Review: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

“[W]e’re gonna do it together. And we’re gonna make it work. You and me and history, remember?”
Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ (4.5/5 - hopeful, heartfelt and hilarious.)

What’s This Book About?

Genre: Rom-com/Contemporary (definitely New Adult – content warning for sex and swearing! There are a lot of filthy mouths in this book.)

Synopsis: First Son Alex Claremont-Díaz is the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius— pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House.

There’s only one problem: Alex’s feud with the youngest and most popular British prince, Henry. When the tabloids get ahold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations soon sour.

Damage control: a truce between the two rivals. As their fake friendship deepens, Alex tumbles headfirst into a clandestine affair with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the re-election campaign and upend two nations.

Could love save the world after all? 

What I Thought:

This book was 25% enemies to lovers, 25% fling to forever, 25% laugh out loud, 25% tears shed…and 100% heart and hope. Although it may not have been quite as spectacular as the hype train led me to expect, ‘Red, White & Royal Blue’ certainly held up well under my enormous anticipation.

Style and Formatting:

Straight off the bat, I wasn’t keen on the third person present-tense narration, and it definitely took some time to get used to – I kept thinking it was omniscient narration! The flow of the book might have benefitted from a first person perspective instead, especially as it becomes clear early on that Alex is the major protagonist of RW&RB, and the only point-of-view that the reader directly experiences. I did really enjoy the epistolary sections of the book though: the exchange of emails and texts between Alex and Henry. These were essential to their character and relationship development, plus some important exposition. It was a bonus that their correspondence was in turn hilarious, heart-wrenchingly beautiful with a hefty dose of the adorable! I’ve included some examples below – but really, you should read RW&RB yourself and find your favourites ;):

HRH Prince Dickhead
You are the thistle in the tender and sensitive arse crack of my life.
[Alex]
thanks!
on the map of you, my fingers can always find the green hills, wales. cool waters and a shore of white chalk. the ancient part of you carved out of stone in a prayerful circle, sacrosanct. your spine’s a ridge i’d die climbing.
Should I tell you that when we’re apart, your body comes back to me in dreams? … That, for a few moments, I can hold my breath and be back there with you, in a dream, in a thousand rooms, nowhere at all?
I bloody love the way McQuiston writes: her style is vivid, highly quotable and capable of deftly reaching into your chest and giving your heart a squeeze. Though sometimes chapters felt overlong, and I often expected them to end before they did, I didn’t really mind overall.

The Romance:

The chemistry between Henry and Alex simply pops off the page, with excellent relationship development and a finely tuned balance between profound emotion and laugh-out-loud levity. I can tell why fans of the SnowBaz pair from Rowell’s Carry On would enjoy this rom-com! Alex is a sparkling, vivacious solar flare of energy, while Henry reminds me a great river – the slight ruffles on the surface belying the huge emotional power and hidden depths roiling below.

It shouldn’t work so perfectly—it makes absolutely no sense—but it does. There’s something about the two of them, the way they ignite at different temperatures, Alex’s frenetic energy and Henry’s aching sureness.
The banter they have and the way they complement each other is so enjoyable to read, and you really end up rooting for them against all odds. (Though they’re really racking up the carbon emissions!) Alex X Henry do remind me of SnowBaz (Alex being the magical powerhouse Simon and Henry being the façade-of-cool-over-raw-feelings Basilton) – but Alex and Henry are both such unique characters that I never felt like I was reading the same love story. I just love this sort of yin-and-yang character dynamic! This romance sails through some heady highs and gutting lows, and I was so invested that I viscerally experienced all the joy and grief right alongside the characters themselves. The ‘I love you’ realisation and declaration scenes (and the lead-ups to them) in particular really stuck with me. I cried literal tears!

Another great aspect of the romance was how it played into Alex’s questioning phase and personal growth.

How was [Alex] supposed to know back then if he wanted to look like other guys, or if he wanted other guys?

Straight people, he thinks, probably don’t spend this much time convincing themselves they’re straight.
When I read up to this part, I could only think, ‘this book would have been a godsend for me a few years ago’. I hope RW&RB helps other readers too!

The Characters

The major and minor protagonists are all well-written and easy to connect with, bound to each other with lively dialogue and the tenderness of sibling love – whether its by blood or found family. I’d definitely read a spin-off on Zahra and her fiancé! I also absolutely loved how the mothers of Alex and Henry really stepped up to defend their sons. On the other hand, Henry’s controlling, somewhat homophobic and highly patronising elder brother Philip felt a little on the superficial side. He seems to play a caricature of a conservative, wealthy bigot serving as a foil to his much more likeable siblings. There’s a small explanation of his personality and why he acts this way very near the end, but then again, it’s not his story so I can see why writing an ‘excuse’ (is there even one? I personally don’t think so) for his behaviour was foregone. The motives of Queen Mary, the antagonist on the British side of the Atlantic, are easier to understand, though I thoroughly dislike her too.

Hope and Politics

By and large, I enjoyed the politics and social commentary in this book. It champions that honesty, love and genuinely caring about the general public is an ethos that can actually succeed in the political arena. A little package of optimism that I think we could all do with!

“I wanted to believe in some people being good and doing [politics] because they want to do good. Doing the right things most of the time and most things for the right reasons. I wanted to be the kind of person who believes in that.”
I was a less keen on the broad brush political stereotyping of those who voted Leave in the 2016 Brexit referendum. Henry’s mother Catherine classes them as “the Brexit fools” in a scene in which she vociferously defends her son and Alex, coming across as a definite protagonist. I know for a fact that not everyone who voted Brexit is a fool. I know for a fact that openly gay people voted Leave. I’m not sure that this oversimplification is helpful towards mutual discussions and understanding – those who feel ‘Othered’ will likely not want to talk to people who they think hate them! (And does characterising Brexiteers as opponents of change really hold water as a comparison?) I also questioned some potentially ageist things Catherine said to her mother – I can’t really tell if it’s actually ageism, but I felt deeply uncomfortable. (That whole Buckingham Palace scene was a big mess, to be honest.)

The aforementioned oversimplification wasn’t reflected in USA political commentary though, as Alex emphasises to a colleague how there are bigots everywhere, not only in southern or Republican-voting states, as stereotypically assumed.

“There just aren’t the same number of bigots in blue states. If they don’t want to be left behind, maybe people in red states should do something about it.”
And Alex has, quite frankly, had it.
“Did you forget that you’re working on the campaign of someone Texas f***ing created?…“Why don’t we talk about how there’s a chapter of the Klan in every state? You think there aren’t racists and homophobes growing up in Vermont?”
The USA 2020 election night was also an incredible scene. I was sobbing my eyes out, and I think I connected so deeply with the tension and disbelieving euphoria because I read this so soon after Hong Kong’s stunning local elections.

Celebrity as Commodity

Another thing RW&RB gets right is its succinct, hilarious and razor-sharp portrayal of the commodification of celebrity. That random British girl weeping because she ‘lost’ her chance to marry Prince Henry perfectly illustrates the utter lack of regard for Henry’s feelings. There is only a consideration of what ‘problem’ Henry’s sexuality poses for a complete stranger, and no understanding of him as a real person, only as a saleable, own-able Prince Charming fantasy.

Reality and Consistency

I’d sometimes get distracted by things that seemed odd, usually regarding the Royal Family. I kept wondering if the real Royals would actually do half the political errands Henry’s drafted into…I just can’t really imagine Prince William flying out to DC with Boris Johnson just to have dinner with Trump!

Goodreads should also update its blurb because Prince Henry, one half of this epic star-crossed transatlantic love affair, is certainly not the Prince of Wales. I’m not even sure if he’s the Duke of Cambridge or Sussex? It all depends if Henry’s mother Catherine is Princess of Wales (which I doubt), meaning Henry’s elder brother Philip is Prince of Wales – and making Henry the Duke of Cambridge, because in this world, the Perth Agreement (replacing male-preference primogeniture to absolute primogeniture) never happened and therefore Henry’s older sister Beatrice wouldn’t rank higher than Henry and be Duchess of Cambridge (is she Duchess of Sussex?). Seriously, can someone who knows more about British royal titles please explain to me the line of succession for this fictional British royal family??? (Please.)

Overall…

…a memorable and highly enjoyable read from a promising debut author whose work I’ll definitely be following in the coming years!

“Meet you in every dream…Keep most of your heart in Washington…Miss you like a home…We two longing loves…My young king.”
‘One day,’ he tells himself. ‘One day, us too’.

5 thoughts on “Review: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

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