For those who read my Red, White & Royal Blue film review, you know that romantic comedies were an important part of my life growing up. While that is most definitely true, romance novels are a newer revelation. I grew up reading a ton of fantasy and science-fiction novels, however reading a novel about two people falling in love seemed like such a foreign concept. Sure, there were some such as Twilight that I did end up reading, however seeking books of this type wasn’t part of my natural reading behaviors. That is until I saw the trailer for the film currently streaming on Prime Video. It was at that moment that I felt the strong urge to purchase the Red, White & Royal Blue novel by Casey McQuiston.
Setting aside the societal chains dictating that romance novels are for women, I cracked open the book the first day I got it, not knowing what I would expect as I dove into the world of Alex and Henry. What I found was so much more than just your typical romance story. Among the pages of love and sex is also the story of two individuals attempting to find their way in the world, regardless of the societal pressures placed on them. A universal narrative that most individuals can relate to. Pile on a presidential election, some shady politicians, and a lot of heart, and you have Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue.
[Warning: Spoilers from Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston are below!]
Alex and Henry front and center
Just like the film, the main attraction of the Red, White & Royal Blue novel is the relationship between the two main characters, Alex and Henry. Alex, the son of the first female President of the United States has big dreams of politics. Living in the White House and attending college, Alex is self-assured and confident, which at times comes off as arrogant, though only to those who don’t truly know him.
Prince Henry is the second child of the heir apparent over in England and almost the direct opposite of Alex in every way. While Alex is vocal and isn’t afraid of the spotlight, Henry is coy and reserved. He presents as the perfect son and prince to his people, with a charm that oozes off of every page. However, that being said, his pleasant attitude doesn’t extend to Alex in the slightest.
These two despise each other more than anything, stemming from an incident early in Alex’s time in the White House. At this conference, where Alex was nervous and approached Henry, the prince was cold and asked to leave. Unfortunately, Henry’s attitude was the result of having recently lost his father, but Alex instead took it personally and their infamous feud began.
The feud might have remained intact if it weren’t for an international incident the two become embroiled in. Who knew smashing a $75,000 cake at the royal wedding of Prince Henry’s older brother could cause a breakdown between the two nations? With the pressure of an election looming over President Ellen Claremont, she sends Alex back to the U.K. to become pretend friends with His Royal Highness. What could go wrong with forcing these two enemies to play nice on such a global stage?
From enemies to friends, to so much more
It pains both sides to be near each other at first. If it weren’t for their duty to their respective countries, they might have gone through with the publicity stunt. However, after their first event, the two begin an unlikely friendship through text messages and insults.
A good chunk of the first part of McQuiston’s novel is told through text messages and phone calls between Henry and Alex, as the duo slowly warms up to each other. However, it’s not until Alex’s New Year’s Eve blowout that the friendship switches to something else.
At that faithful party, where drinks are flowing, Henry kisses Alex and sends the trajectory of their friendship into a situation-ship. Henry had liked Alex from their first meeting, with Alex oblivious to his feelings. But now with a kiss from a prince, the relationship between the two begins, with first just sex, but eventually developing into something more. The excitement that builds in me as the reader as the two learn who they are within the confines of their relationship was intoxicating.
But being together is never that easy for two people in their positions. There’s a ton of pressure from both sides, with Prince Henry feeling the brunt of it from the royal family and the image they wish to uphold. Can these two figure it out and forge their path together? Or is the love of Henry and Alex even more doomed than that of Romeo and Juliet?
Sideshows of the circus in Red, White & Royal Blue
While the main gist of the novel made it into the film, some of the side stories from Casey McQuiston’s novel were sidelined. The novel provides a more extensive list of supporting characters, who are fleshed out more than those in the film. The biggest change to Alex’s family, who looks a little different in the novel.
Surprise! Alex has a sister, June, who is integral to Alex’s life as he progresses through his newfound relationship with Prince Henry. She’s the epitome of the protective older sister, who keeps Alex in line and rounds out the younger White House generation along with Nora, best friend to both siblings and the Vice President’s granddaughter. Together these three are inseparable, with June and Nora pulled into the embroiled mess of Alex and Henry’s relationship. Especially after their emails leak for the world to see.
Another major change from the film is that Alex is a child of divorce, with his parents separated and his mother remarried. The impact of the divorce isn’t dived into too deep, however, it is seen in the way that both June and Alex develop relationships with others. Both are fiercely independent and have to learn how to rely on others and open themselves to the happiness that love can bring. Again, this message is more explored through Alex and Henry’s relationship, but it’s present in some ways for June.
Wrapped up in the romance and the Presidential election is another political story, which involves a U.S. senator from Colorado, Rafael Luna. Luna was once a close friend of Alex and his parents but becomes the running mate for the President’s opponent in the election. However, not everything is what it seems, with Luna’s true motivations becoming clear by the end of the novel. This added storyline to the overall narrative, adding something more substantial to the Red, White & Royal Blue novel to the typical romance formula.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect for me was the emotional journey Henry takes to change the impossible pressure with his family and being the face of a country. This story comes into play a lot during the later third of the novel as the relationship and emotions become more real for the two men. It also brings the emotional release needed from this type of novel.
The Red, White & Royal Blue experience
The film and the novel are so similar in experience, with the only difference being the novel has the time and room to expand on many of the stories and characters scattered through the narrative. All the important parts of the story are there, but the wider world in the Red, White & Royal Blue novel is more fleshed out. This creates a larger story, besides the main event of Alex and Henry’s relationship.
Regardless if I’m reading the novel or watching the movie, I feel a deep connection to these two main characters. Being a member of the LGBTQ+ community, the relationship and journey Alex and Henry take feels completely relatable, even if it’s exaggerated by their status. I, and I’m sure others in my community, have been in both Alex’s and Henry’s shoes at different times. The realism that McQuiston bought to these two characters made me feel seen and accepted in ways I don’t always feel in other books.
I even thought out loud as I read the novel, “Do people tend to feel this way when they read romance novels?” Having spoken to others, that doesn’t always seem the case. I think that speaks to the power and relevance that McQuiston put into their story, taking the time to understand this formative experience for individuals like me. And for that, this novel will always be important to me.
Red, White & Royal Blue was one of those books I thought I would read and then pass on to someone else. However, I now own two copies, both the standard and the collector’s edition. I can’t stop thinking about the novel and the hopes I have for Alex and Henry. In them, I feel the hope and loss that life brings and the novel made me more excited for the life of possibilities. Nothing about life and love is easy, as we learn through these two, but the ending is probably worth it. History, huh?
While this novel might not have as much resonance with others, it struck me in ways I was not expecting and not prepared for. If you’re looking for a silly romance with compelling characters, I implore you to check out Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston.
My Rating: 9/10
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston is available now! Will you be checking this novel out? Let us know on Twitter or in The Cosmic Circus Discord.