I have mixed feelings about this one. It’s looking like Alyssa Cole is going to be a hit or miss author for me. I didn’t fully enjoy An Extraordinary Union for the same reasons I didn’t fully enjoy this one, I think, but I loved A Hope Divided. So I will keep reading her stuff and just know that going in the chemistry between her leads doesn’t always work for me. Really, I didn’t NOT like this book, it just didn’t work the way it was meant to.
So, once again, I find myself in the position of loving her heroine, but not being fully on board the relationship said heroine is involved in. Naledi is awesome. She’s smart and funny and kind, and she loves science, and she’s lonely and isolated and has her emotional walls up. But she’s capable! And ambitious. Her parents died in a car accident when she was four years old and no relatives could be identified, so she grew up in the system in New York City. Now she’s a graduate student in epidemiology, and she’s respected and good at what she does. She’s also a little bit of a nerd. Her favorite website is Girls With Glasses (a website I’m thinking will be important in future sequels, considering it’s run by the sister of Naledi’s best friend). Her life immediately felt very real to me. And I was charmed by this book at first, largely because of her. She starts receiving these emails that sound like the most glorified phishing/social engineering scam known to man, telling her she’s the lost betrothed of the prince of Thesolo, and she gets so frustrated by them she ends up sending off a colorful two word reply that kick starts the plot.
The problem for me is the prince in question. He felt so cliché and underdeveloped, especially compared to Naledi, who has a rich inner life, and interesting emotional conflicts running through her mind. I found Thabiso’s story to be predictable, and not in the fun way. Every time a trope was deployed, I found myself being pulled out of the story, rather than becoming excited. When he decided to pretend to be someone else, I was intrigued at first to see how it would play out. I rolled my eyes when she started playing the trope that he was so sheltered he had no idea how to do a job capably, at the same time I appreciated seeing him fail (he fails HARD). But when he arranged to move in across the hall from Naledi, and kept not telling her who he was, and Cole kept playing the “he just wants to see what it’s like to live a normal life” trope, I had to fight past my discomfort at it. He was acting like a stalker! Not to mention, he freely admits (as Jamal) to Naledi that he is rich and sheltered, and she never once questions why he was working a service job that first night. And if he’s so rich, why is he staying in such a shitty apartment? I suppose it could have been worked around, but neither character ever even mentioned it, and it bothered me.
Mostly all of that is me pointing fingers and trying to figure out why it didn’t work for me, but really the short answer is it just didn’t. It felt constructed to me, rather than natural. Like, maybe it’s because the rest of the novel was so carefully put together that Thabiso as a character just felt a little empty to me? I don’t know. I wanted to like it!
I’m definitely going to read the rest of the series, though. Even though this wasn’t a great read for me, I still enjoyed myself, and it was a fast read. I’m also intrigued to see what future books in the series have in store. The next book is about Naledi’s best friend Portia falling in love with a secret Scottish laird, so. Yes, please, hope that works out! I would also bet money that future candidates for romance also include Thabiso’s personal assistant, Lakotsi (who is an out lesbian) and Portia’s sister (she of the website, and who is also in a wheelchair).
I did like how the book ended. It seemed realistic. And I was happy for Ledi, that she seems to get to have the best of both worlds going forward.
Read Harder Challenge 2018: A romance novel by or about a person of color.