What if the Prince of Wales were gay? In this imaginary reality, the king is old, and James, his grandson, is heir to the throne because his father died in a plane crash. James is twenty-nine, and he’s been fake-dating his friend Cassandra for years. Cassandra is a saint, because she occasionally dates other men for real, then gets caught and slayed by the press, but she sticks by James.
Ben is a reporter currently stationed in South Africa. He doesn’t like commitment — not to a man, not to a city, not to furniture. He gets an assignment to cover a royal visit to a remote lodge in Kenya. During a rainstorm, Ben opens his private bungalow to a stranger with a broken umbrella who turns out to be the very prince he’s meant to write about. Over a tense game of chess (aren’t all chess games in novels tense?), secrets are revealed. At the end, Ben makes his move, and James allows it. Cue bungalow sex.
Ben gets judgmental very quickly, criticizing James for staying in the closet when he has so much wealth and privilege to protect him. For being a reporter, Ben is incredibly stupid. James allows Ben his tantrum because this is a one-time secret fling in Kenya, and then he goes home to London.
When Ben gets transferred to London, he manages an invitation to a royal charity event to see James again. Then we get to see what it might be like to sneak your lover into the palace. James has a very discreet butler and a private residence. He conducts all private business on a landline, and he changes his cell phone every few weeks so he doesn’t get hacked.
Amid this secret not-a-romance (because neither man can commit, for differing reasons, so it’s just sex, of course, even though they’re friends, too, but they’re totally not falling for each other), James has to deal with his fragile younger sister, his bitter conniving uncle, and the reputation of his family as his grandfather falls ill. For being a non-political figurehead, he has a lot to deal with.
James also enlightens Ben about the possible consequences of coming out:
“I’m also the head of the Commonwealth of Nations. Some states in the Commonwealth would accept a gay man as their symbolic leader, but some of them definitely would not. Does Uganda opt out? What about Malta, Rwanda, Pakistan? Does the Commonwealth survive their departures? If not, what happens to the various trade agreements that currently exist within that framework?… I’ll also become Supreme Governor of the Anglican Communion… It is entirely possible that they would refuse to have a gay man as the symbolic head of the church. What happens then, I don’t know. But it probably ends in either religious schism or my being asked to abdicate as unfit to lead the state church, and therefore the state.”
The stakes are high, is what he’s saying. Although Cassandra has heard it all before: “Yes, I know, blah blah blah Uganda. Well, sod Uganda!”
I have two minor criticisms. First, when Ben briefly considers outing James, he thinks about taking bedsheets to a lab and having them tested for DNA, but then rejects that as a “total Lewinsky move.” Add me to the list of people calling for an end to Lewinsky jokes, please. She’s a person, not a punchline. (This quote is from an advanced review copy, maybe it won’t be in the final?)
And, second, the book ends on kind of a cliffhanger. There is a concluding book coming out in August, so we won’t have to wait too long, but I’m irked that the story was split. It’s a fascinating subject, and realistic enough for me to really wonder what happens next. I hope the next book is as well-rounded as the first, and I also hope that it ties up all the threads that are currently dangling.
This gets an A- for setup, but a B for the ending.
*ARC provided by publisher
Click to purchase: Amazon
His Royal Secret
by Lilah Pace
Release Date: July 19, 2016