Rudnick, Paul. Playing the Palace. Berkley, 2021. ISBN 9780593099414 272 pp. $16
This laugh-out-loud funny, boy-meets-prince romance between an urban (assistant) events planner–excuse me, event ARCHITECT–and the heir to the throne is a fast-paced romp littered with pop culture nods, product placement and name-dropping, angst, superhero references, social gaffs and outright disasters, and a dash of social justice.
Carter Odgen, pushing 30 and still trying to figure out his purpose, is six months past a bad breakup when the event he’s coordinating puts him face-to-face with his royal Highness Prince Edgar. Carter’s unsolicited hints to help “the blore” (bland + boring) loosen up before his clean water speech leads to a heated moment, but the two are separated by the Prince’s entourage and security team. But! lack of glass slipper notwithstanding, Edgar feels it too and — swoon! –tracks Carter down as soon as his schedule allows. The couple attends Carter’s sister Abby’s wedding as dates, and shortly thereafter, a shirtless post-coital selfie of the two gents posing in Burger King crowns accidentally goes viral, the Queen demands the shenanigans cease, and instead Edgar whisks Carter off to London for a visit, when he nearly turns the live taping of a Great British Baking Jubilee into an international incident. Things are going swimmingly when Callum, Carter’s opportunistic ex, resurfaces for the boy-loses-boy bit, but as with traditional romances, there is a HFN, if not a HEA.
Told entirely from Carter’s point of view, his snarky tone balances perfectly between self-deprecating and self-doubt/self-loathing, and Carter and Edgar grow throughout the novel Supporting characters — the verbose and scathing Queen, his roommates and hangers on, boss Cassandra, Carter’s great(est) aunt Miriam, his loving friends, and especially James, who is introduced to Carter as the prince’s “chief of staff, factorum, and devoted manservant,” (until James reminds Edgar, “For the last time: you are not Batman.”) are wonderfully multifaceted.
In between the jetsetting, public appearances, and kissing, the novel also manages to challenge societal norms, pay tribute to gay rights, champions the environment and childhood illness, without losing its charm. I love this spin on the Cinderella trope (though, not as much as Red, White and Royal Blue, truth be told) and Playing the Palace does not disappoint.
I received an advance reader’s review copy of PlayingthePalace via #NetGalley.