A Princess in Theory
by Alyssa Cole
Between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales…or patience for the constant e-mails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. Sure. Right. Delete! As a former foster kid, she’s learned that the only things she can depend on are herself and the scientific method, and a silly e-mail won’t convince her otherwise.
Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, shouldering the hopes of his parents and his people. At the top of their list? His marriage. Ever dutiful, he tracks down his missing betrothed. When Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life—and love—without the burden of his crown.
The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible, and flirty friendship quickly evolves into passionate nights. But when the truth is revealed, can a princess in theory become a princess ever after?
I really enjoyed Once Ghosted, Twice Shy, an f/f romance novella set in Cole’s Reluctant Royals series, so when I decided to devote February to reading romance I figured it was time I started the series properly.
I’d heard really good things about A Princess in Theory and about this whole series – for one thing, it’s so refreshing to see people of colour on the covers of these books – but I’m sorry to say I didn’t love it as much as I hoped to.
Naledi Smith is a New Yorker who was raised in the foster system and is currently working her butt off to make ends meet so she can have a career in epidemiology. Lately, though, she’s been receiving incredibly annoying scam emails claiming she’s betrothed to the prince of the African country of Thesolo.
What Naledi doesn’t realise is that the emails aren’t a scam, and when Prince Thabiso and his assistant, Likotsi, arrive in New York, an opportunity arises in which he can get to know Naledi while pretending to be a normal guy.
I sped through the first half of this novel, but from around the mid-point onwards it started to drag and I was surprised that it ended up taking me around three days to finish – three days isn’t a huge amount of time by any means, but if a romance novel has me hooked I can usually power through it in a day and come out of it craving more.
There were plenty of things I enjoyed about A Princess in Theory. I loved reading a romance novel in which pretty much every lead character was a person of colour, it was so refreshing in a genre that I’ve found to be very white so far, and while the romance is, of course, the main focus, there’s other stuff going on in this novel that’s just as interesting. Personally I loved basically every scene Likotsi, who I met in Once Ghosted, Twice Shy, was in, and she’s still my favourite. Especially because she still calls Thabiso out when he acts like a prat, despite the fact that he’s her employer and the future king of her country.
You see, Thabiso was my biggest problem with this novel. If there’s one thing I’ve discovered during my journey so far through the romance genre, it’s that I really don’t like the hidden identity trope. Get ready kids – it’s time for another chat about consent!
So Thabiso poses as Jamal, a man who isn’t a prince and doesn’t have the weight of an entire country’s future on his shoulders, and I can completely understand why he wants to see what Naledi thinks of him as a person, and not as the celebrity he is back home. As he starts to develop feelings for Naledi, he tries a few times to tell her who he really is. The problem is he doesn’t try hard enough, because the first time he and Naledi have sex she still thinks he’s a man called Jamal and she also doesn’t know that he knows things about her past and her childhood that she’s long forgotten.
I know some people probably don’t find this a problem, and there are readers out there who will forgive Thabiso for how regretful he is (which is their right to do), but as far as I’m concerned, if you don’t really know who you’re having sex with, if you think they’re someone else, then you haven’t actually consented to have sex. You’ve consented to have sex with the person you think they are, and that’s not the same thing at all. I’m sorry, but that really squicks me out and I think it’s very poor behaviour on Thabiso’s part that I can’t look past. Especially when he knows that, because of her background in foster care, she already has trust issues.
I was pleased to see that the sex they had was always safe sex, though. It seems like a silly thing to be pleased about, but seeing someone using a condom in a romance novel just makes the safe and consensual sex advocate in me happy.
As well as that squicky consent issue, I did also feel like the novel as a whole wrapped up far too quickly and the ‘villain’ felt a little too over the top. Also, I don’t know why Thabiso’s mother was written in such a stereotypical horrible mother-in-law way. Can we just not with that trope? I’m so bored of it.
All that aside, this is a very fun book and I’m definitely interested in reading more from this series – if Likotsi’s anything to go by, then I think this is the kind of series where I find the many side characters and couples who populate the following books are a lot more up my street than the princess and the prick.