by Alyssa Cole
Series: Reluctant Royals #3
Publication Date: April 30, 2019
I received an advance review copy of this book from Edelweiss. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
The Reluctant Royals series returns with a good girl searching for the life that’s not too big, and not too small, and the bad boy prince who might be just right for her…
Nya Jerami fled Thesolo for the glitz and glamour of NYC but discovered that her Prince Charming only exists in her virtual dating games. When Nya returns home for a royal wedding, she accidentally finds herself up close and personal—in bed—with the real-life celebrity prince who she loves to hate.
For Johan von Braustein, the red-headed step-prince of Liechtienbourg, acting as paparazzi bait is a ruse that protects his brother—the heir to the throne—and his own heart. When a royal referendum threatens his brother’s future, a fake engagement is the perfect way to keep the cameras on him.
Nya and Johan both have good reasons to avoid love, but as desires are laid bare behind palace doors, they must decide if their fake romance will lead to a happily-ever-after.
I say this every time one of Ms. Cole’s books comes out, but I think she is hands-down today’s best romance writer. This book, like all of her others, absolutely ripped my heart out and then made me cry happy tears, so, yeah, be ready for the feels! It’s a bit enemies-to-lovers, a bit forced proximity, and a bit fake dating – in other words, it hits so many of my favorite tropes that it’s no surprise that this has become my favorite of the series. This is the third in the Reluctant Royals series, and I would not recommend reading it as a standalone as much of Nya’s back story (and Johan’s for that matter) is covered in previous books.
“Perhaps her father had been right with his constant reminders she should dream smaller, want less—the simple fact was that for Nya, New York had simply been too big.”
Nya is, reluctantly, returning home to Thesolo for the wedding of her cousin Ledi’s wedding to the crown prince. She’s practically a pariah in her country due to her father’s treason, including his attempt to murder Ledi. Her father abused her, physically and emotionally, and part of that was presenting her as so sickly and weak that she couldn’t attend college or do basically anything without her father’s help. That perception of her has stuck, even with her closet friends, and Nya’s starting to believe it herself, considering her decision to temporarily move to NYC has not gone as well as she expected. Running into Johan, prince of Liechtienbourg and paparazzi favorite, on the private plane on the way there doesn’t help matters, especially when he propositions her. As the wedding festivities proceed, she discovers that Johan’s bad boy ways are a facade, and their friendship starts to turn into something else. But love is an unexpected and unwanted complication for both of them. Can it win out over a lifetime of emotional scars?
“Do you mean it? Or are you just trying to make yourself feel better?” Her voice was firm, with no hint of his charm having worked on her.
“Yes. I mean, no. I’m apologizing because I shouldn’t have behaved that way,” he responded, surprised to find himself flustered.
“If you take a moment to think before saying offensive things to a woman, and then don’t say them, you’ll have nothing to apologize for and she won’t have to make you feel better about it.” She tapped her index finger thoughtfully against her temple as she looked at him, then reached for a magazine on her tray table and pulling it into her lap, ignoring him.
“Keep your apology.” She flipped the magazine open.”
I adored Nya to pieces. She’s been so sheltered for most of her life that she really has no idea how to act in a lot of situations, but she’s got a backbone of steel – once she learns how to use it. After spending her whole life basically caged by her father, she’s eager to experience everything the world has to offer, if a bit terrified. I loved her obsession with dating games, including one called “One True Prince,” where she’s romanced all the princes except Basitho (based on her soon to be cousin-in-law, so too weird) and “Hanjo.” Watching the dual romances proceed was utterly hilarious, especially with how badly her initial interactions with Johan go. Frankly, she initially hates/envies Johan’s seeming ease with any situation, his extrovertedness, basically everything about him. That Johan’s bad boy status was a facade meant to protect his younger brother is something we found out in the last book, and, since Nya’s quite smart, something she figures out quickly as well. Johan, to some extent, seems based on the British princes. His mother died when he was a teen, and the media coverage of it greatly shaped his approach to life. He’s a redhead, like Prince Harry. At one point in this book, Portia calls him a “fuckboy with a heart of gold,” and it’s a good summation of his two personas. Johan initially started watching Nya because he didn’t believe she wasn’t involved with her father’s plot to overthrow Thabiso, and he wanted to protect his childhood friend. But even as his emotions slowly moved from cynicism to interest, he came up with a million reasons why he couldn’t get involved with her. They are, truly, complete opposites, both in how they approach life and how they’ve responded to their respective traumas, and watching their relationship develop was so emotionally fulfilling. The sex scenes were ridiculously hot, which is especially amazing considering that Nya’s a virgin, so they don’t go straight to the main event right away.
There’s a whole lot more going on in the book, from a royal wedding, to an ambassadorial trip, to a referendum and a really sweet storyline with Johan’s sibling. Naturally, the previous couples show up (I mean, it would be pretty silly if Ledi and Thabiso missed their own wedding), and the “International Friend Emporium chat” – basically a group text between the heroines – makes another appearance. It’s always nice to see a heroine with a really supportive group of friends and even more fun when they’re previous heroines.
“We do not do good to be praised for it, Jo-Jo, but because one good deed is like a ripple in the water. You have no idea how far one ripple will spread, or who it will reach.
The familiar anger at the unfairness of his mother’s passing lunged up in him at the memory of her words, at the reality that her ripples had been stilled forever, but he tamped it down with practiced efficiency.”
This book was difficult for me to read (and difficult for me to review!) Johan’s trauma closely parallels some of mine (though, alas, I’m not a royal) and there were times I had to put the book down because it hit too close to home. There’s a particular scene, when Johan gets an unexpected call from his stepfather about his brother, and Johan immediately assumes the worst – that he’s hurt, asking what hospital he’s at, if he’s going to be ok – because he remembers that his stepfather had used similar words to tell him his mother had died. Ms. Cole did an amazing job of showing his panicked state, the remembered trauma, enough that I started feeling my own chest get tight. It felt deep and real, and it made the Johan’s eventual turning point moment – where he realizes, thanks to Nya’s influence, where he’s been going wrong – entirely cathartic.
Overall, this was an excellent book, and it’s going to be a strong contender for my #1 book of the year. It also managed to edge out A Princess in Theory as my favorite in this series, which is also on my top 10 of all time favorite romance series. I honestly can’t think of another series where each of the entries, including the novellas, has been so entirely amazing in different ways, and I cannot wait to see what Ms. Cole has in store next!