Suddenly Royal by Nichole Chase is a New Adult fairytale romance. I had mixed feelings about the book, primarily because it read very much like a YA novel to me with the exception of the sex scenes. I felt like it was a book 15-year-old Elyse would have loved, but 30-year-old Elyse was lukewarm on.
A word of warning, this book is written in first person POV, so if you hate that, you can stop reading now and go back to kitten GIFS.
Our heroine is Samantha Rousseau, a graduate student studying biology. She's also taking care of her stepfather who is battling cancer. Like a true Disney heroine, Samantha's biological parents are gone. Samantha is interested in orinthology, specifically raptors, and she works at a wildlife center helping to rehabilitate birds. Her college campus is in an uproar because HRH Prince Alex D'Lynsal of Lilaria is in town. When Sam receives an invitation to have lunch with the prince and his aunt, she assumes it has something to do with the wildlife sanctuary and a possible donation or sponsorship. Falconry is still a thing in Lilaria, apparently. Imagine her surprise when she shows up to lunch and finds out she's really a duchess.
You see, Lilaria had some political strife in the 1800's, and members of the royal family were meeting with tragic “accidents” and so some members of the aristocracy packed up and fled in the night, including Sam's family. Alex's aunt has tracked Sam down and wants her accept her family estate and holdings and take a place on the queen's council. Because, as you know, if you have a missing duchess for 200 years you just hold on to her property and wealth and hope she turns up again.
I like fairytale tropes A LOT. They are my jam. But I found this Cinderella story too-over-the-top to be believed, and I have a huge capacity for suspending my disbelief. I mean, I read this missing princess/duchess/sultana thing all the time in Harlequin Presents. I might someday draw a map of all the Harlequin Presents countries pasted onto Europe and Asia. Lilaria felt like a combination of Disneyland and Ponyville, too good to be true. The whole story was a little achingly sweet.
First of all, the whole structure of Lilaria was weird. Sam owns an estate and she is responsible for a village. The villagers pay her taxes and she's responsible for their welfare. This is a system that is obviously immune to any form of corruption. I wondered if Sam also had the right to deflower any virgins, but droit du seigneur was never mentioned. Secondly, you know where Lilaria gets it wealth? As a giant tax haven? Nope. It's rich with oil. So where is Lilaria? It's near France. The giant oil sands of France. I mean, make their chief export artisanal cheeses or Lipizzaner horses or maybe delicious wine, but oil? If Lilaria was rich in oil why was it that it was largely unknown to Americans? We love our fucking oil.
Okay, so clearly I could not suspend my disbelief long enough to believe that Lilaria was a place. How about the romance? It was pretty good, certainly very sweet. Prince Alex takes a liking to Sam, partially because she's the only woman around who's not throwing herself into his arms and sobbing. Sam is a good character. She shoulders responsibility without being emo about it, she's self-effacing without being self-abusing, and she has a sense of humor. She likes her life in the US. She likes her graduate work and her owls, and she really isn't happy about suddenly having her world turned upside down. Sam doesn't decide to go to Lilaria until she finds out that they have advanced cancer treatments that may help her stepfather. OF COURSE THEY DO.
She has reservations about Alex, partially because he has a reputation as a playboy. He's had some very public relationships in the past, some not so great, and one involved nude pics being released to the press with his naughty bits pixilated out–a nod to the Prince Harry Vegas junk-holding headlines. I like that their relationship progressed naturally. Sam doesn't completely discount the idea of a relationship with Alex, so this isn't a book where the hero/heroine engage in a battle of wills, but she insists they progress very slowly. For the most part, Sam is a very reasonable, likeable heroine.
Alex is basically Prince Charming. There isn't a ton of substance to him, and his tragic back story is basically a shitty ex, but I liked him, too. I wanted them to fall in love and get their HEA. He woos Sam in some very sweet ways. He doesn't like buy her an entire company or something as billionaire heroes are wont to do. He helps ease her into royal life with humor and compassion.
Had this book been intended for younger readers I would have said that Chase hit her mark perfectly. It has a sweet courtship and a small coming of age story. It's pure cotton-candy spun sugar fantasy. But it isn't a YA novel. It's intended for adults or New Adults, I guess.
Slowly he slid inch by inch inside me until I could feel his balls pressed against my swollen mound. He groaned something in Lilarian and I took a deep breath. It was different, but good. From this angle he filled me completely.
The sex scenes didn't fit the tone of the rest of the book. They were surprisingly steamy for an otherwise sweet book. Now personally, I could have read this book in my teens and been fine. I was reading a lot worse, and I kind of think that if a teenager can read about twelve other teenagers going into a ring and fighting to the death, they can handle reading about consenting adults having enjoyable sex. The point isn't that this book had explicit sex scenes, it's that the rest of it felt toned down.
I found that I couldn't really engage with the story because while Sam's problems were certainly real and adult, her entry in Lilarian aristocracy was just too perfect and easy and wonderful. There were scenes where the paparazzi were chasing her dangerously, and there was back biting and gossip among the other members of the peerage, but overall it went a little too well.
I think Suddenly Royal was intended as fun escapism, but I just couldn't immerse myself in the story enough to find it believable.