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All words: Trisha Brown
As we wait patiently here in 2016 for imminent arrival of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, there is only one tool of diversion better than romance novels: romance novel/fairytale hybrids. These books have all of the castles and fancy clothes of fairytales, plus all the crazy hot sex of romance novels. It often seems that nothing can save us from the shit-show-garbage-fire that is this year, but Emma Chase’s Cinderella fantasy with a bunch of orgasms in it might be our only hope.
Type: Modern day Cinderella story. A very adult modern day Cinderella story: in addition to the aforementioned crazy hot sex, I’m pretty sure no legislative body in the animated Disney Cinderella gets referred to as “a great big bag of smelly dicks.” Though, in fairness, I haven’t seen it in several years so I could be wrong about that.
The couple: Nicholas Arthur Frederick Edward Pembrook is a ridiculous name, but it’s slightly less ridiculous if you’re the crown prince of Wessco. If you’re thinking that country sounds more like a brand of shortening than a constitutional monarchy, you’re not wrong. Much like many “countries” that find their way into complicated fictional love stories, Wessco is made up. Other than that, Nicholas is your typical crown prince: he’s reluctantly responsible, has a screw-up younger brother, and makes any woman he has sex with sign a non-disclosure agreement. Every woman, that is, until Olivia Hammond, a plucky New Yorker who is very busy running a failing coffee/pie shop and taking care of her sister and father. She is so busy, in fact, that she has not had time to read People or the internet for many years, and so doesn’t recognize handsome princes from obscure countries when they cross her path. Also, she’s tough and no problem telling people to fuck themselves because New York.
The story: The fact that it’s 2016 doesn’t keep charming Prince Nicholas’ grandmother/queen from deciding she’s going to arrange-marriage the hell out of him, so he decides to spend his last months of freedom drunkenly screwing around. The screwing around takes him to NYC, and the drunkenness leads him to Olivia’s pie place late one stormy night, where he promptly offends her and she tells him to fuck off. But the charming prince wins over the spirited American, and they live happily, though not ever after. Nicholas’ arranged marriage is hanging over their heads, as is the fact that Olivia is not of Wessconian descent. In case you’ve never seen or read or watched any sort of story dealing with fictional royalty, I’ll warn you: that’s a real problem.
How’s the sex? The sex is mind-bogglingly amazing. Which…fine. Constant earth-shattering sex is an unrealistic feature of romance novels that readers have come to know and love – or at least make our peace with. But, if I may quibble just a bit: there’s something about an heir to a throne who is also a sex-god that feels especially unbelievable. I mean, sure, it’s likely Nicholas has a ton of sex, but if you’re the crown prince of a country, it seems unlikely that your partners will give you an honest assessment of your ability to meet the carnal needs of the women across the land. But, given that a character in this book has sisters named Bibbidy, Bobbidy, and Boo, I have to believe that author Emma Chase made the conscious decision to lean hard into the fantasy aspects of the story. So I guess an inherent aptitude for sex is just part of the deal.
Is this book for you? Royally Screwed has all of the romance novel tropes – grand romantic gestures, overheard conversations that lead to terrible misunderstandings, troubled siblings whose love stories will be told in the sequels, etc. It also has all of the fairytale tropes – makeover scene, overbearing royalty, an abundance of tragically dead parents, etc. But Chase owns it, and if her approach is derivative, it’s intentionally so. The story is formulaic in a way that’s entirely tongue-in-cheek. Chase name checks Genovia, the Princess Diaries creation over which Anne Hathaway is currently ruling in an alternate reality. She takes a page or two from the William and Kate story, but she’s smart enough the make the prince way hotter and the would-be princess way more interesting. And I believe I already mentioned the Bibbidy, Bobbidy, and Boo situation.
Successful romance writing is all about using the formula readers want and doing something interesting with it. Emma Chase’s brand of interesting is writing a story that’s clever, fun, and engaging. She also makes the story more about how the couple will stay together than how they’ll get together, which means the conflicts never feel contrived – at least not in the Wessconian context. Plus, no matter your political alliances, it’s almost definitely a hell of a lot better for your mental health these days than Facebook and Twitter.
Conclusion: Royally Screwed is a sexy, funny escape hatch from real life that allows readers to indulge in the fantasy of delicious pie, love conquering all, and even possible expatriation. It may not change the course of human history, but let’s seize the bright spots where we can find them. At least until America is made great again.