When Shanti Mohapi weds the king of Njaza, her dream of becoming a queen finally comes true. But it’s nothing like she imagined. Shanti and her husband may share an immediate and powerful attraction, but her subjects see her as an outsider, and everything she was taught about being the perfect wife goes disastrously wrong.
A king must rule with an iron fist, and newly crowned King Sanyu was born perfectly fitted for the gauntlet, even if he wishes he weren’t. He agrees to take a wife as is required of him, though he doesn’t expect to actually fall in love. Even more vexing? His beguiling new queen seems to have the answers to his country’s problems—except no one will listen to her.
By day, they lead separate lives. By night, she wears the crown, and he bows to her demands in matters of politics and passion. When turmoil erupts in their kingdom and their marriage, Shanti goes on the run, and Sanyu must learn whether he has what it takes both to lead his people and to catch his queen.
This book has been on my TBR pile (digitally speaking) for a while. I was hesitant to read this because Alyssa Cole often described it as a “Bluebeard” retelling, and that is not one of my favorite tales. However, I’m here to say that this isn’t a creepy or gory retelling, it is focused on the emotional structure of the story. The only tricky part for me about this book was fully comprehending Chanti’s motives, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the book and cheering at the happy ending. Plus, we meet a secondary character that is hilarious and acts as a sort of catalyst, and for fans of Cole’s Reluctant Royals series, there are cameos by a lot of characters in this book. Chanti has a lot of drive, but she doesn’t know what she’s walking into when she agrees to marry Sanyu, who is not emotionally ready to be king or husband but who is willing to learn. This book is set in a fictional country on the continent of Africa and is interwoven with the places Cole has created in her Reluctant Royals series.
Chanti has been planning all her life to be a queen, because all her heroes are queens and they have shaped the world to make it better than it was before and Chanti wants to shape the world to make it much better than it is now. Chanti sn’t just a pretty face, she is intelligent intelligent, curious, and able to move through unfamiliar environments — not everyone can do this easily. She has written papers on promoting monarchies, and done extensive research on ways to improve countries’ economies without leaning into extractive models. And she can wield a bowstaff with deadly accuracy. In short, she is great. The flipside of all this is that she can sometimes be a bit the-means-justify-the-ends, which leads to the big internal conflict between Sanyu and her. Unlike Sanyu, she has a warm family that supported her in her goals, so she isn’t expecting Sanyu to be anything else than what he appears to be, a young, strong-willed king. That doesn’t mean she is unable to handle Sanyu and all of his baggage, just that she missteps at times because she doesn’t O all the history of Sanyu. That is a lot of what this book revolves around.
Sanyu is not ready to be king, and not ready to be Chanti’s (or anyone’s) husband, even if temporarily. He was never given the chance to flex his adult “muscles,” the same way young adults whose parents have done everything for them struggle when they first move out on their own. But Sanyu is not moving out on his own, he is stepping into a set of responsibilities. He didn’t have a stable, happy childhood, and he doesn’t feel like he can live up to his father’s expectations. The second feeling is repeatedly reenforced by a close family friend. That, among other things, makes it difficult for Sanyu to be effective at his job, or at being a good husband. However, Chanti doesn’t tell him what to do in their relationship or as king. They talk through the problems the kingdom is having and work out solutions. Their romantic relationship isn’t that free-flowing, because Chanti is missing a lot of Sanyu’s backstory for most of the book. Even with this challenge, they understand each other pretty well for the most part, once they start conversing. They can read each other’s body language fairly well by the time the big conflict scene rolls around, and they know what they need to work on to build a long-lasting partnership.
Like I said, my only, tiny stumbling point with this book is that I found Chanti’s motivation to be queen difficult to comprehend, but I’m pretty sure that is just me. On the plus side, we meet a hilarious secondary character who shows up in time to shake Sanyu and Chanti into progress. She also shows Sanyu what it would be like to stand his ground, though I don’t think he noticed that while it was happening.
This is a fairly angsty read, but it has Cole’s signature streaks of funny, even when the characters are floundering. I also enjoyed the world building, both the physical environment and the political one. Long time readers will probably be pleased with the cameos previous characters make in this book. I’m looking forward to more from Alyssa Cole!
You can buy a copy here.