Bronte Talbott follows all of the exploits of the British royals. After all, they’re the world’s most preeminent dysfunctional family. And who is she to judge? Bronte’s own search for love isn’t going all that well, especially after her smooth-talking Texan boyfriend abruptly leaves her in the dust. Bronte keeps a lookout for a rebound to help mend her broken heart, and when she meets Max Heyworth, she’s certain he’s the perfect transition man. But when she discovers he’s a duke, she has to decide if she wants to stay with him for the long haul and deal with the opportunities– and challenges– of becoming a royal.
I read this almost immediately after I read Bella Andre’s If You Were Mine, which is important to know because I think If You Were Mine made one of the things I loved about A Royal Pain even more obvious: so much time passes between when we first meet Bronte and the happily ever after at the end of the book. In If You Were Mine, the entire thing was destroyed for me at the end (SPOILER) because the two characters get engaged after knowing each other for two weeks. Mulry gives us years of Bronte and Max’s lives. She gives space for mess ups, for growth, for change, for angst. And in that way, it made it feel like we were on a journey with these two characters, not simply peeking in on a quick courtship.
Bronte is wonderful. Like any romance heroine, she makes incredibly frustrating choices and I want her to just give Max a chance even if I understand why she is hesitating. But man, I loved that she cursed all the fucking time. And I loved that she had a high-powered job that she wasn’t going to give up. I loved that even if her boundary-drawing was a messy, confusing affair, she tried to draw boundaries with both Max and her family.
And Max. The duke who makes naughty, naughty talk at the dinner table. The duke who (im)patiently waits for Bronte to come around. The duke who refuses to let go even when Bronte is being unreasonable. Swoon.
Together Bronte, Max, their friends, and their family feel like regular people who are simply trying to forge a pleasant life out of sometimes difficult circumstances (even if one is a duke).
I did have trouble with the pacing in parts. I felt like some scenes were rushed and others went on forever. Sometimes Max seemed too forgiving, Bronte too reluctant.
Perhaps my biggest qualm with the book was the narrative built around Bronte’s apparent fear of letting Max have any control over any aspect of her life. That the final outcome is that in giving over control to Max, then Bronte can finally be happy (the book literally ends this way). And I don’t have a problem with this, per se, but end of the story is mirrored in the beginning, when Mulry writes about Bronte:
For once, she wanted to be the one who didn’t have to carry the conversation. Or the luggage, for that matter. The rational, Gloria Steinem part of her railed (My mother marched on Washington for this?), but there it was. The shameful truth: a latent desire to be arm candy. To be taken care of.
And, you know, even as a staunch, loud, stereotypical feminist, I’m not put off by this quote. I do think most people war internally with who they think they should be or, maybe, who they would like to be and who they are socialized to be. I think in this instance, I chafed at this because it is part of the larger narrative of Bronte: that her willful desire to be able to stand on her own two feet without support is the very thing that makes her relationship with Max fraught. The implication being that if Bronte would be less feminist she would happier — or maybe, if she would let go of some of her feminist tendencies, then her relationship with her man would go more smoothly. And I guess I just don’t like that very much.
Still, this is a fun read and, as someone who reads about plenty of dukes in regency romances, a much-appreciated flip on the typical duke romance.
I look forward to Mulry’s next book.
I give A Royal Pain 3.5 out of 5 stars.