And finally Pez, loud, brash, and eccenentric in a way that I think only rich people can be. There was no requirement for the Prince of England’s best friend to be either African, Black, or eccentric, yet in this story, it would have been at odds if he had been what we have come to expect as run of the mill in our own royal family and in romance novels in general (something that is, once again, a testament to the author.)
When we expand outwards to her family, and to those associated with the characters, we find a complex mix of backgrounds, characters, and personalities that would be the example of a modern day working/personal dynamic. Alex’s mother toes the line between mother and president incredibly well, and is not afraid to drop the Mum act and pick up the political standpoint when required, or to fall back to her family and drop her public persona when her family require her. They’re accepting, and have a great family dynamic that really shows how divorce does not mean the end of relationships completely. I really commend the author on her supporting cast of characters, who were instrumental in making this a stellar read. Alex’s father is a great example of acceptance and embracement of one’s true self, supporting the efforts of his family, and his friends (especially Raf the hispanic gay politician).
My personal favourite was Zahra, whose no nonsense attitude was exactly what was needed, and I imagine would be present in a woman of her postion. Her relationship with staff around her is bordering on dictatorial and it is glorious that a woman has been given such power in a book which also has a female president. The incorporation of similar positions within the Prince’s household was symbolic, their differences and similarities as marked and detailed as the differences between the Prince and FSOTUS themselves. They were the great example that the Royal family were not – some of which were thinly veiled satire of the current British Monarchy and made me cringe and laugh in disbelief.
I really don’t want to spoil this completely, but I can’t help but mention the incredible commentary on real life that is present throughout the narrative. In a world of social media and instant access to information, the power of the press and the manipulation of stories and how they are presented is painfully close to the current climate of modern day fame, monarchy and politics. I feel like such a small paragraph at the end of a rather large review is not justice enough, but to go into more detail would spoil elements of the story that I do not want to reveal. The use of relationships as smoke and mirrors, the denial of LGBTQ romance, the apparent sexual predilection of people in power and the cover ups that entail, the corruption within politics and the media, and the apparent ability to be above it all. It was painful to read this in fiction and draw parallels to the real world, to real presidents and press matters, and to realise that this sort of prejudice, racism, sexism, homophobia, and inappropriate, immoral, and illegal behaviour is still both present and somewhat accepted in modern day society.
Overall, this book was spectacular in it’s delivery, hilarious and charming in it’s story and character development, and monumental in it’s message. It is a stellar example of using a genre to raise awareness and comment on issues whilst maintaining a charismatic and enjoyable ensemble of characters and storylines. It took me by surprise, made me laugh out loud and feel true pain, and was simply a special book that I cannot recommend highly enough.