Rating: ♥️ ♥️ ♥️ 1/2
Will the princess save the beast?
For Princess Jaya Rao, nothing is more important than family. When the loathsome Emerson clan steps up their centuries-old feud to target Jaya’s little sister, nothing will keep Jaya from exacting her revenge. Then Jaya finds out she’ll be attending the same elite boarding school as Grey Emerson, and it feels like the opportunity of a lifetime. She knows what she must do: Make Grey fall in love with her and break his heart. But much to Jaya’s annoyance, Grey’s brooding demeanor and lupine blue eyes have drawn her in. There’s simply no way she and her sworn enemy could find their fairy-tale ending…right?
His Lordship Grey Emerson is a misanthrope. Thanks to an ancient curse by a Rao matriarch, Grey knows he’s doomed once he turns eighteen. Sequestered away in the mountains at St. Rosetta’s International Academy, he’s lived an isolated existence—until Jaya Rao bursts into his life, but he can’t shake the feeling that she’s hiding something. Something that might just have to do with the rose-shaped ruby pendant around her neck…
As the stars conspire to keep them apart, Jaya and Grey grapple with questions of love, loyalty, and whether it’s possible to write your own happy ending.
tw: abuse, media exploitation of girls, manipulative bully
This book is a romantic tale of revenge curmudgeons slowly transforming into a bunch of softies.
Jaya starts school with revenge on her mind. St. Rosetta’s International Academy is an elite boarding school for the wealthy, except the cast is diverse. Yes, queer people and black people exist in wealthy circles. I mean who knew. It’s not like publishers forgot you could have a diverse cast of characters or anything…
Sandhya Menon gives the people what they want. She gives gorgeous dresses, old European castle aesthetics, queer people, black people, an Indian princess, a girl mechanic who should be my bestie.
This book is fun. It is a contemporary YA romance striving to emulate the heightened emotions of Bollywood films and Gossip Girl, with a dash of Disney Channel campy fun. Told in the traditional style of romance novels, one perspective is from Jaya and the other from Grey.
The melodramatic flavor is everything that I am trash for. This is a book you take to the beach or you cozy up on a couch with a blanket when life is just Donald Trump’s face planted everywhere. You need a break. You need to exit the trashy reality. Sandhya Menon is here for you. She cares deeply about your reading life.
Menon gives us a contemporary romance where Indian girls aren’t side characters or the stereotypical best friend but a heroine just as deserving of a fluffy romance. Not only is this giving Indian girls a romance at its center but it’s not relegating the royalty trope to white people or to make the entire point about painful struggles of marginalized people. Wow, air? How refreshing.
After India’s independence the Emerson’s refused to return the ruby they stole from her family. Jaya’s ancestor cursed the ruby, bringing misfortune to the Emerson line. Menon applies magical realism to her book, something many only associate with Latinx postcolonial literary traditions. Many South Asian cultures also use it in their literary traditions. Like Latinx authors, Indian authors write magical realism, blending the realities of colonialism with magical elements as a tool against the oppression their people face. She twists the fairy tale. Fairy tales once centered white Europeans and made marginalized people into the villains. Menon plays with that idea and makes the history of fairy tales all about an Indian girl who loves her family deeply. She has microphone.
I should also note that magical elements also frequently show up in Bollywood romances and Disney Channel shows. Both of which are my favorite things about Bollywood films and Disney’s crazy sauce plot lines.
Grey Emerson is the son and heir of the Emerson family. His father is emotionally abusive. Grey is influenced to believe that the Rao’s conflict with the Emerson’s is not because of colonialism but to mere historic rivalry between aristocratic families. Grey does not believe, at first, that he should be blamed for his ancestor’s past. Oh, sweet summer child. This characterization is based off the types of things Indian people hear from white British people when it concerns their supposed ‘inability’ to ‘get over’ the violence still impacting their people. His acknowledgment of his white male privilege was refreshing to see. That’s what separates ownvoices from non ownvoices: nuance and details. It’s just generally a better story if we’re being honest here.
Jaya does not just come to this school to get revenge on an Emerson without her reasons. A picture taken of her sister lead to a public outcry against their family. Jaya believes Grey is the source of the media inflicting shame upon her sister’s image in India. Reminder, colonialism impacted India’s expectations of women in their society. Feminism is viewed from a euro-centric point of view and therefore not seen as a positive ideology in Indian society. However, Indian women are putting their own perspective on how feminism can work within Indian traditions instead of white euro-centric ones. Menon addresses feminism but applies it to a valid space for Indian women, for characters like Jaya and her sister.
Jaya is complicated. The experiences and history of her family makes her complicated. Some reviewers have commented that they empathize more with Grey, an abuse victim, more than they sympathize with Jaya, struggling with the remnants British colonizers inflicted on her family. Jaya is very judgmental at the begginning of this book but you learn why she’s that way. You see the layers of her unravel and change into someone amazing. White men will always get more empathy than complex girls dealing with real world problems. Jaya deals with all the problems of most teens in addition to the colonialism inflicted on her people. Her right to have empathy from readers is just as valid as the emotional abuse that Grey experiences from his father. I would say these two experiences have a relationship to one another.
It seems Menon is not just trying to tell a contemporary romance but also how the violent past can impact a person’s heart.
Complex girls, especially girls of color, deserve love just as much as boys. The book community should seriously think about what it’s doing when it praises white boys above girls of color.
Jaya is ambitious which is the way to my heart. Jaya wants to discover herself, who she is outside of Jaya, a Rao Rajkumari. I have a soft spot for girls who develop into this new person by the end of the book. I like to see those layers peeled. Give me the developed girls. The complicated girls. The revenge girls.
Caterina is one of the side characters in this book that fascinates me endlessly. It’s obvious that she’s not a good person. She collects people for power but her character is still dealt with empathy instead of veering into the type of misogynistic stereotypical tropes set out for toxic people like her. There’s this complex development going on that I find intriguing. I hate villains that are obviously bad. Caterina is not a clear-cut bully. The interesting bitches are unpredictable.
I do have some negative opinions on the book that keep this from being a 4 star. I felt aspects of the book to be missing or lacking. There’s a development between the characters that takes off at a certain point and loses the slow burn I thought this would be. It relies too heavily on fast pacing at a certain point in the character’s development. I understand the author wanted to keep a fast pace but I didn’t feel as gripped by the book because of this. The climax left me feeling a little empty.
I would recommend this if you’re looking for something light, fun, and intelligent.
Thank you to Simon Pulse for an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review.