Hi everybody, I hope you’re doing well! I’ve been posting fewer reviews this month than normal mainly because I’ve been distracted from reading by two new switch games that I bought (if you’re curious they’re Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion and Carto and they’re both brilliant!), but I’ve also just been slacking on reviewing because of some work stuff! But, I’ve finally decided to tackle my review of Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins and…uhh…it was definitely an eventful read!
Title: Her Royal Highness
Author: Rachel Hawkens
Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, Young Adult
Synopsis: Millie Quint is devastated when she discovers that her sort-of-best friend/sort-of-girlfriend has been kissing someone else. And because Millie cannot stand the thought of confronting her ex every day, she decides to apply for scholarships to boarding schools . . . the farther from Houston the better.
Millie can’t believe her luck when she’s accepted into one of the world’s most exclusive schools, located in the rolling highlands of Scotland. Everything about Scotland is different: the country is misty and green; the school is gorgeous, and the students think Americans are cute.
The only problem: Mille’s roommate Flora is a total princess.
She’s also an actual princess. Of Scotland.
At first, the girls can barely stand each other–Flora is both high-class and high-key–but before Millie knows it, she has another sort-of-best-friend/sort-of-girlfriend. Even though Princess Flora could be a new chapter in her love life, Millie knows the chances of happily ever afters are slim . . . after all, real life isn’t a fairy tale . . . or is it?
So, I’ve had Her Royal Highness on my radar for some time – I have a friend who really loved it and recommended it to me, and it was one of the first sapphic contemporary books I ever heard about. But alongside finding out that it’s sapphic, I also found out that it is set in Scotland. I love reading books by Scottish authors, and even more than that I love reading books that are set in Scotland, but there are few and far between that aren’t your standard historical romance where a woman falls in love with a duke, or that very famous one with a TV series that I will not name (though they filmed near where I live and my friend who works in a café near one of the locations had to constantly deal with the American tourists that flocked to see literally just a window…), so I was so intrigued by it. Plus, despite being vehemently anti-private schools, I do love a good boarding school setting. After having the book on my radar for a few years, I started hearing people saying that the representation of Scotland in its companion novel was a bit weird, and was bordering on fetishization, but that this book was much better in that respect, so I picked it up. But oh boy, I was not ready for some of the lines that I came across in this book!
Her Royal Highness follows Millie who is in her final year of high school. She’s a high achiever and is absolutely in love with Scotland, so she decides to apply to a prestigious boarding school in the Highlands of Scotland for her final year of school, but isn’t expecting much to come from her application – it is, after all, the first year that the school is accepting female students. But, Millie does get in, but decides to keep it a secret from her family until the last possible second, because she’s starting to have doubts after she finally finds herself in a relationship with her best friend whom she’s had a crush on for a while. But, when her crush, Jude, cheats on Millie with her gross ex-boyfriend Millie decides to bite the bullet and make the trip to Scotland. But when she gets there she finds out that her rude and stuck-up roommate is actually a Scottish princess and the two can’t help but clash heads at every opportunity.
So, before I go into my (probably) long winded dissection of the book, I thought I’d explain what led me to give such a high rating to a book with an otherwise laughable setting-slash-whatever-that-is! As I mentioned, I love boarding school books, the further secluded they are from any village, town or city, the better, and this book definitely delivered. I would have even loved the book to be slightly longer so that we could see some of the lessons and get maybe some more description of the school, but maybe that’s just a personal thing! I also really enjoyed the romance, which is strange, because on many occasion I’ve stressed that I don’t really enjoy enemies-to-lovers romances, but I felt that this one was done very well. The transition from enemies to friends was done really well and then the yearning from that point on was so, so good! Flora (the Scottish princess) was definitely a stand-out character to me, and she was definitely one of the more fleshed out characters in the book. Though she was standoffish at times, I could understand her plight, and she was exactly the type of girl I would’ve had a crush on back in high school too! Compared to the tirade that’s coming in this review, these factors pale in comparison, but the honest reason why I rated this book so highly is simply because it was a lot of fun! I read a lot of adult fiction and ya contemporaries that tackle some pretty heavy topics, and this was just a nice breath of fresh air when I was feeling really slumpy!
Before I get into the whole Scotland debacle, I wanted to highlight a couple of things other than that that I didn’t love about the book. First of all, the characters. They were so unbelievably two-dimensional it was painful. At times I forgot who characters were and when they were brought up again I was completely lost. Not even our main character, Millie, was fleshed out enough and all I know about her is that she likes Scotland an awful lot and wants to be a geologist…that’s it. I also really didn’t like the beginning or the ending of the book. The beginning was too quick and I didn’t feel like Millie really had any strong feelings about Jude in the first place (and her whole failed relationship was quickly forgotten about when she moved to Scotland). As for the ending, there was some really stupid conflict that didn’t make sense in the slightest when the book had around twenty pages to go, which was resolved in the most ridiculous manner and right at the end it was that classic sapphic YA ending of, they kiss and decide to be together, the end. I think the solution to most of these issues would have been to make the book longer than its paltry 274 pages.
Now, onto the part of the review I have been dying to write! How Scotland is represented! Obviously, before diving into the book I knew that this was some weird alternate Scotland and that we had a Scottish royalty, and despite being able to suspend my belief for a minute, the book kept making it so weird that I feel like I have to address it. Scotland does not have its own monarchy – we are sadly under the reign of Queen Elizabeth. According to a 2018 poll, Scots were the most anti-monarchy out of the four countries in the UK with one in three people being actively against it. So it seems very weird to me that this was the route that the author decided to go in, but as I said, I could suspend my disbelief so that I could read a Scottish sapphic romance. But then the explanation of the royal family and other Lords and Dukes, etc. were laid out was an absolute nonsense (not to mention that it should be Laird, rather than Lord, but I’ll tackle language later). So, regardless of how the royal family was said to have been re-established, there were castles all over the place with Flora’s family staying in what I presume is Holyrood palace (as all we were told is that it is a palace in Edinburgh, so obviously not Edinburgh Castle), with other lesser royals dotted about the country, pretty evenly spread out. And then there was mention of a Duke? A Lord? I honestly can’t remember, up on the Isle of Skye, who was said to rule over all the Isle of Skye as well as the Outer Hebrides. Now, if you look at a map of Scotland, and also just even try and imagine in your head how one person can rule over several wee islands like that, it’s just not feasible, especially since it was said that this position went back to pre-Highland clearances time (more on this later too) when there was a clan system in Scotland, which is just absolute nonsense that would never work!
Even if you ignore all that, and anything really to do with the royal family, there was still an extra layer of nonsense on top of that. Starting with any historical understanding of the country. At least as far as I can recall, there was no mention of the clan system in Scotland, or the Highland clearances, despite the royal family being so clearly based on this. It’s like the authors whole research for this book was maybe watching a couple of episodes of Outlander (okay, I know I said I wasn’t gonna name the show) and decided that she knew enough about the programme to write a whole book on the country. I know that compared to some countries, this isn’t really harmful representation, but it is just so fetishising of out entire country since the large majority of media set here revolves solely around Edinburgh and the Highlands (but not any specific places, maybe Skye but that’s the only place they know, and definitely not any towns or villages on Skye itself), and maybe Glasgow if your lucky. The real kick in the teeth regarding this is that at one point at the start of the book, Millie is meeting new people and says that she is from Texas, and then says – that probably means nothing to them, because they’re from the UK. The absolute gall of Americans, oh my god! I just wish these authors could take one step into Buckhaven, Greenock and Paisley at least once before they decide to write about Scotland as if it is this idyllic, picturesque country, as if we aren’t a country that struggles with hundreds of people living below the poverty line, extremely high drug and alcohol related deaths (the reaction to underage drinking in this was also extremely uncharacteristic), transphobia so deeply rooted in our national politics, and a more subtle racism tinging Scottish culture. We are a country with issues and I’m sick and tired of people glossing over it because they think we are just a country of men in kilts with rippling abs ready to take you on a tour of the Highlands. And don’t get me started on how often Braveheart popped up in the book (I haven’t even seen the film???).
On a slightly lighter note, the language. I was expecting the Scottish characters in the book to talk like your stereotypical, hard-to-understand Scottish person, but there was only one person in the book who actually talked like that, and he was literally as if groundskeeper Willie was working at a Scottish boarding school. The rest of the time, everyone talked like what you’d think someone who was upper class English would sound like. It would literally have taken the author five minutes to research how Scottish people sound when they speak Scots (yes, it is an actual language, my mother tongue in fact) but instead it was a travesty. So, I’m going to finish this review typing the way that it should have been done! The tongue spoken i’ the book was muckle an no in a guid wey. On a wheen ae occasions thon wee princess uised wirds lik ‘darling’ tha soond awfae gyre whan ye speak wae a Scots accent, an no youngin is e’er gonnae use a wird lik tha in the first place. Thare wis the uise ae ‘bairn’ throu the beuk an aw, an it’s mair aft that you uise ‘wean’ – ‘bairn’s’ mair ae a stereotype. Lassie an aw – naeb’dy uises tha – lass mebbe, but no lassie. Yer lucky naeb’dy uised a Doric chaunt, thas fir shuir! A wish ahd notit aw the weird phrases so ah coud expleen them aw, but believe me, it wis bad!
Despite the many….rough patches that the book had, I do stand by my rating, as it brought back all that nostalgia of films such as Wild Child and St. Trinnians that I grew up with, and if you’re just looking for a basic, simple and cute sapphic enemies to lovers then I do recommend picking this up, just don’t expect too much from it!