The Han to My Leia: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (ARC)

This book is probably one of the gayest things I’ve ever read…and my god, it was glorious. After the last two Netgalley ARCs I reviewed ended up sitting around the two-star mark, I was seriously starting to panic about ending up blacklisted for being a massive grump. Thank goodness for Red, White & Royal Blue.

Who, What, Where?

Alex Claremont- Diaz is the son of America’s first female president and has big plans for his own political career. That is, until a confrontation at a royal wedding between Alex and his so called “nemesis”, Prince Henry of Great Britain, is caught on camera, posing a threat to international relations. With the PR teams in damage control, a plan is devised to fix it: stage a fake friendship between Alex and Henry. Alex can’t imagine anything worse. However, as the two spend more time together, they start to realise that maybe the other person isn’t who they thought they were. As President Claremont kicks off her re-election bid, Alex finds himself in the middle of a secret relationship, the last thing he needs getting out to the press. But is being with Henry worth potentially jeopardising not only his own future but that of his family?

I Love You All!

I’ve had a lot of trouble lately finding book characters that I really love, but good gosh did I love these.

Alex: Cocky, smug, loud-mouthed, and YET, a damn national treasure. Never underestimate his ability to make you spontaneously break out into a giant grin. Honestly, he’s that little shit of a character that were he a real person would drive you up the wall but be impossible not to love. If that doesn’t convince you, let me also say, he’s a) mixed race, b) the grandchild of immigrants, c) bisexual, and d) has undiagnosed ADHD.

Henry: If you were sitting there going, I need another sweet, cinnamon roll character in my life, LOOK NO FURTHER. Henry George Edward James Fox-Mountchristen-Windsor has arrived. Henry is closeted gay and feels trapped by the expectations placed upon members of the royal family. He’s a romantic, big on both Star Wars and classic literature, a little more reserved, and genuinely enjoys charity work. He also has a thing for boys with chin dimples who insult him.

Henry & Alex aside, RW&RB is also full of great side characters. Even better, so many of them are amazing women. Firstly, there’s June (Alex’s sister) and Nora (granddaughter to the VP), who are the kind of people you 100% need in your support network. They’re smart, confident, ambitious, fantastic wing-women, and good at keeping Alex’s ego in check.

Nora grins. “Hmm.” She pretends to think hard about it. “Risk assessment: FSOTUS failing to check himself before he wrecks himself will result in greater than five hundred civilian casualties. Ninety-eight percent probability of Prince Henry looking like a total dreamboat. Seventy-eight percent probability of Alex getting himself banned from the United Kingdom forever.”

“Those are better odds than I expected,” June observes.

Alex’s mother, President Ellen Claremont, somehow manages to be both a respected leader and a supportive parent (but that won’t stop her from making jokes about faking your death for sympathy votes). There’s also Zahra, the President’s Deputy Chief of Staff, who has no time for anyone’s, especially Alex’s, crap. She’s half scary, half hilarious. Regarding Alex’s profile fact sheet to help Henry fake their friendship:

“Does he get one of these for me?” Alex asks helplessly.

“Yep. And for the record, making it was one of the most depressing moments of my career.”

Ouch.

Laughs for Days

This book cracked me up, repeatedly. Sometimes it was the situations, but mostly, it was the banter. My lord, the dialogue, the quips, there’s just so many winners here. Throughout the book, Henry and Alex spend a lot of time texting, calling and e-mailing each other from across the world, and these exchanges are fantastically done. The two just bounce off each other magically and the chemistry is off the charts.

“In world’s most boring meeting with Philip. Don’t let the papers print lies about me after I’ve garrotted myself with my tie”…

“[W]as it a meeting about which of your cousins have to marry each other to take back casterly rock?”

** ***** **

“Alex?…Have you really rung me at three o’clock in the morning to make me listen to a turkey?”

“Yes, obviously.”

Ship that Romance!

The relationship between Alex and Henry progresses nicely over the course of the book and I feel like having the story take place over a period of more than a year really helped with this. I adored watching these two characters grow from having a rather strained relationship to friends who could light-heartedly poke fun at each other and then lovers. While the amount of gushy-lovey-dovey-ness in the middle of the book did get a bit much for me (there’s a lot of e-mails involving romantic quotes from literature and history), it’s hard to mind too much because these two are so darn cute together. Just….argggggg…*unintelligible noises*

External Angst

One of the things that frustrates me a little in romances is when characters cause conflict unnecessarily by acting stupidly or worrying about silly things. While there is perhaps one moment of slightly internal based conflict in Henry & Alex’s relationship, it’s resolved quickly (mostly by Alex swearing loudly at a bunch of people). The rest of the issues they face are more of an us-against-the world variety which is so much easier to get behind.

Political Colour

While I massively enjoyed the main romance storyline, I also like the fact that the US election was more than just a background element. By having a proper contribution to the overall plot through some choice drama moments, the story felt better tied together and the ending was much more satisfying. Some of it may go over people’s heads, but for those that are disillusioned with the current American political situation, this alternate reality will make you feel a little better (and think about what could have been).

Celebrate Queer

Honestly, this book is just so wonderfully queer positive, I can’t even find the right words to express it. Is it all a little bit too good to be real, yes, but who the hell cares? You’ve got: *SPOILERS*

  • Alex questioning his sexuality, realising that he’s bisexual and coming out to his family with amazing support
  • Henry proclaiming that he’s gay, refusing to cover it up again and finally having his family rally around him.
  • A publicly gay senator, despite adversity, kicking ass in his political career and fighting against abuses of power
  • The broader international community standing up for Henry and Alex’s relationship

All of the yes.

I could go on, but I won’t. To put it simply, this book was wonderful, and I enjoyed almost every minute of it. If you’re a fan of contemporary romances and looking for something sweet, funny, charming and positive, RW&RB will be the ray of sunshine your week needs.

5 Stars

*** ARC received from St Martin’s Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**

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4 thoughts on “The Han to My Leia: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (ARC)

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