The engagement/marriage of convenience is quite a common trope in historical romance, it’s harder to pull off in contemporary ones (although, by all means, it happens all the time, even though the author tends to have to get a bit more creative). Shanti has wanted to become a queen since she was a little girl, and has worked very hard to become a beautiful, poised, fit, and well-educated woman who would be the prize of any ruler. She doesn’t want to become queen for the prestige, wealth, or title, but because she genuinely wants to take part in the day-to-day ruling of a kingdom, and trying to make the world a better place for as many as possible. When her profile is picked on Royalmatch.com and she is married off to Prince Sanyu of Njaza literally on his father’s deathbed, she has already done thorough research into the country’s resources, infrastructure, social conditions, and what challenges the country, still trying to recover from centuries of colonisation, are facing. Sadly for her, however, the tradition in Njaza is for women to be seen and not heard and this applies at all levels of society.
Sanyu’s role models for marriage were his now-dead father, who kept replacing his queen every four months or his father’s closest advisor (now Sanyu’s), who never married. Sanyu’s mother disappeared after she bore him, seemingly quite happy to be free of the kingdom, and the two ex-revolutionaries raised Sanyu to believe that any expression of softer emotion or personal need is unforgivable softness. Having fought a civil war to liberate Njaza from colonial rule, the two elder men were big on spreading propaganda about how strong, glorious, and unbeatable the nation was, and Sanyu’s father ruled with an iron fist. Sanyu, who suffers from occasional crippling anxiety, doesn’t even want the throne but has no choice but to step up upon his father’s death. While he finds Shanti very attractive the first time he sees her, before the wedding, he then barely gives her a thought for several months after the coronation, grieving his father and trying to get some sort of idea of what the job of the king actually entails. Not that his royal council or advisors seem to want him to think too hard for himself, they seem to have very firm ideas of how the country should be ruled (no changes whatsoever from his father’s rule). Meanwhile, the country’s finances are suffering, a lot of the populace are starting to be unhappy with the lack of progress and innovation, while the royal council’s isolationist views are keeping Njaza from making lucrative international deals that would benefit them both diplomatically and economically.
Resigned to the fact that she’ll be sent packing after her four month marriage trial is over (after about three months she’s barely seen her husband), Shanti is nevertheless doing what she can to make a difference in the country. She’s been sneaking out of the palace in disguise at night, trying to help out a group of women organising protests and trying to affect change from a local bookstore. She is rather surprised when Sanyu shows up at her private rooms one evening, asking to hear her suggestions and plans, and suddenly wanting to act on the clear attraction that’s been there between them since their first meeting. However, he keeps their growing closeness a secret and only shows up at her quarters at night. Is he ever going to work through his anxiety and stand up to his advisors, becoming the husband that Shanti wishes for and the progressive king that Njaza needs?