Since I’ve discovered Lucy Parker, I’ve read all of her books. However, I’m not good at keeping track of her publishing dates. Thus, I am several months late in reading and reviewing Battle Royal (2021). I had a good time reading this book. Instead of the many productive tasks I had planned, including working hard to start catching up on reviews, I laid on my couch all day and read, adding yet another book review to my to-do list. I obviously enjoyed reading Battle Royal, probably even more than some of Parker’s more recent novels.
I’m not much of a cook, and I don’t bake anything, but I have somehow become a huge fan of The Great British Baking Show. I love the diverse array of guests, their talent and creativity, and how nice everyone is to each other. I also love that the grand prize is a cake stand. I’m sure contestants get a lot of publicity, but they feel like real people who are on the show because they genuinely love baking. So, I was kind of excited to learn that Battle Royal centered around a fictional baking show called Operation Cake.
Sylvie Fairchild was a contestant on Operation Cake four years ago and was doing quite well despite constantly irritating the grumpy, intimidating judge, Dominic De Vere. Dominic likes minimalistic tradition while Sylvie likes everything colorful and sparkly. But after an ambitious unicorn cake went wrong with Dominic literally ending up with cake in his face, she is voted off the show.
Four years later, Sylvie has opened up her own bakery across from Dominic’s, and to help bolster her business has agreed to become a judge on Operation Cake. She’s not excited about spending any time with Dominic, but is happy to do whatever is necessary for her shop.
At the same time, a royal princess gets engaged. It is assumed that De Vere’s business will make the cake for the royal wedding as his shop is all about tradition and understated excellence. But Princess Rosy is a different kind of royal and Sylvie is able to sneak in a proposal at the last minute that gets some attention. All of a sudden, it is Dominic and Sylvie secretly vying for the coveted position as royal wedding cake maker.
This would probably be more than enough fodder for a romance novel, but Parker also weaves in some strong themes of family, attachment, loneliness, and grief. Sylvie was raised by her beloved aunt after her parents died, but then she had to deal with her aunt’s early demise as well. Despite her friends, she feels alone in the world. Dominic had his own very troubling childhood that still affects him today. In this book, Dominic is able to get to know his sister, Pet (short for Petunia). [Pet is also the lead in Parker’s next book, which I’m looking forward to reading].
The romance in this novel is classic love-to-hate, which can be difficult to do. I like that Dominic and Sylvie got to know and understand each other a little better before they hit it off, and there weren’t any hate-hook-ups. I also like that the drama in their relationship was kept to a minimum.
I do need to comment on Operation Bake, though. There were just enough similarities that I thought of it as the same as The Great British Baking Show in my head. But then there were just enough disparities that it bothered me to think of them as the same show. In addition, I sometimes thought of Dominic De Vere as a younger, fitter Paul Hollywood. But it messed with my head to think of Paul Hollywood as a romantic hero. Hollywood is good on the show, but I wouldn’t want him as a romantic lead. In fact, I guess I’d prefer if my favorite baking show and good romance novels wouldn’t overlap.
I really enjoyed this book. I liked the glimpses behind the scenes of the baking show, as well as the royal household. I appreciated the loneliness the characters felt as they struggled to find their new families, and I thought Sylvie and Dominic made a good couple.
You can find all my reviews on my blog.