Title: Her Royal Highness (2019)
Author: Rachel Hawkins
Imprint: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)
Read: 20th – 24th June 2019
Genre: young-adult contemporary
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“Millie Quint is devastated when she discovers that her sort-of-best friend/sort-of-girlfriend has been kissing someone else. Heartbroken and ready for a change of pace, Millie decides to apply for scholarships to boarding schools… the farther from Houston the better. Soon, Millie is accepted into one of the world’s most exclusive schools, located in the rolling highlands of Scotland. Here, the country is dreamy and green; the school is covered in ivy, and the students think her American-ness is adorable. The only problem: Mille’s roommate Flora is a total princess. She’s also an actual princess. Of Scotland. At first, the girls can’t stand each other, but before Millie knows it, she has another sort-of-best-friend/sort-of-girlfriend. Princess Flora could be a new chapter in her love life, but Millie knows the chances of happily-ever-afters are slim… after all, real life isn’t a fairy tale… or is it?”(Synopsis from publisher)
Her Royal Highness tells the story of your average Texan teenager, Millie Quint, whose kind-of girlfriend gets back together with her ex, prompting Millie to pursue her fanciful desire to apply for a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school located in the highlands of Scotland, a place she admires from afar as she is deeply interested in geology. A literal world away, Millie hopes that it will distract her from her personal problems and help her to immerse herself in her studies instead. Of course, she wins the scholarship place and when she arrives in the Scottish school she quickly learns her roommate is prestigious in her own rights – she’s actual royalty, Scottish royalty. Fans of the first book in this series by Rachel Hawkins will recognise the character, Princess Flora, who has quite the reputation that she needs to fix up, something which her parents think will be solved by shipping her back off to boarding school in the highlands. Unsurprisingly, the two girls’ personalities immediately clash and the roommates struggle to form a friendship and, perhaps, more.
” ‘You. Are. The. Worst,’ I enunciate, pointing at her. ‘What’s so hard about your life? Oh, boo-hoo, you’re missing a fashion show. Oh no, your parents want you to have a good and interesting education. What a shame, you have two of them, and they both care about you.’ “
Given the setup of this story, it’s not difficult to guess what course the story might well follow. People familiar with YA contemporary will find more than its fair share of tropes explored within this novel, as well as somewhat subverted. I think the genre is, like romantic comedy films, comforting precisely because you can likely the guess the ending as soon as you start reading the story – the joy to be found in reading stories of this type is entirely in observing the characters’ journey to that all-too-predictable ending. The key, therefore, is to make sure the characters and their personalities are endearing enough to make you want to root for them. This is certainly the case with Her Royal Highness. I’d say that Millie, as a protagonist, is slightly easier to bear than Daisy, the protagonist of Royals/Prince Charming, simply because she comes across as slightly less of the ‘airhead American teen’ stereotype; she is attending the boarding school because it’s prestigious and academic and happens to be in a beautiful part of the Scottish countryside, not because it’s related to the Scottish royals.
” ‘Millie, you know this is just a school, right? This isn’t your Hogwarts letter.’
‘And you’re not an owl but this is absolutely the closest thing I’m ever going to get to a Hogwarts letter, so hand it over.’ “
As with stories of this sort, the enjoyment of the growing relationship isn’t just to be found in the main romantic relationship; it’s also in the side characters who help to populate the friendship groups with form throughout the course of the story. Whereas in the previous book we had the infamous Royal Wreckers, Her Royal Highness sees a group of friends in Millie’s classmates, Saks and Perry, who she befriends before realising they are the children of rich and aristocratic parents in their own rights. Obviously, there is also a fun tension between the snobby girls of the school and Millie who is the underdog and outsider even just in her accent. It’s very much a fish out of water tale, especially when Millie forms a friendship with Flora and, one weekend, accompanies her to an exclusive highland gathering at a country estate hosted by a laird. Millie, though, doesn’t seem as wrong-footed amongst all the glitz and glamour of royalty and expected social etiquette as Daisy was in the first book, another factor that makes her easier to like and root for in the end.
“How does she smell good even after hiking, falling in a river, and hiking some more?
Another princess privilege probably.“
I listened to the book via audiobook and whilst the narrator, Karissa Vacker, does a good job of portraying the fun of the story, I would say don’t expect too much for her attempts at accents, a caution well worth mentioning if you are a Scottish reader, in particular. As much of the story takes place in the Highlands, expect to cringe at points when the Texan teen protagonist is romanticising that location. However, none of this detracted from my enjoyment of the story, as I’d learnt from the first book in the Royals series to expect a few missteps and to suspend the disbelief enough to enjoy the book for what it is – none of the missteps are maliciously intended.
” ‘The stag is the national animal of Scotland. And since I’m a princess…’
‘What? You think this thing respects rank?’ “
In conclusion, Her Royal Highness was a fun contemporary novel that I’d argue could certainly be read independent of its predecessor, Royals (republished as Prince Charming). Providing you’re willing to suspend disbelief when it comes to the very idea of a contemporary Scottish royal family, then you’ll enjoy this novel. More so than the previous one, Her Royal Highness really focuses on the characters’ characterisation and personal growth over putting them in situations that showcase the trappings of royalty. I found its protagonists more easily likeable than those in Royals but fans of the first book will certainly be glad to see cameos from the Royal Wreckers. Essentially, this book is the very epitome of the “omg they were roommates” meme, but with added royalty.
” ‘They’re just people. End of the day, same as anyone else.’
‘Do you actually believe that?’
‘Oh god, no. Bloody terrifying, the whole lot of them, me included.’ “