review: red, white & royal blue by casey mcquiston

Ah, yes, the one trope that sings to me the most: rivals to “if we never have to be in the same vicinity as each other, it'll be too soon” to “ugh we're forced to work together to save our countries' reputations but this doesn't change anything I still very much cannot stand you” to “wait, you're actually kind of a decent person and we get along really well, I might have judged you too harshly but don't read too much into it” to “oh god I think I might actually like you but THIS DOESN'T MEAN ANYTHING” to “goddammit I will literally fistfight the moon for you and kill anyone who dares lay a finger on you I am so screwed” to lovers. An undefeated arc.


Alex Claremont-Diaz, the Mexican-American first son of the United States, tolerates Henry, the Prince of England, to about the same degree that Henry tolerates him, which is not at all. When one of their verbal sparring matches ends in a “cataclysmically, internationally, terrible way”, Alex and Henry have no choice but to play nice with each other. Of course, building a friendship with your sworn nemesis is never easy; doing it out of a grudging sense of obligation is virtually impossible. Only, neither Alex nor Henry are prepared for when it all ceases to be pretend. There is no pretending away the momentous thing tentatively taking shape between them. How with every traded truth, every phone call at an ungodly hour in the morning, every stolen fugitive moment in a hotel room, they've slowly, inexorably worn at the shells surrounding each other's hearts. And with every crack, it is harder to deny this thing blazing between them. Yet, all the same, reality threatens to shatter it all.

“Do you feel forever about him?” And there’s no room left to agonize over it, nothing left to do but say the thing he is known all along. “Yeah,” he says, “I do.”

Is it possible for your whole body to grin? Because that's what reading this novel felt like. Red, White & Royal Blue is a beautiful story of romance that pulled a smile from a new place in me where so much joy had been waiting in reserve. I read it in one single, feverish setting, drawing out the last 50 pages or so, absolutely unable—unwilling—to let this book go. The novel’s warm heart leaped out to my cold one, and I held on like someone who suspected it all of being a dream that is about to end and leave them falling.


Yes, the rumors are true, folks: I am a hopeless romantic. What else to call it—this aching loging for someone to feel for me some glimmer of what Henry and Alex feel for each other? To find that one person who has so much tenderness for you, whom you can talk to and emerge each time a bit less uncertain, a bit more yourself, the one person who will help you lay out the indistinct chaos of your life, so there’d be less of a tangle in your heart? Just the sheer joy of simply knowing another.

When Alex was a kid, before anyone knew his name, he dreamed of love like it was a fairy tale, as if it would come sweeping into his life on the back of a dragon one day. When he got older, he learned about love as a strange thing that could fall apart no matter how badly you wanted it, a choice you make anyway. He never imagined it’d turn out he was right both times.

There’s such a flood of love spooling out between Henry and Alex, tender and joyful and pure. I love how Alex glides into love unaware, too terrified to put a name to the immensity of his feelings, to make it definite and thus inescapable. Then, he plummeted, and it was unmistakable. And all the while, Henry was there, with a lit cinder of hope in his words, and the calm resignation to the inevitable of people aching with the yearning to be loved back.


Though the fiercely kindled core of the story is the burgeoning connection between Henry and Alex, each of the characters does a lot of growing, individually, throughout the novel. Red, White & Royal Blue is a story lit up like a beacon for those of us still struggling against the confines of family and legacy and creating a life all your own. It is a story of hope; hope that in a world wrecked by tragedy, where goodness seems so vanishingly rare, it is still worth it to care, to dream, to believe that with earnest work and effort, the sands of the world would, grain by grain, shine bright once again.

“Take anything you want and know you deserve to have it.”

I also really love how the author handles, with such care and sensitivity and compassion, the bisexual awakening of a character who only comes to realise, accept and embraces his bisexuality in his twenties. Learning the facets of one's gender and sexuality is a journey with no definite beginning or end point. The myth of "coming out" too early or too late is just that: a myth. And I appreciate the author for adding their voice to the growing number of queer literature shattering the glass cannons of such received notions.


Red, White & Royal Blue also succeeds with brilliance and verve in addressing issues about racism, gender, responsibility, and ethics. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the cheeky undercurrent flowing through the novel—the arched eyebrow, the bold and confiding voice. It was all so glorious. As glorious at the fact that this book, at its heart, is a joyful celebration of the people who work so hard to carve out a place for themselves in a world that gives them freely to everyone else—those who are told that their dreams do not match where they came from and would therefore never be realized, those who love and believe in spite of odium and condemnation.

Thinking about history makes me wonder how I’ll fit into it one day, I guess. And you too. I kinda wish people still wrote like that. History, huh? Bet we could make some.

This is genuinely one of the best romance novels that I’ve ever read. I know I keep saying love is fake, but reading this book melted my cold dead heart and I’m a believer again. And though I have always been incapable of choosing a "favorite book," I know now that if I had to be stuck on a desert island, with only one book to bring with me, it would most likely be this one.

 

Have you read Red, White & Royal Blue yet? If you haven't, I'm really jealous you get to experience it for the first time.

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