(originally posted 22 March 2021)
“Sometimes you just jump and hope it’s not a cliff.”
Red, White & Royal Blue (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2019), the debut novel by Casey McQuiston, begins less with a jump and more with a trip and tumble as Alex Claremont-Diaz, First Son of the United States, causes a diplomatic disaster when he and his archnemesis Prince Henry, grandson of Great Britain’s Queen Mary, have an altercation at the royal wedding reception of Henry’s older brother Phillip that ends with the two of them ruining a $75,000 wedding cake. To smooth over U.S./British relations, the heads of state devise a plan to dupe the media into believing Alex and Henry are friends, putting an end to their tabloid rivalry. However, what starts out as enemies faking a friendship for good publicity soon turns into something more as the pair become closer, creating a whole new set of political and personal problems for Alex, Henry, and their famous families.
While this easily could have been a frivolous queer twist on the American-meets-European Royal fantasy in the hands of a lesser writer, McQuiston offers a narrative that is emotional and engaging, creating a perfect tension of humor, drama, and romance. Alex and Henry’s kinetic relationship drives the novel: through clandestine encounters, lakeside getaways, late-night texts, and e-mail exchanges, the reader is caught up in the whirlwind of their transatlantic affair. By weaving in love letters from prominent historical figures suspected of or confirmed as queer, as well as references to Jane Austen and Star Wars, McQuiston firmly situates Alex and Henry as a new classic pairing—and the placement is apt. From their cake mishap to their first kiss, the duo’s Elizabeth and Darcy, Han and Leia sexual tension could be sliced through with a lightsaber. Because this is a work of New Adult fiction, targeting an audience slightly older than the YA crowd, these moments of tension occasionally lead to horned up (but well-written and totally tasteful!) sex in any room that is vacant and available. These scenes are more gratifying than gratuitous, an unburdening of the restraint of hiding their relationship in public, where Alex and Henry can only communicate their feelings through an arm thrown over a shoulder or a brief meeting of their knees under a table. Their physical relationship is strengthened by their open communication and weighted with the significance of other moments between the FSOTUS and the prince, like when Henry shows Alex his favorite spot in the Victoria and Albert Museum after hours, or when they drunkenly sing karaoke with their sisters and friends.
At times it is difficult to not draw comparisons between Prince Henry and the real-life Prince Harry, as they are both the “spare” to their older brothers, have lost a parent, and are in relationships heavily scrutinized by the media. When Henry confronts his brother and the Queen about his relationship, his message is reminiscent of statements Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have made in the past, most recently in their interview earlier this year with Oprah Winfrey, regarding the discriminatory treatment Markle and their son Archie faced at the hands of the British royal family. While certain aspects of the novel may speak to real-world events, the narrative stands on its own and remains what McQuiston states is “a tongue-in-cheek parallel universe,” offering a rewarding, joyful fantasy that—if you are like me—you will tear through over the course of a 24-hour period.
For more information on Casey McQuiston and their upcoming novel, One Last Stop, visit their website here.