Miss Bates is at the mid-point of her heavy winter: the new parka’s lost its cachet and there are only so many cocoas you can drink. Her romance reading is a great winter sustainer and she’s had a run of good luck with darn good reads lately. The trusted HP, short enough to get through in a few evenings and yet so concentrated on the couple’s romantic journey that it really hits the escapist sweet spot, is a fave pic around this time of year. Jennifer Hayward’s Marrying Her Royal Enemy, third in the mythical Greek-speaking kingdoms of Akathinia and Carnelia series, tells the romantic journey of Akathinian Princess Stella Constantinides and her marriage-of-convenience Carnelian king, Kostas Laskos. Stella and Kostas share a fraught backstory. Their royal families of adjoining kingdoms spent time together, as children, teens, and into adulthood. Kostas’s friendship with Stella’s brothers, Nikanos and Athamos, brought Stella and Kostas together often. Ten years ago one night, Stella waited in Kostas’s bed, her teen crush-faith emboldening her. Kostas squelched his desire for honour’s and frienship’s sake and rejected Stella … even though he wanted her badly. A familiar story to the romance reader and, in Miss Bates’s now-decade-old romance-reading habit, somewhat a tired one. The experience left Stella feeling a failure and harboring dislike and resentment for Kostas.
Kostas is king of Carnelia after his mad father threatened war against Stella’s island-kingdom. Kostas was also implicated in the Akathinian heir’s death by car crash, Stella’s brother Athamos and Kostas’s best friend. With Akathinian King Nikanos in power, Kostas wants to bring peace between their nations and democracy to his own. What better way to do so than convince Stella to marry him. Kostas follows her to Barbados and exerts the full force of his will and attraction. Stella is a tough cookie to break, but agrees to marry him to ensure peace between their kingdoms. She also recognizes that this royal marriage will allow her to help rule a kingdom and bring her charitable endeavours and desire for a seat at the governing table to the forefront. Stella and Kostas embark on their political marriage without realizing that shared responsibilities, marriage-bed, and the day-to-day closeness of a conversation at the breakfast table will resurrect all the dormant love they’ve harbored for each other since childhood.
Miss Bates enjoyed Marrying the Royal Enemy, but not for the usual rom reasons. Yes, it was passionate and moved towards an HEA. But Miss Bates enjoyed it for the protagonists’ desire to live a life of purpose and service. Stella and Kostas are mature characters who, for a variety of reasons, feel as if the chance for love eludes them and will do so evermore. Kostas struggles with a childhood devoid of love, guilt over Athamos’s death, and a single-minded ambition to bring democracy to his country. Stella too, disappointed several times over in her relationships, struggles with loveless parents and believes it’s better for her to inure herself to feeling. Stella and Kostas have a genuine desire to serve and do right in their governing roles. What makes them interesting is how they make those roles, especially the workaholic Kostas, a means of escaping the necessity of working out a personal life.
Hayward’s seemingly humble HP tackles many compelling themes: transcending the past, balancing a life of service with the desire to make a life with a husband or wife, forgiveness of self and others, learning to share confidences, making oneself vulnerable to the other and trusting another person with one’s innermost being. Despite this thematic richness, Stella and Kostas, while they were sexy, weren’t terribly romantic. They spend a lot of time apart, as Kostas avoids the emotional demands Stella places on him and Stella broods over Kosta in her room. Hayward does write quite a pulse-pounding preamble to their HEA and there the romance does enter. Even with this caveat in mind, Miss Bates would still say that Hayward is one of the more interesting HP writers writing today. With her reading sidekick, Miss Austen, she’d agree that Marrying Her Royal Enemy offers “real comfort,” Emma.
Jennifer Hayward’s Marrying Her Royal Enemy is published by Harlequin. It was released in August of 2016 and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received a paper copy courtesy of the author.