I think Alyssa Cole is really up there with Courtney Milan (5 steps ahead of me for sure), in thinking about and wringing all the juice out of romance tropes. How to Catch a Queen uses the arranged marriage trope to dive into toxic masculinity, patriarchy as governance, and recovering from the harms of Colonialism. I can always count on Cole for excellent mental health rep, and she brings it here.
Shanti Mohapti might be my very favorite character created by Alyssa Cole, and that says a lot. She decided at age 7 that she wanted to be a queen and has geared her life towards becoming a queen. She even created a book she calls her “Field Guide to Queendom.” Why does she want to be queen? She wants to help people by building strong, inclusive national systems. No country needs strong inclusive national systems more than Njaza. Once a colony of Liechtienbourg, Njaza reinstituted it’s monarchy when it earned independence, but also isolated itself from other countries for fear of becoming a dependent nation again. When she is contacted on RoyalMatch.com about a last minute wedding to Njaza’s heir to the throne she thinks her destiny has come at last. It hasn’t though because it’s a four month trial marriage to a man who ignores her and she is queen in a country where she is barely allowed to be seen, and definitely not heard.
Sanyu does not want to be king, has never wanted to be king and after the death of his father, has completely shut down. Trauma, anxiety, and crippling self doubt are preventing him from being the king he would like to be. He has effectively ceded authority to his father’s top advisor, Musoke. It isn’t until Shanti challenges Musoke that Sanyu approaches Shanti for help. Fortunately, we get the story from Sanyu and Shanti’s perspectives, because Sanyu has a lot to do to be worthy of Shanti. Shanti is great, and Sanyu really does try and often fail to rise to her level. Sanyu really does need to be led by the hand to emotional intelligence, because he was raised without a model for a good relationship.
Cole does so much good stuff in this book with privilege, responsibility, and the dynamic relationship between head and heart, and the strength in being compassionate. I could write essays, but you should read it for yourself. I did see that someone complained there wasn’t much running away, and literally, no there isn’t. But Sanyu shows that you can run away even while physically present.