Story: Katharine McGee
What They Say
What if America had a royal family? If you can’t get enough of Harry and Meghan or Kate and William, meet American princesses Beatrice and Samantha. Crazy Rich Asians meets The Crown. Perfect for fans of Red, White, and Royal Blue and The Royal We!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The premise of American Royals immediately brought to mind the Korean manhwa and drama Goong (Princess Hours). Both reimagine modern democratic countries as modern monarchies to form the backdrop of romances involving young royals. Unfortunately, while Goong was captivating, American Royals came across as implausible and tiresome.
The implausibility sprang from the novel’s problematic world building. Whereas Korea has a legacy of kings and nobility for Goong to draw from, America doesn’t have one. The origin story provided is that George Washington was asked to become king when America won the Revolutionary War, and after he accepted the crown, he awarded titles and dukedoms to those who’d aided the Revolution. That tradition of ennobling worthy citizens persists to the novel’s present-day, and the nobility includes individuals from formerly oppressed groups (i.e., Native Americans and blacks–the monarchy supposedly abolished slavery two generations after the Revolution).
However, when a royal falls for a commoner, it triggers an uproar about impropriety that doesn’t make much sense when nobility is only a royal decree away. Not to mention, the nobility doesn’t serve any special function other than attending fancy state events. They’re not charged with military obligations to the country, and they can go bankrupt like anyone else. (Supposedly, one of the original noble families is on the brink of losing all their assets.)
Another thing that doesn’t ring true is how content and peaceful American society is. Everyone adores the royal family and is perfectly happy to remain under their rule, no matter their background. Yet toward the end of the book, the two Latina characters make references to the fact that people hate them because they’re Latina. This indicates the existence of racial prejudice, but nowhere else does this portrayal of America show any racial tension. Similarly, the narrative mentions at least three openly gay couples in the nobility that hobnob with the royal family, but toward the end, a character complains how she was discriminated against because she’s gay. The novel wants to present the monarchy as high-minded and egalitarian and at the same time show minorities fighting the injustices of the system, and it doesn’t work.
Unfortunately, this novel winds up with the books to attempting for the diverse voices stamp of approval and falling short. Despite the fact that one black and two Native American men made the shortlist for the Crown Princess’s hand, all the main and secondary male characters are white. The Washingtons have supposedly intermarried with foreign royals, but all the ones we are aware of came from European countries. Himari Mariko, the one Asian character, is literally in a coma the entire story, and her surname isn’t even a real Japanese surname. (Mariko is a Japanese given name for females.)
Nina is the one token Latinx in the main cast, and I’ve got issues with her for different reasons. The narrative describes her parents as “one of Washington’s power couples:” one heads the Treasury, the other founded a successful e-commerce business. If that doesn’t scream privilege, the fact that she’s hung out at the palace and vacationed with the royal kids since the age of six ought to. Yet despite the fact that she’s attended state events with the princesses and prince and her parents have wealth and power, she’s portrayed as the down to earth commoner, who is at a loss at formal events. She even has a college scholarship tied to an on-campus job, which in this world are generally granted to students with financial hardship. If a so-called Washington power couple can’t swing college tuition for their kid, the rest of the country must be in really bad financial shape.
As for the tiresome aspect of the novel, it stems from the fact that all four of the main female characters are varying degrees of vacuous. Nina is supposedly smart, but she makes out with Prince Jefferson while he is still officially in a relationship with another girl, and afterward, he doesn’t call, text, or otherwise contact Nina for six months. But despite that dismal display of character, Nina decides he’s good boyfriend material. Princess Beatrice has supposedly known from infancy that she is expected to take on the responsibilities of the Crown, and monarchies, as a rule, deem continuing the bloodline a major part of it. However, when her parents bring up the subject shortly after she graduates from college, she acts like it’s never even occurred to her she might have to marry a guy she doesn’t love for the good of the country. Her sister Samantha is worse. She’s presented as the family free spirit, but her behavior comes off as self-absorbed and reckless. She’s supposedly extremely well versed in history, but despite the dozens of examples of political and arranged royal marriages, it never crosses her mind that politics might play even a tiny factor in Beatrice’s selection of consort. As for Daphne, she’s a stereotypical conniving gold-digger, albeit one from the nobility.
The narrative jumps from one woman’s perspective to the next, and the overall result is four uninspired romances woven together. The premise of an American monarchy has a lot of potential, but the novel focuses so much on the women’s fraught love lives that we never really see how this government affected the trajectory of American society and history. We never get a male perspective (it would’ve been nice to get Prince Jefferson’s view on events), and we never get any specifics on the concerns and challenges of the country. The narrative tells us over and over that the king and Beatrice work ceaselessly for the good of the country, but we don’t know if they’re dealing with an oil shortage, the threat of war, trade imbalances, environmental issues, or if they’re preoccupied with keeping the upper crust happy so they can retain their status.
By the way, this book is categorized in the YA section at my local library, but it’s probably more of a New Adult title. With the exception of Daphne, all the characters are out of high school, and Beatrice and her love interest are in their twenties. There’s lots of drinking, and a couple of characters have sex although those scenes aren’t overly graphic.
A romance that reimagines a modern democratic nation as a modern monarchy isn’t a new idea, and unfortunately for American Royals, the story it weaves into that setting is also uninspired. The romantic moments between the main characters and their love interests are contrived (especially Beatrice’s getting snowed in at a cabin), and I can’t get myself to care about their love lives. It would’ve been nice to see how a monarchy might have redirected the development of the country, but in the story, it’s simply a device so that Americans can have their own prince and princesses to swoon over.
Content Grade: C
Age Rating: 13+
Release Date: September 3rd, 2019