Arthur de Fleur, the Prince and heir of Starskeep, is looking for consort. Arthur and his mother have decided that it’s long past time he find himself a partner, someone who will help him in the governing of the very prosperous kingdom his mother has built and maintained. And someone to help with the getting and raising of children, of course. But princess after princess, prince after prince … none of them seem to be exactly what Arthur wants. Not that he knows what he wants. But he’s pretty sure he knows what he doesn’t want.
But all of that changes with Prince Justin of Hestaia and Arthur’s first kiss in the library. Justin isn’t what Arthur wants in a husband, not at all! But as a friend — Arthur’s first and only? — yes. Then there’s Prince Gideon, who just wants to fish. Finally, there is Prince Horatius of Albermarle, Kenmare, and the Duchy of West Furlong. He’s tall and handsome and … well, he’s tall. And calm. And steady. And of all the princes Arthur has met, he’s the most likely to be a good consort for Starskeep. And surely that’s enough? Fondness can always come after, after all.
All of Arthur’s careful attempts to do the right and proper thing are thrown into the air when a storm causes a carriage accident and suddenly there’s Alan. Alan, with blonde hair and blue eyes and a love of dogs and puzzles, and whose smile makes Arthur’s heart skip a beat. But he’s already somewhat engaged, and it’s not like Alan has put himself forward as a suitor.
There are love triangles, feathered mattresses, sugarplum lip balm, and retired greyhounds. There is also a mother who wants what’s best for her son, and a son who has been raised to do what’s best for his people, to be practical and kind and to not want a fairy tale romance made of sugar and froth and endless delight. But when push comes to shove, will Arthur give up on love? Or will he finally fight for himself?
Arthur is utterly passive and yielding. He has been raised all his life to be a good ruler for his people, a good employer for his servants, a good son for his father, and to always do what’s best for someone else. When faced with his own wants, his own happiness and needs, he has no idea what to do. If it weren’t for Justin’s friendship and constant support, Arthur would simply duck his head to avoid looking at what he thinks he can’t have. But he wants, he so desperately wants Alan … if only Alan would want him back.
Justin, whose father has put their kingdom into debt and who threw his son out until he came back rich and well-married, has no where to go. He put everything into catching Arthur, but instead of finding a husband, he found a friend who lets him stay at the castle for as long as he needs, who lets him spend Arthur’s money, and all for nothing in return. But Justin isn’t going to take advantage of Arthur. He’s going to help his friend marry well, even if he’s not happy at who Arthur chose to marry. Not because Horatius is awful, but because he doesn’t make Arthur happy.
Horatius is a widower who knows how to do his duty. He will marry. He will be a good husband and a good consort. Love has no part in his life. Arthur is young and innocent and not what he wants at all, but Horatius will be a good fiance and a good husband. Because it’s expected. Because it benefits both of their kingdoms. The only thing Horatius is truly unhappy about is the flamboyant freeloader that Arthur is letting leech off of him. A man with more clothes than sense, more lovers than he needs, and absolutely no ability to take care of himself. How many times does Horatius have to get him a blanket, or a cup of something warm and drag him out of the rain?
And then there’s Alan. His family aren’t exactly the ‘proper’ nobility, having come up through trade, but they’re also filthy stinking rich and well known in all the right circles. He doesn’t know how to bow to a King or know the fruit fork from the fish spoon, but he knows the men and women of the aristocracy by name, he knows how to work clockwork and puzzles, and he knows what he feels for Arthur. He just doesn’t know if he’s the right person for Arthur, especially when Arthur’s mother makes it very clear her opinion of his situation.
I loved this story. It’s silly and frilly and frankly a bit ridiculous in parts. Arthur is very much an unreliable narrator who misses so much of what’s going on, but the story is so well told that it’s easy for the reader to see the flirtations and fussing going on around him. There are some truly soft moments, such as Arthur’s mother realizing that her son accepted a proposal because he thought it’s what she wanted, because he thought it would be best for the kingdom rather than because he wanted to, or the scenes with Justin brushing aside his lack of funds or even Horatius trying to do the Right Thing, even when he, too, is having doubts about everything.
The romance is sweet and respectful and the ending is perfection. Really, this is just a wonderful fairy tale of a book that I’ll probably come back to when I need to read something sweet and happy, and I strongly urge you to consider this book if you’re at all interested in the happiest of happily ever afters.