Story Rating: 5 stars
Audio Rating: 4 stars
Narrator: Ramon de Ocampo
Length: 12 hours, 15 minutes
Alex Claremont-Diaz is the first son of the first female president of the United States, Ellen Claremont. Alex has grown up in politics, getting it from both his parents, and his goal is to one day enter politics himself. Right now, however, Alex is focused on helping his mother with her presidential re-election campaign. When Alex knocks over the cake at a British royal wedding, while feuding with the groom’s brother, Prince Henry, no less, it has the potential to be a PR nightmare for his mother. Henry has been Alex’s nemesis for years; he is too bland, too gorgeous, too perfect. Henry makes Alex crazy. But now Alex has no choice but to spend time with Henry and fake a friendship so the photographers can capture the pair together.
At first, it is all Alex can do to stand being in the same room as Henry. But the men come to realize that they have more in common than they first thought. Both young men grew up in the public spotlight and continue to live their lives under constant scrutiny. Both also have expectations put upon them that can be overwhelming. For Alex, at least it’s partly a choice. But for Henry, his life as a prince has been set out for him since birth and he is forced to live up to his role whether he wants to or not. Slowly, Henry and Alex begin to build a friendship that is real, not just staged for the press. Henry becomes someone Alex can confide in and a listening ear when he needs support.
With time, however, that friendship begins to grow into more. Alex realizes that he is attracted to Henry, that he may be interested in men as well as women. In fact, he can hardly believe he once hated Henry, as the man seems absolutely perfect for Alex. Soon, the two are falling for one another hard, but they know they must keep their relationship a secret. With his mom running a tough re-election campaign, there is no way they can handle the distraction of Alex coming out — with a royal boyfriend, no less. And Henry is a prince of England; being gay is unheard of, and his grandmother, the queen, has made her feelings on the matter quite clear. But Alex and Henry have fallen hard for one another and are dreaming of a future where they can be together. Now, they must figure out what they are willing to risk for the chance to live their lives openly together and have real happiness as a couple.
I feel like I was just about the last romance reader alive who hadn’t read Red, White & Royal Blue. I have heard nothing but wonderful things about the story, and so when I saw it was out in audio, I jumped at the chance to listen. I must say, I was not disappointed and I adored this story from start to finish. I can understand why this book got such wide-spread acclaim, as there is so much here to appeal to the long-time romance reader, as well as those new to the genre.
This story has so much that just pushes my buttons. The enemies-to-lover set up is just delicious, and I enjoyed seeing the prickly Alex’s irritation at having to deal with Henry, because it is so obvious he is totally into Henry and just doesn’t realize it. The story makes a smooth transition from two men who are at odds with one another, to friends and confidants, to ultimately lovers. The progress of their relationship is so natural and well done, I could completely believe in these two falling for one another.
McQuiston has created such interesting characters here. Alex is all drive and intensity and banter and energy. He is so focused on moving forward, he can barely take time to breathe and enjoy his life. And Henry is like ice to Alex’s fire, forced to always have this calm, perfect mask and demeanor. The two men balance each other out, and I particularly love how Henry is able to open up and really be himself with Alex. I am a total sucker for snarky banter, and I just loved these guys together when they are happy and open and teasing one another. But on top of that, the pair also write to one another via email and it is so swoony and romantic, and yes, perhaps over the top at times, but I was all there for the contrast between their sharp banter and their romantic declarations.
I also enjoyed the bigger picture of the story set amidst the political and royal circles. In this world, Ellen Claremont is elected in 2016 after Obama leaves office. We get some really fun moments of life as a presidential son, some bits about living in the White House, about past presidential children, and other great elements that really bring the world building to life. I particularly adored the “White House Trio” made up of Alex, his sister June, and their best friend (and granddaughter of the Vice President) Nora. The three of them are such fun together, being a source of support to each other amidst the crazy lives they lead, but also full of banter and snark and quick to keep each other in line. I actually loved their interactions almost as much as I did between Alex and Henry, and their relationship rounds out the story so nicely.
I listened to this book in audio with narrator Ramon de Ocampo, and it was kind of a mixed bag for me, but one I ended up enjoying overall. When the book began, I’ll admit I found de Ocampo’s voice somewhat grating. It has sort of a nasal, whining tone that didn’t really work for me. However, as I continued to listen, as often happens with audio, I found I got used to his voice and it bothered me much less. I also was thrown out of the story a little by the fact that neither Alex nor June have Texas accents, despite growing up there, and despite their mother having an incredibly heavy accent. I am guessing this was a conscious decision on either the part of the narrator or producer to avoid having Alex, as the POV character who has constant dialog and narration, use an accent throughout the book. But it felt confusing to me given the story. The bigger issue with the accents is that they just wavered a lot. Ellen has a super strong accent sometimes, and at others it is fainter, and it isn’t particularly consistent in style. Henry’s accent also noticeably wavers, at times fading out quite a bit, particularly when he is excited. I can’t speak to the authenticity of the accents, as my ear is far too untrained, but the lack of consistency was distracting.
I think what made this audio ultimately work for me, however, is that de Ocampo gets the tone and the timing down really well. As I said, this is a book with fast conversations, snappy banter, and often high energy, and the audio reflects that well. The narration really added something that just kept the story flowing for me. I just couldn’t stop listening for hours at a time. The narrator just got the emotion, the pacing, and the tone down in a way that worked for me, and so this is what helped me really enjoy the audio overall, despite some issues.
So I am thrilled that I finally got my act in gear to listen to this story. I truly loved it from start to finish. The world building is great, with an “insider” feel into both life in the White House and the British royal family. I loved the mix of banter and sweet romance between Alex and Henry. I found myself equal parts swooning and amused at their interactions. And I loved the sense of history that comes through it all, the idea of both young men coming out and changing the way their country views them and LGBTQ relationships. Red, White & Royal Blue is a fabulous story and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.