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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

'The Royal We' by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Received from NetGalley

From the BLURB:

"I might be Cinderella today, but I dread who they'll think I am tomorrow. I guess it depends on what I do next."

American Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister, Lacey, has always been the romantic who fantasized about glamour and royalty, fame and fortune. Yet it's Bex who seeks adventure at Oxford and finds herself living down the hall from Prince Nicholas, Great Britain's future king. And when Bex can't resist falling for Nick, the person behind the prince, it propels her into a world she did not expect to inhabit, under a spotlight she is not prepared to face.

Dating Nick immerses Bex in ritzy society, dazzling ski trips, and dinners at Kensington Palace with him and his charming, troublesome brother, Freddie. But the relationship also comes with unimaginable baggage: hysterical tabloids, Nick's sparkling and far more suitable ex-girlfriends, and a royal family whose private life is much thornier and more tragic than anyone on the outside knows. The pressures are almost too much to bear, as Bex struggles to reconcile the man she loves with the monarch he's fated to become.

Which is how she gets into trouble.

Now, on the eve of the wedding of the century, Bex is faced with whether everything she's sacrificed for love-her career, her home, her family, maybe even herself-will have been for nothing.

‘The Royal We’ is the new book from authors Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan – also known as the Fuggirls who run ‘Go Fug Yourself’, the comedy blog devoted to fashion and celebrity.

I love the Fuggirls – I’ve long been a fan of their blog, which is more funny than vicious when it comes to celebrity fashion commentary. And I loved their debut novel, a young adult fare called ‘Spoiled’. Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan’s novel writing has been a seamless transition from their blog writing; with all of their wit and sparking humor translating well to fiction. ‘The Royal We’ is not another YA book, instead it’s a chick-lit royal romance … sort of Meg Cabot’s ‘Princess Diaries’ for adults, if you will.

The very clever (American) cover hints at what this story is riffing off of – royal fever, thanks to Kate and Wills. It’s the story of American exchange student Rebecca ‘Bex’ Porter who spends a year at Oxford studying art, where she is share-housed with his royal highness Prince Nicholas … the book covers eight years in the friendship-turned-romance of Bex and Nick. Intriguingly the prologue begins near to their wedding day, with Bex receiving vaguely threatening text messages and anticipating a scandal of epic proportions – then it backtracks to their first meeting in 2007. Bex tells her side of their love-story, occasionally using the framework of an unauthorized biography ‘The Bexicon’ to separate their far messier reality from the fairytale fiction that abounds.

Clever cover aside, ‘The Royal We’ is not a chick-lit rip-off of Kate Middleton and Prince William’s romance. In ‘The Royal We’, Cocks and Morgan have cleverly created an alternate British history for these royal Lyons. Nick is the eldest and in line for the throne – he also has a younger cavorting brother called Freddie, whom the media have dubbed “ginger gigolo”. While their mother is not deceased, there is a tragic tale linked to her, which has very much impacted on the boys’ upbringing and hatred for the press. And there is a family matriarch – Queen Eleanor – who quietly rules over her brood and the nation with an iron fist. Bex, meanwhile, has a twin in sister called Lacey – whom the media eventually dub “racy Lacey” for her antics.

“Right,” Marj said, sweeping in and dropping an iPod in my lap. “In there you’ll find preapproved music for which you are allowed to express a public affinity. Some classical, some pop, some dance, and nobody who’s ever eaten meat in front of Paul McCartney.” She sighed. “That ruled out rather a lot of them.” 
I scrolled through it. “Oh, good, I get the Spice Girls?” 
“Eleanor enjoys the frightening one,” Marj said.

Clearly, Kate and Wills provide some inspiration. But to be honest, most modern European royal families have become more interesting of late, particularly when it comes to their love lives … just this year Sweden's Prince Carl Philip (known to have been a bit of a ‘Playboy Prince’) married Sofia Hellqvist, an ex-glamour model and reality-TV star. Australia remains quite chuffed with our own Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark – who caught the eye Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark, while at a party in Sydney during the 2000 Summer Olympics. And let’s not forget that the press had a field day with stories that Princess Charlene of Monaco tried to run away on her wedding day. But really, it’s not just modern royals whose love lives have captivated the world. Edward VIII abdicated the throne so he could marry the divorcee Wallis Simpson … and, actually, let’s do forget that in the original hacking scandal of the 90s, recorded phone-calls revealed that Prince Charles wanted to be Camilla Parker Bowles’ tampon. And the Fuggirls love them all – some of their best posts of late have been in the name of royal-watching.

They do clearly take inspiration and research from it – particularly in the milestone trajectories and media stories. For instance, Bex cops a lot of flack over her first jobs out of college – first for a greeting card company and then an art charity. Much in the same way Kate was once ripped apart in the media for having a “frivolous” job as accessories-buyer for Jigsaw. And the complexities of Bex and Nick’s relationship take up a lot of the book’s friction. Nick doesn’t want their relationship to go public, so Bex is left to feel like the “other woman” in Nick’s life. When they do go public the palace offers Bex no help, and she’s left to the media swarm of misogynistic paparazzi camped outside her house and workplace.

But of course most of the book is Bex wrestling with the public persona versus reality – both hers and Nick’s – and trying to never lose sight of herself in the melee.

I loved ‘The Royal We’ – it is hands-down, one of my favorite books of 2015. It’s both charming and meaty, the antithesis of glossed-over royal love stories presented in the media. Bex and Nick make so many mistakes that are at odds with their airbrushed personas, that I loved them instantly. Bex, in particular, is whip-smart and lovely;

“So what now?” Lacey asked. 
“I figured we’d hang for a bit, then send Mom and Dad to the theater.” 
“I mean with Nick.” 
“We’re going to usurp the throne, and invade Switzerland just to be cute,” I said.

It’s quite a feat, but Cocks and Morgan made this royal fairytale into a realistic romance … because they do take some inspiration from Kate and Wills, there’s even a break-up period for them. And I loved that their musings on this were so relatable; 

“I’ve tried not missing you. I’ve tried so hard,” I said, rolling onto my back. “But if it works, it never lasts.” I shook my head. “Sometimes I just wanted to talk to my friend Nick about my ex-boyfriend Nick.”

‘The Royal We’ also has some of the best secondary characters. Freddie and Lacey play out a storyline that reminded me of those spoof wedding photographs that came out after the royal nuptials. And I was somewhat surprised that in a book like this, the only time I felt slightly bad for the real-life inspirations for characters was in Lacey/Pippa Middleton. Lacey is a hard character to like, but so is Pippa Middleton whose pinnacle so far has been having a very nice bum. Remember that party-planning book she wrote? Or that friend she has who thinks it’s funny to wave a fake gun around? How about her axed Telegraph column?

Freddie was one of my favourite characters – and not just because he’s clearly a nod to everybody’s favourite cheeky (sometimes gobshite) royal, Prince Harry. If there is a sequel (and dear god, I’m hoping there is!) I’d love it to be about Freddie. Probably because everybody is waiting with bated breath for Harry to settle down … I want Freddie to get his happy ending too. In ‘The Royal We’ he’s written with such tenderness, his larrikin layers stripped back to reveal a character of quite addictive depth. More Freddie, please!

I loved this book. It has just the right amount of head-nodding to reality, that tickles a reader’s curiosity about what goes on behind the scenes of those carefully calculated royals…

British and American flags bob vigorously as the teeming throng chants, sings, and cheers, at least a quarter of them wearing ghastly paper novelty masks of my face that will dance in the foreground of my nightmares for the rest of my life (matched for creepiness only by the time Nick put one on and danced around in his boxers, just to goad me).

… but this story revels in the messiness of reality, above all else, and presents these modern-day fairytale figures as human and fallible, lovely and funny. This is a favorite of 2015 for me.

5/5 


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