Is there any guilty pleasure quite as satisfying as royal watching? We all love to tune into the elaborate weddings, analyze sartorial choices and coo when a royal baby arrives on the scene. But as basically every generation of royalty throughout history has shown, the happy ever after surface doesn’t always match what’s happening behind palace walls, and occasionally that unhappiness breaks into the public. Few know the score as well as Go Fug Yourself bloggers Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, who return to their fictional Prince Nicholas and Duchess Bex in The Heir Affair.
First introduced in The Royal We, when American Bex, nee Rebecca Porter of Iowa, catches the eye and then the heart of second-in-line to the throne Nick, The Heir Affair picks up with the new Duke and Duchess of Clarence running a bookstore in rural England and calling each other Steve and Margot. The ruse is necessary given the closing scenes of The Royal We, which caught Bex and Nick saying their vows in a glorious Westminster Abbey at the very moment a sex scandal involving Bex and Prince Frederick (Nick’s brother and ‘the spare’) breaks. The reception on the Abbey steps is frosty to say the least, but it’s nothing compared to the wrath that Queen Eleanor, Nick’s grandmother, has for the couple back at Buckingham Palace. Ironically, the only way to make the fairy tale work for Nick and Bex is to escape into anonymity. But after a few weeks of real happiness, it’s back to the real (?) world of palaces and royal duties. And while Bex and Nick went into their marriage and new lives with eyes fully open, the realities of setting up a home, navigating new roles and oh yes, starting a family, can trip up even the most resilient of couples. Doing it among a (royal) family that definitely has its issues while under the microscope of constant media attention, and Bex and Nick might turn into one big nix.
The Heir Affair basically drops readers into Bex and Nick’s experiences in media res, so familiarity with The Royal We is a must (I read the first book a while ago, and will admit to being somewhat lost in Heir until I read a summary of the earlier title). And at close to 500 pages, The Heir Affair is long—Cocks and Morgan cover the first few years of the Clarences’ marriage in what sometimes feels like overlong detail. But the novel works on the whole for two very important reasons: Bex and Nick are both beautifully written characters, who somehow seem both down to earth and glamorous enough to pull off the royal trappings with aplomb. Cocks and Morgan don’t shy away from the real issues that a young couple might face—communication problems, future expectations and the looming question when to start a family—and make Bex and Nick’s reactions to those problems believable. Their supporting cast of characters is entertainingly lively, and spotting veiled references to current British culture and recent history makes for a diverting Easter egg hunt. Some aspects of plot are a bit overstuffed—I could have done without a late plotline dealing with some revelations about Queen Eleanor that felt awkward and unbelievable. But at its Bex/Nick core, The Heir Affair makes for the right blend of royal fantasy and down-to-earth business of making a family—even a royal one—with an imperfect but still solid future.