How to Find a Princess by Alyssa Cole
Content Warning: alcoholic parent, reference to trauma (refugees fleeing by sea, descriptions of violence and murder, mentions of enslaved ancestors), PTSD, obsession/addiction, bullying
Makeda Hicks just lost her job and her girlfriend all at once—all because she’s too helpful, too selfless. Those aren’t bad traits, right? Back at her grandmother’s bed and breakfast, she’s licking her hurts and trying to figure out what comes next when chaos demon Beznaria Chetchevaliere crashes into her life, convinced Makeda is the exact person she has been trying to avoid: the long-lost princess of the island nation of Ibarania. Makeda might deny her royal heritage, but there’s no denying the chemistry coursing between the two women.
But Bez is on a deadline. Somehow she’s got to convince this reluctant royal to go to Ibarania and reclaim her heritage.
I mean, truly, what kind of investigator just leaves when they’re told to? A bad one. I regret to inform you that I rank in the top ten junior investigators at the WFM. I will not be deterred.
Oooooh, this was delightful, but far harder hitting than I was anticipating.
Definitely heed those trigger warnings, and also know that Makeda’s overhelpfulness and wanting to fix and control everything is an unhealthy coping mechanism to her mother’s addiction and obsession (this is not a spoiler).
I really, really like stories with sunshine and grumpy, but flickering sunshine plus chaos agent? Yes please!
Makeda has had some hard hits, made even worse because she was denied a promotion because of her helpfulness and inability to say no, and the women who was promoted had been using Makeda’s work as her own (and continued to call her, emotionally manipulating her into being helpful), and then her girlfriend broke up with her. Reading those sections were rough, as Makeda was left feeling that something was wrong with her, when all she really needed to do was just…tone down her helpfulness a little and give people agency of their own.
Beznaria was someone I had been dying to read as a main character ever since her explosive, cabbage-filled entrance in How to Catch a Queen. She’s obsessed by finding the Ibaranian heir, as her grandmother was the head guard when the last queen vanished from sight, never to be seen again. It’s a matter of family honor. She’s bold, confident, and filled with just the right amount of serendipity and chaos and I loved it.
When the King of old Ibarania finally caught her, he offered her marriage or death, and surprising everyone, she chose marriage. Then she killed him on their wedding night, led an uprising of the various enslaved peoples of Ibarania, and created her own unified monarchy on the island. She said it was her wedding gift to herself.
I absolutely adored the world-building in Cole’s alternative Earth. Each country has so much history, so much lore and love built into each step alongside the heartbreak and the very real implications of colonialism, and I really, really wish she would write historical fiction set in these countries, because old Ibarania with its pirate queens sounds fucking fantastic.
I also love how the past always influences the present in Cole’s works. It is a constant present, driving, inspiring and scaring the protagonists even if they don’t know their full family or country history. And how the tendrils of colonialism and capitalism and white supremacy continue to grip and ensnare at every insidious turn—unless they are defeated.
It’d always seemed unfair that entire industries were built on what Makeda had been tormented for: being seen as a girl audacious enough to imagine herself worthy of once upon a time.
Makeda’s life is driven by her grandmother’s one-night stand with the lost-prince of Ibarania and her mother’s subsequent obsession with being royal and reclaiming a lost heritage and prestige, an obsession that was redirected to horrific results onto her daughter. Fuck, what a childhood. And what hell, particularly when there is a massive princess-industry in (whyte) America. For those deemed acceptable to dream of being royalty.
Bez is driven by regaining her family’s honor. She’s also haunted by the failings of her own past.
We can sleep head to foot so I’ll be ‘out of your face.'”
The pacing is a little strange in this one, and I wished more time had been spent in the wrap-up. However, I don’t wish there was less time in the other sections, but like, another 30-40 pages for the ending. It was too quick, too neat, particularly after all the lead up to the actual event. I need decompression time, I need more happily ever after! I need more of Bez’s family!
And I need more time to process that twist, dammit!
It was a twist ending that I should have seen coming, but was too wrapped up in everything else to pick up on it.
I really liked Makeda and Bez’s meet uncute (assault by vacuum cleaner is hilarious but not cute) at the bed and breakfast and their following banter, and I loved the entire time aboard the cargo ship on their journey to Ibarania (yes, it dragged but the secondary characters made it worthwhile and it was the healing both needed in order to move forward with themselves and their relationship—plus, best rationale on the one bed trope everrrrrrr and now I no longer want to sleep beside my wife so, um, thanks for that).
Anywho, this was a nice read. I felt it was more about accepting that boundaries are not walls but instincts to keep you safe, and that healing can come in many ways, and that there are quite a few ways to escape reality and avoid the things you need to face.
But, eventually, when you are ready, you need to face reality and work to move forward. Sometimes, you need to breathe through the hurt in order to find closure.
For some people, happiness is sitting down and not doing anything all day. For others, happiness is keeping so busy they don’t have the time to sit down. But both can simply be means of avoiding reality.
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review
How to Find a Princess releases May 25, 2021