A Royal World Apart by Maisey Yates
The Particulars: Harlequin Presents, 2012, The Call of Duty series #1, Out of print, available digitally
Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: At the time this landed in my TBR I had just discovered Maisey Yates. So when I saw this book in a pile of library donations I was sorting through, I liberated it. (To feel less guilty about it, I donated a couple of bucks to the Friends of the Library.)
For the purpose of this month's Favorite Tropes theme: this one features a Virgin Hero.
The Review: I know the popularity of the Presents line mystifies a lot of romance readers, so let me see if I can help. Emotionally speaking, these are high intensity stories. Angst, drama, ALL OF THE FEELS, packed into a tiny 185 page package. I started and finished this story in one Saturday afternoon. It delivered characters who grew over the course of the story and a climactic emotional "black moment" that literally bumped my reaction of this story up by half a grade. Frankly, I felt a little hungover after I finished reading it - but in a good way.
We've got ourselves a Presents staple here: a fake royalty story. Evangelina Drakos is a misbehaving princess of a tiny, made-up country that smells faintly Greek/Mediterranean. Eva is tired of living in a gilded cage, so she acts in a way most sheltered, pampered 20-year-old women would - she rebels for the sake of rebelling. What she fails to think through is that if she acts like a child, her father (The King) will continue to treat her like one. Which means after her latest escapade (ditching her bodyguards in a casino) he's giving her a new bodyguard. One not so easily distracted - Makhail Nabatov.
Mak has read the princess's file and thinks he has her pegged. Spoiled brat who wouldn't know a day's hardship if it smacked her on the ass. Needless to say these two are verbally sparring almost from the on-set. He's all about duty and honor and she's some Poor Little Rich Girl. Of course it's all more complicated than that. Mak has built his own empire (hey, this is a Presents - so OF COURSE even The Bodyguard is a Gazillionaire....), loved and lost, and carries around a serious amount of guilt over past tragedies. Eva is a woman who doesn't know who she is, and because of that her rebellion against King and Country is petty at best. But at the end of the day she just wants someone to see her. To listen to her. Hell, at the start of the story she just wants to be a person who can go out and buy her own lingerie. On the surface, Eva may have First World Problems, but deep down it's about identity, knowing who you are, and having people who love you support who you are.
It's a good thing Presents are short (185 pages y'all) because I think this book wouldn't survive the DNF Test if it were longer. Early on Mak comes off as cold and unfeeling, Eva as a spoiled brat trying to get Daddy's attention. And that's what the author wants to make you think of them. Otherwise their growth over the course of the story, their attraction to each other, wouldn't have the same weight behind it. Mak learns to open himself up to another human being and Eva grows up. And it's because of the personal growth of both characters, and their romance, that the Black Moment towards the end has the impact it does. It's good stuff.
I picked this book up for two reasons really: 1) I've liked Yates' work in the past and 2) Virgin Hero. I love Virgin Heroes. That said, when it comes to contemporary romance, if the hero is a virgin it's like the author, editor, whomever, feels like there has to be some Convoluted Reason Why the Sexy Hero Still Hasn't Gotten Any. He's still a virgin because he was kidnapped and raised by wolves. He fell into a coma and woke up to find himself on The Planet of the Apes. Crazy Train stuff like that. And naturally, Yates gives us a reason - although in Mak's case it's wrapped up in bad luck, incredible tragedy, and personal sacrifice.
Here's the thing though - this genre has existed for years never making "excuses" for why heroines are virgins, so the fact we feel like we need an "excuse" for why the hero is one kind of bugs me. OK, it bugs me a lot. This is why, I think, it's harder to find Virgin Heroes in contemporary romances than say, historicals or paranormals. It's easier to accept right out of the gate in 1817 or on the planet Alltran that's ruled by the oppressive Zootron alien race. I do think we're finally getting to the point in contemporary romances where we no longer have to make "excuses" for the heroine's sexual experience (although there's still a ways to go...) - I just wish we'd start thinking about the hero with the same sort of mindset.
Despite me overthinking the Virgin Hero in a contemporary romance thing - I liked this story a lot. It started out a little uneven for me - mostly because the heroine does come off as a spoiled brat, and the hero does come off like an emotional brick wall - but as it progresses, as the author develops her characters and the romance, I really fell into this one. One afternoon, lying in bed reading, don't bother me unless your hair is on fire, fell into it.
Final Grade = B