A Royal Pain is Megan Mulry’s debut novel and it’s liked by many… just not me. I thought the heroine was a brat; the hero, a bath mat; and the plot both convoluted and at times, dull.
A Royal Pain strays far from what would be considered traditional romance. Its heroine, Bronte Talbott, begins the book lusting for a sexy guy she calls Mr. Texas. She and Mr. Texas become involved; Bronte leaves a successful and happy life in New York and follows him to Chicago where, after several months of painful realization Mr. Texas isn’t that into her, he dumps her. She builds a life in Chicago — she not only gets high paying jobs easily, she does them very well — and in the spring meets Max, a gorgeous guy with an upper-crust British accent, a very big secret, and the true love interest of the tale.
Max falls for Bronte immediately — so quickly it struck me as odd. Bronte, however, tells him she’s not looking for love; she’s looking for TM: Transitional Man. Max says yes, yes to being her TM, yes to whatever Bronte wants. The two begin dating and having the most fabulous sex of Bronte’s life. Bronte is determined to define the relationship as temporary; Max wants forever.
All this takes place in the first 20% of the book. By then, I had developed a profound dislike for Bronte and I thought Max deserved a much less whiny, self-centered woman. Not liking Bronte meant not liking the book’s narration given the vast majority of the prose is from her point of view. (Occasionally, somewhat startlingly, one sees the world from Max’s vista.)
Why didn’t I like Bronte? Bronte’s character can be summed up by the old joke about the narcissist at the cocktail party. You know, the one who goes on and on about themselves and then pauses, smiles brilliantly, and says, “Enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?” She’s all about Bronte all the time. And I do mean all the time. Bronte narrates this book and all she seems to ever think about is how everything will affect her. When Max tells her his father is dying and he needs her support she thinks:
….there was no way in hell she was ever going to be propelled into action by the demanding threats of a man who thought he knew what was best for her. Lionel Talbott had spent too many years making her feel like she wasn’t entitled to her own opinions… to her own mind. Even the vaguest hint of Max trying to wield the same arrogant power made her withdraw. She shook her head in a slow, silent no.
The only time she ever puts Max’s wants ahead of her own is when he has seduced her and she’s mindlessly craving the release only he and his magic body parts can give. (This bothered me too.) But non-blissed out Bronte is immature and selfish. I really wanted Max to dump her and find a woman who would give him even half of the love, attention, and care he lavished on Bronte.
Max, though charming, also irked me. He keeps his royalty a secret from Bronte and yet is angry when she keeps things from him. He’s also so wealthy it seems unreal and too often he uses his wealth to impress Bronte. And, as I mentioned earlier, he’s so besotted by Bronte he lets her, for most of the novel, treat him far more meanly than he treats her.
The plot of the novel is discursive. Max’s and Bronte’s relationship has so many stops and starts that, by the middle of the book, I’d lost interest in their story. I never garnered interest in the other smaller plotlines which involved their work, their families, and their friends.
I can see, however, why so many readers like this book. For starters, it’s a story many adore: brassy girl finds true love with a handsome, fabulously wealthy Duke. The novel portrays the “royal” life in England as one of endless wealth, jewels, fine wine, and gorgeous castles. Ms. Mulry’s writing is often funny and she’s good with descriptive phrasing. The love scenes are frequent and detailed, and had I cared whether or not Bronte had cataclysmic sex (which I didn’t because she’s such a brat), I would have found them hot.
I wouldn’t say it was painful to read A Royal Pain. In fact, it’s a book I liked better while reading than when, afterwards, I began to think about it. It is entertaining. It’s just not entertaining enough to overcome the unsatisfied and annoyed feeling I had by its end. I give it a C.
-- Dabney Grinnan
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