Alyssa Cole’s How to Catch a Queen is a frustrating but enjoyable romance

How to Catch a Queen by Alyssa Cole. Image courtesy HarperCollins Publishers
How to Catch a Queen by Alyssa Cole. Image courtesy HarperCollins Publishers /

How to Catch a Queen by Alyssa Cole kicks her new Runaway Royals series off on an enjoyable but frustrating note.

Every time Alyssa Cole publishes a new book, it’s a cause for romance readers to celebrate. How to Catch a Queen will fall in line with her other ventures in the genre as a tale focused on characters fighting their internal demons and external forces, and finding their way through the messy first blushes of love.

Cole is a master of untangling webs of personal trauma to sort through themes of identity, leadership, community, and support. How to Catch a Queen is no different in that regard, but wading through pages of misogyny and sexism perpetuated by the Njaza council and romantic hero King Sanyu’s complicity in it, as well as his initial refusal to step up as king, will try even the most ardent of Cole’s fans. I know because it took everything in me not to put the book down and walk away before I got into the meatier bits of the story.

How to Catch a Queen is the first book in Cole’s Runaway Royals series, a spin-off of her popular Reluctant Royals books. At the story’s center is King Sanyu and Queen Shanti, an estranged couple in an arranged marriage who we first meet in A Prince on Paper. The two have been married for three months, but they barely know each other.

In the kingdom of Njaza, women hold no seats of power — even the queen is expected to stay silent. By tradition, the king must put his wife through a trial period to determine if she is, in fact, the True Queen, a woman worthy of being at his side. Sanyu spent his childhood watching women marry his father, be left alone, and then leave with no title, no claims upon the throne, or anything to remember them by other than faded memories.

It’s important to note that the trial period has no rules, no requirements, and no expectations of the woman being subjected to it. Whether a queen is fit for the king is determined by the council and their whims not the actual aptitude of the woman seeking to be the true queen of Njaza.

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Sanyu, who has no experience with romantic love and was raised in the shadow of his father with the royal advisor Musoke routinely detailing his shortcomings, has so much anxiety in making decisions for himself, his kingdom, and his queen that he leaves it up to other people to choose for him.

The first half of How to Catch a Queen is spent navigating Sanyu’s lack of forthright action and it’s effect on Shanti, who wants to help the people of Njaza, even if that means participating in a budding uprising. Shanti has always wanted to be a queen. She’s spent her life preparing for the day when she could shepherd a kingdom. She thought marrying Sanyu would be her opportunity to do so, but her ideas are dismissed, she’s mocked for being a foreigner, and she’s belittled for her gender by the council.

The book doesn’t truly get on the right foot until Sanyu and Shanti spend time together, but it takes a while to get to that point — about 70 pages. Once they do, however, How to Catch a Queen becomes a romance about unlearning toxic behavior and self-doubt caused by verbal abuse, and finding the courage to shape and give voice to your own ideas.

As a couple, the pair are more focused on partnership and what it means to be a united front even when they have different ideas of how to move forward with the agendas they feel can best end stagnation in Njaza. Though that’s not to say they don’t have cute, sweeping romantic moments or that they don’t cater to each other’s desires and needs. They do, it’s just Sanyu and Shanti also spend much of their time working to improve their country and push for change.

Overall, How to Catch a Queen is a good read with a bent toward imagining a systematic remodeling of a monarchy so steeped in patriarchy that it refuses to move forward with the rest of the world to its own detriment.

Readers may also enjoy plots focused on finding out what happened to the previous queens, learning about the revolution that placed Sanyu I on the throne, and the introduction of Beznaria Chetchevaliere, a junior investigator for the World Federation of Monarchists, professional rescuer of damsels in distress, and one of the heroines of book two in the Runaway Royals series, How to Find a Princess out May 25, 2021.

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How to Catch a Queen by Alyssa Cole is available now in print, audio, and e-book format.