A friend of mine, whenever she encounters a problem, reminds herself of the Scale of Aleppo, wherein she compares her misfortunes to those of the people trapped in the vicious civil war in Syria. Husband running late? Barely a one on the Scale of Aleppo. Boss being an asshole? A three, at most. It’s an admirable strategy. It’s also something which, I feel, it would behoove the protagonists of The Royal We to try.
Twenty year old Rebecca Porter, on a gap year from studying art at Cornell university, ends up sharing an Oxford college with a totes charming boi named Nicholas, or Nick, who just happens to be second in line to the British throne. They meet-cute (the first time, she cracks a syphilis-joke about his ancestor, blissfully unaware of who she’s talking to; the second time, she wears a miniscule towel and showers him in tampons), they watch a dreadful and dreadfully addictive TV-show together, and finally, inevitably, they hook up. What follows is an on again, off again romance that spans several years, supported by their mostly loyal friends, chased relentlessly by papparazzi, until Nick proposes (the book starts the day before their wedding, so this is not too much of a spoiler). Sadly, this is not where the will-they-or-won’t-they ends.
When I picked up this book I was hoping for something nice and undemanding. The undemanding part was there, mostly, though the endless tearstained confessions got a bit tiresome eventually. The book is not without merit; the initial chapters, about Rebecca’s boozy college adventures are fun, and parts of Rebecca’s introduction into the Royal Family is poignant, like her friends needling her for favours and subsequently running their mouths of to the press when she inevitably can’t oblige. The press hounding Rebecca, too, rings at least partially true; British tabloids are vicious, especially when it comes to women, and Rebecca’s frustrations in dealing with them are almost palpable. And I loved Rebecca’s reluctant frenemy Bea, who is nothing if not bitchily pragmatic. Even though she is a stereotypical British aristocrat – snooty and obsessed with horses – there are times when she seems like the only sensible person in this whole mess of a plot.
Most of the book, though, is a garbled mess. The characters fall flat; Rebecca goes from funny and independent to a quivering mess, which is ironic given that the book spends so much time on Rebecca trying to feel like herself. Because of this, the ending falls flat. It also feels weirdly unfinished, and what should have been cutesy now feels forced. Nick, meanwhile, barely strays beyond the Prince Charming 2.0 (updated for the metrosexual era). He’s paper-thin, more a plot device than a character, weepy and overly dramatic. The only reason to believe he’s charming is that we’re constantly told he is. We certainly can’t see it for ourselves.
Similarly, the antagonists, who start out as friends, can be spotted from a mile away. Rebecca describes her sister Lacey as her best friend, yet Lacey, from the start, tries to outsmart and outperform her sister at every turn, and the more Rebecca drones on about sisterly affection, the more it grates. Similarly, Nicholas’s brother Freddie is meant to be dashing and suave but instead ends up a glib sexist, and the authors seem to be clueless what to do with the princes’ mother once they actually make her appear. She’s pointless and wasted. Manny of the characters’ problems are of their own making: there is a lot of swooning and throwing people at the wall for furious kissing. It’s a two on the Scale of Aleppo at best and the characters pretending it’s more like a ten irks, but then again, it’s luuuuurve so apparently, anything goes.
Part of the problem is that this novel is unabashedly a Wills-and-Kate-and-Harry fanfic, which is fine, except that the Windsor PR machine has spent decades trying to shape the public image of William and Harry into something blandly inoffensive. You can’t really blame them for that, but the book sticks to it a bit too literally – William/Nick as the super-responsible, sensitive one, and Freddie/Harry as the party animal – which means neither of their personalities ever get off the ground.
I’m not a big reader of romance novels and perhaps I’m being overly critical of something that is meant to be little more than the sort of princess fantasy a tourist might have while standing at the gates of Buckingham Palace. And I do like gofugyourself, the authors’ blog. Nevertheless, it feels like a missed opportunity about a commoner entering the snakepit of the Royal Family. It could have been so much better.