With blessed little help from his pill-popping mother and no interaction with his dead-beat father, Joel worked hard to get from Tonypandy, Wales, to the hallowed halls of Oxford University. That is part of why he gets so irked when he notices a typical Oxford coed—rich, built, and incredibly attractive—casually ordering a paper from a paper mill, but his roommate and friend, Trevor, convinces him not to jump to conclusions. The three cross paths again just before a school holiday at a club in London. Joel and Trevor overindulge and it’s Eric, the ostensible cheater, who bails them out by offering them a place to crash. When Joel takes it upon himself to offer a personal thanks, things get very personal indeed. For Joel, it feels like there is a connection there, but Eric’s aloof behavior the next morning and a parting statement of “It was nice knowing you” has Joel relegating the experience to another one-night stand.
In the weeks that follow, Joel finds himself rather hung up on the mysterious, imperious Eric. Then, Trevor discovers why Eric is so aloof and rich: he is the crown prince of Doggerland. Armed with this new knowledge, Joel waits for the perfect opportunity to let Eric know that Joel knows his secret. With one whispered “your majesty,” the connection between Joel and Eric suddenly kicks into high gear. Joel finds himself being courted by the prince…all while trying to keep their relationship a secret because Eric’s homeland is still not very accepting of same-sex couples. Even as the two grow closer together, the risk of being outed increases and when two sensational tabloid articles hit the news stands, Eric and Joel are forced to reevaluate their relationship.
As someone who would drop everything to watch campy The Prince and Me, I was eager to sink into a cozy little romance featuring a case of hidden identity. Eric’s secret identity is revealed to Joel rather early in the book, so I didn’t get to enjoy much suspense on that front. One of the biggest shortcomings of the story structure overall is how the reader is supposed to be rooting for Joel/Eric, but there seemed to be precious little couple-time between the two. Or rather, I felt there was a paucity of scenes that helped establish these two as a viable couple. Even from an instalove perspective, there was barely anything that I could use to justify these two as a couple. More than anything, they seem destined for each other because they’re both gay and at the same university, I suppose.
For example, sometime after it’s clearly established that Joel feels like Eric has blown him off (“It was nice knowing you”) and Joel gets back at Eric (“your majesty”), these two cross paths again. Except instead of ignoring each other, they strike up a conversation that immediately leads to a surprise weekend getaway. It starts off good, but Joel feels like Eric is using him as a bed warmer because Eric’s sister has shown up. Joel starts to get good and angry, ready to tell Eric to take a hike when Eric takes a huge step forward in their relationship. End of chapter. We skip over Joel’s response only to dive right into Eric arranging for Joel to go to Doggerland to meet his parents. In other words, there was no tender scene where we see the results of Eric’s actions. And that kind of sums up their relationship as shown on page…nearly void of affection or tenderness.
The individual characters were also a weak point for me. I understand Eric is supposed to have issues with inheriting the crown and not being used to living among non-royalty. However, I found his hot-cold attitude towards inheriting the throne tiresome. At one point, he indicates his willingness to be king only if he gets to marry Joel; later, he indicates his willingness to abdicate the crown in order to marry Joel. To me, this was the difference between truly wanting to be king (in the first case) and being indifferent to the role (in the latter case). Eric seems like a neglectful partner in some ways, also. Like when he completely neglects to prepare Joel for his extremely homophobic mother until Joel is already in Doggerland and set to meet the woman the following day. Eric’s internalized homophobia is patently obvious when it is revealed that he would never be a bottom, specifically saying “[The TV program] implied that I take it up the arse […] I don’t. I never have. I want the people of Doggerland to know that.” This gets addressed in what I consider a blowoff manner in the next scene where Eric explains away his feelings with a simple reference to masculinity issues and Joel lets it drop, never to revisit the issue again.
Joel also feels like a mash up of blah. Maybe he did work hard to get into Oxford and maybe he does have self-restraint for not turning in every coed who turns to paper mills for academic help. But the way he makes a point of dropping “your majesty” to Eric, to let Eric know that he knows Eric is a prince, was extremely petty. And Joel phrases it like “I do this to let Eric know his secret is safe with me!” He is judgemental regarding Eric’s idiosyncrasies and seems to decide Eric is intentionally being rude. I suppose this is designed to show class divide, but it’s not set up in a way that clearly links Joel’s reaction to the behavior to his feelings about class. I also found it incredibly bizarre that Eric and another character wax poetic about how wonderful Joel is, but as a reader, I see Joel consciously lying about things, consistently referring to Eric’s majordomo with a potentially derogatory nickname, being narrow minded about food, and calling his own mother a drug fiend (she seems to have a prescription for an anxiety condition). In many ways, these are two extraordinarily immature characters, but I saw precious little (read: almost no) effort to get either Joel or Eric to face these not insignificant flaws.
As for the writing, there were a few typos and mechanical errors like subject/verb agreement issues. But more concerning were the jump cuts in time. This ties back to the feeling I got that there was almost nothing to show Eric and Joel actually falling in love, getting hit by the instalove bug, or building a relationship. We skip ahead months at a time and seem to be hitting major plot points rather than watching the story unfold in time. And after reading all that, the story ends on a cliffhanger with virtually nothing resolved. All in all, I wouldn’t recommend this story unless you are a die hard fan of secret (royal) identity tropes.