What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?
When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius―his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.
Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instagramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.
RED, WHITE, AND ROYAL BLUE takes place in a United States, where, following Obama’s presidency, Ellen Claremont, a Democrat and a woman, has been elected to be president and is running for a second term in 2020. The First Son of the United States, Alex Claremont-Diaz, is forced to spend time with Prince Henry of England for reparations’ sake after a very public disaster of epic proportions worth $75,000 in cake and frosting, and a romance blossoms.
If you think the hilarity and hijinks stops with the Great British Bakeoff Rough and Tumble, you’d be wrong, oh, so wrong. This is the ridiculously royal romance you’ve been waiting for. Henry is a sweet sweet cinnamon roll who graces the centerfold of J-14, home of S Club 7 and babyfaced Usher, and Alex is chaos personified. Together, they are truly magical. Alongside his burgeoning relationship with Henry, Alex is exploring his identification as a bisexual man and is talking to his loved ones about it. Henry identifies as gay, but feels the weight of the world (quite literally) on his shoulders as the Prince of England and keeps it a secret from everyone.
Alex and Henry, along with four more of their friends and family members, make up the Super Six. June, Alex’s sister, is level-headed and whip-smart – the perfect combination for a future journalist. Nora, the granddaughter of the VP, knows her way around and through any technological riddle, is a Drag Race enthusiast, and identifies as bisexual. Bea, Henry’s sister, is a recovering addict, and gives off a kinder Daisy Jones-ish vibe (if you’ve read that one too!). Finally, Pez has enough personality and fashion sense to dress all of England, effervescent and psychedelic. I can only hope that Casey McQuiston’s next romance book involves one (or more???) of these characters because I would love to get to know them better.
Intersectional identities are important when Alex interacts with his father, who is Mexican. His family is from the South, and Blue, all of which intersect and play upon each other in the wake of the 2020 election. His father experiences microaggressive treatment as a Mexican Democrat in Texas, and Alex experiences both outright and microaggressive treatment as a biracial son of a Mexican man and a White woman, who is the President. Of course, President Claremont experiences her fair share of sexism from the 2020 Republican candidate, who is a White man.
On top of these experiences stemming from their identities, Alex’s relationships with his parents are both complex and unwaveringly supportive. Ellen puts her neck on the line for him several times, but simultaneously takes none of his BS and makes it fully known that his antics in the public eye have a direct effect on her image as a female Democratic President who is also a mother. She gives her kids chances to do something significant and impactful for her and their careers, and shows that, at the end of the day, she both judges their skills adequately and believes in them in that she’s willing to take big risks for big reward across the board.
On the other hand, Henry’s father is deceased, having died from pancreatic cancer, and each of his family members deal with it in different ways. His sister Bea, one of my favorite side characters with her unconditional love for her brother, starts partying and using drugs, and becomes addicted to drugs. His brother Philip has a cold, unflinching demeanor, and his relationship with Henry is strained at best. His mother is clearly still embroiled in her grief and feels sadness and regret, and becomes emotionally and physically distant.
I LOVE a romance that builds via long distance and lush, angsty, lust-ridden emails make me Weak. In. The. Knees. And this book had that. OH GOD, DID IT HAVE THAT. At some points, I felt like I had to look away or stop reading because I was intruding in their most intimate exchanges. Because so many relationships develop digitally these days, there is a certain je ne sais quoi about the quality and tone of their text that left me no doubt that these emails were being crafted with a smirk, a hot flush, and a certain, er, excitement, if you will. The Atlantic Ocean’s got nothing on these emails. Having met my husband and several past romantic partners online, I have honed my own craft of flirty emails and give mad props when I see them in the wild. Henry’s and Alex’s personalities shine through in these emails. Henry’s writing, while still as witty as ever, overflows with sincerity. Alex’s writing, on the other hand, is snappier and smirk-ier (if you will), and full of one-liners that just get ya. These are the kinds of emails that feel like the sun is finally shining after a dark patch. The kinds of emails that have you up until 6am but you feel giddy and heady, and not at all sleep-deprived.
The one small qualm I have is that it is written in present tense. I settled into it eventually, but books written in present tense are just not my favorite. However, the flair with which Casey McQuiston writes far outshines any misgivings I have about present tense prose. In hindsight, the present tense added to the hopeful tone at times, emphasizing that that hopeful time is now.
Casey McQuiston knows that many people who pick up RED, WHITE, AND ROYAL BLUE do so with trepidation about the current state of American political affairs. The story starts out presenting President Claremont in a straightforward manner, as if having a female President post-Obama is incredibly natural, as opposed to the strange dystopia in which we live. Gradually as the political climate is threatened, somehow hope builds in the face of the characters’ perseverance. Scene after scene, I came to realize that the present tense lent that the hopeful time is the present, and that it’s never too late, leading to the climax at the very end – will she or won’t she? Will we see Ellen Claremont re-elected in 2020?
(Of course I won’t tell you, you have to read the book and meet all these lovely people first, silly!)
MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
I cannot sing the praises of RED, WHITE, AND ROYAL BLUE enough. It is a beacon of light in a dark political time. I feel so hopeful that this book – a queer new adult romance, with a Democratic female president at its forefront – is now a New York Times bestseller for its first week, and fingers crossed, many more to come.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: The FSOTUS, Alex, and Prince Henry of England are placed in a forced friendship situation and develop a hate-to-love romance, with hearty sides of hopeful post-Obama American politics and steamy emails.
Genre: New adult contemporary romance
Trigger/content warning: grief, death, pancreatic cancer, explicit sex, some homophobic and misogynistic remarks framed negatively, racism framed negatively, outing, alcohol use, drug use and addiction, mention of past sexual assault, outing framed negatively