Saturday, November 28, 2020

Miranda Dubner - The Spare

"I'm publicly bisexual now, I'll make all the musical theatre references I please. I'll belt Cole Porter
songs prancing on top of this bar if I want to." —His Royal Highness Prince Edward Nicholas William Desmond of Wales, second son of Her Majesty Queen Victoria II of England and the Commonwealth
The second son of the Queen of England has certain responsibilities. Dress well, smile at public events, uphold the family honor, be straight. At sixteen, Edward Kensington had been convinced that hiding his bisexuality was a small price to pay to protect his mother and siblings from yet another tabloid scandal in the wake of his parents’ high-profile divorce. But over ten years later, even a closet the size of Buckingham Palace feels small, and his secrets have only gotten harder to keep. Like being in love with his bodyguard—a man by the name of Isaac Cole. Then he’s outed by the press.
The official schedule has no time for an identity crisis, even though every member of the royal family seems to be having one at once. Eddie’s estranged father shows up. His sister flirts with the reporter hired to write their grandmother’s biography. His older brother, harboring a secret of his own, is more reluctant than ever to take up public-facing duties, and Her Majesty is considering going out on a date. And now the Public Relations Office has set Eddie the task of finding himself a suitable fiancée.
But when Eddie learns that Isaac returns his decidedly inconvenient feelings, keeping calm and carrying on becomes impossible. Prince Charming never wished harder for a men’s size 12 glass slipper, but life in the spotlight isn’t a fairy tale, and there are some dragons not even a prince can fight alone. For any one of them to steal a happily ever after, the Kensingtons will have to pull together for the first time since the Second World War.
Hold on to your tiaras. It’s going to be a bumpy ride

Comment: I got aware of this book back in April. It was well liked by some people whose reviews I tend to like for my opinion is often similar. I bought this book a few months later and now I finally got to it. I'm so happy this turned out to be a practically perfect book for me.

In this story we have an alternate universe where the English royal family descended from a different branch than the real one. Therefore, the new queen is Victoria II, who got to the throne after the death of her older brother. Now the Kensingtons live in the same places as the real family does and their lives suffer the same pressure and have the same issues.

Edward is the second son, the "spare", and along with his bother Arthur, the heir, they also have a younger sister, Alexandra. Their interests have always been different but what united them the most was the shock over their parents' divorce and how their father left with a woman who used to be the queen's best friend. Eddie, as he is known by those closer to him, is seen as carefree young man but he hides the fact he does catch the attention to himself so the less favorable details of his family's personalities won't be as obvious. Eddie is also bisexual and in love with his bodyguard Isaac Cole and this wouldn't matter so much if pictures of his university years hadn't become public, forcing him to deal with public opinion and, at the same time, the fact he and Isaac just can't be together since his family has to maintain the status. Or does it? Will Eddie be able to fight for who he wants? Is the world ready to acknowledge the fact royals are just as human and should find happiness like everyone else?

I'll start right away by saying what I liked the most about this story was how the depiction of the characters' emotional journey was done by the author. This is a book where she did think about the characters, about what they are going through and often we have multiple POVs where we can follow them all, some more than others of course, but that makes them all fleshed out to me and I was very happy I could see the author took the time to develop them and to make me, the reader, care.

Another very good aspect of this story for me is how the story is complex without being impossible o read, and how each detail seems to matter, how every single scene - even if not about the characters we like the most - offer something interesting to think about or clues on the character's feelings or possible future. I suppose it can look as if it's too much going on, that the focus isn't on the things readers wanted or that too many characters have a voice" but, really, I don't think it's difficult at all and the complexity of all this with the compassion one can infer in so many things, I think this was a great tactic and in this context, it worked. Of course, not everyone thinks the same nor every story can be told the same way either but here, for me, it worked very well.

The blurb does suggest the focus is going to be on Eddie and his love life. In way, this is correct, since he is the character we follow the most. But he is more than just a man in love and I just loved, loved, how his personality is portrayed, how his insecurities and vulnerable side are such a part of him, along with his sense of duty and his devotion to his family and what it represents. He sees himself as weak when faced with a choice but in reality, all choices seem easy when we are not the ones making them. I liked him as a character but he is so much more than a member of a couple.

His other half, Isaac, is also a fascinating character. I could see his anguish in what was happening, in how he felt he let himself down and how he felt he had no choice from a certain point. In general, the drama/anguish/self worry of all characters was well done. Of course, I was so happy when the book is getting to an end and HEAs seem to become more possible but if there's one element which drags is the more romantic demonstrations of all the character's intentions. There are some great gestures and proves of commitment but it's not always as stressed as it could, perhaps with more smart clues, just how much the couples really feel for one another. 

On the other hand, the reader can read between the lines and that is the fun, the thrill of noticing that things are much deeper, much stronger much more real than what sometimes the characters themselves let it be known. I think it's really special how the family drama is developed in a way that allows us to see how each person of staff and the family members involved in the life of being a royal has to cope with so much. I can't say how realistic but in the context the author presented, I believed every emotion and every decision the characters faced.

I can understand how one might not share my positive views on this book, but to be honest I'm just so happy a book wowed me in relation to my preferences, I don't care about its (sometimes obvious) less positive aspects. It's true there are things which weren't necessary, scenes that didn't seem to have any role but to show us a character's mood, the end is sweet and adorable and followed by poignant scenes and emotions yes, but also a little too perfect, too fairy tale like. Still, I had a great time reading this book and I can see myself re-reading my favorite parts.

Grade: 9/10

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