Reading A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole is like being wrapped in a warm fuzzy blanket. It’s filled with some of my favorite tropes, demonstrates enthusiastic opt-in consent, and features the heroine’s network of supportive female friends. It was great until I reached the end, which felt too rushed.
You don’t have to read the other Reluctant Royals books before you start A Prince on Paper (this is book three), but they will introduce the supporting cast and set up some context.
When the book opens Nya Jerami is returning to her home country of Thesolo for the royal wedding between her friend Ledi and Prince Thabiso (the couple from the first book, A Princess in Theory). Returning to Thesolo is difficult for Nya; her father is in prison after trying to poison Ledi. In fact, Nya is re-examining her childhood and realizing that her father was manipulative, abusive, and used to make her sick with poison as a means of control. She grew up feeling weak and chronically ill, and so she believed she would always have to depend on him.
Now Nya is free from her father, but she’s still working through her trauma, and she’s a source of gossip back in Thesolo.
Also attending the wedding is Johan von Braustein of Liechtienbourg. Johan is the step-brother to Lukas, heir to the Liechtienbourg throne. Johan is a notorious playboy, a role that he plays for the paparazzi to keep the spotlight off his younger brother. He meets Nya on the way to the wedding and they do some heavy-duty flirting. It’s apparent that there’s an intense attraction between them.
I think that attraction worked for me because of how considerate Johan actually is. He apologizes when he oversteps while flirting once, and at one point he notices Nya’s period has started and is visible on the back of her dress. He escorts her out of the reception while shielding her back from all of the people who are already whispering about her due to her father’s actions. Being unfazed by menstruation should be a minimum requirement for all romance heroes.
Then we get one of my favorite tropes: fake dating/engagement. Nya is struggling being back in Thesolo; she feels tainted by her father’s crimes and some people are outright shitty to her. She doesn’t want to return to NYC, though. She found the city too overwhelming for her. Meanwhile, Johan needs some good press: there’s a referendum going on in his country that could result in the monarchy being dismantled. The media has already been posting gossip about a possible relationship between Nya and Johan, so they take it to the next step. They decide to fake an engagement so that Johan can get the more positive press he needs and Nya can spend some time in Liechtienbourg figuring out what she wants to do next. Also it gives them the opportunity to make out a lot.
One thing I loved about this book was how it utilized opt-in consent during the sex scenes. Nya has led and a sheltered life and while she’s not naïve, she’s also not experienced sexually. She takes the lead in their sexual relationship and tells Johan specifically what she wants to do with him. Rather than telling him to stop when they’ve gone beyond her comfort zone (opt-out consent), she explicitly tells him what she wants, and sets boundaries (such as over-the-clothes foreplay). There’s nothing clinical or stilted about this dialogue; it’s very sexy, and Johan absolutely respects the rules Nya has put into place.
Of course as the book progresses the couple begins to develop real feelings for each other. This is terrifying to Johan who has some serious issues with commitment and trust. Johan’s mother married the king and became very active within the royal family. When she began to have health issues, she refused to slow down despite her doctor’s orders, and, while suffering from vertigo, fell down a flight of stairs to her death. Johan was extremely close to his mother. He was also the kid who was sensitive and cried easily–his playboy image is partly how he protects himself. He uses that persona to keep his true self hidden. He’s a sekrit cinnamon roll, which is another trope I love.
Johan is incredibly protective of Lukas and worries about the toll the monarchy and the media will take on him. He’s similarly protective of Nya, but won’t let her truly get close for fear he’ll be vulnerable and hurt again.
Nya has her trauma too, but she’s given more space within the book to work through it. Her father continues to write her and try and manipulate her from prison (he threatens to starve himself to death if she doesn’t visit). Nya has her best friends, Portia and Ledi, to support her and, in some cases, shield her from her father’s machinations. She’s open about her pain, and asks for help when she needs it. As a result it feels more plausible that she’s able to heal and open herself up to trust again.
Johan doesn’t really confide in anybody. He’s never given the time to deal with his anxieties regarding his brother, his grief for his mother, or his own relationship with the media. He just sort of falls in love with Nya and his issues regarding abandonment and trust somehow get better. One of the reasons I loved Johan’s character is that while he has a celebrity persona for the media, he is actually incredibly sensitive and empathetic. When he reflected on how badly he was teased at school or how close he was to his late mother, my heart hurt a little. So I was disappointed when he was just sort of magically okay at the end.
I loved a whole lot about A Prince on Paper. I loved that Johan was a really, really sweet guy who respects the heroine and loves his brother. I loved that Nya had a support system of other women who stand up for her and protect her. I loved the fantasy-European kingdom this book is set it. I loved the fake engagement. The thing that didn’t work for me was that the hero had some pretty profound trauma, and I never felt he resolved it.
A Prince on Paper was a fun, fairytale romance, but it needed more resolution to totally satisfy me.