These witty enemies-to-lovers rom-coms are perfect for both fans of all things royal and readers who are eager for a variation on the trend. Rather than being princes or princesses themselves, the couples in these romances either work for or get sucked into the orbits of royal families.
In Battle Royal, the first book of her Palace Insiders series, Lucy Parker follows two London bakers at war with each other over lucrative, high-profile commissions.
Dominic De Vere is famous for his exactingly perfect desserts, whereas Sylvie Fairchild is building a reputation for wildly imaginative cakes. They met on the set of “Operation Cake,” a baking show that Dominic judges with stern disdain. Sylvie had a strong run as a contestant thanks to her superb sugar work and unusual designs. Unfortunately, when her unicorn cake exploded and clocked Dominic on the forehead, she was promptly eliminated. Undaunted, Sylvie opened her own bakery bang opposite Dominic’s and proceeded to prove him wrong by making it a success.
Their worlds collide again when Sylvie is invited to be a judge on “Operation Cake” while both of them are also competing to snag the commission of a lifetime: Princess Rose’s wedding cake. Sparks arc between the bakeries—and between the pastry chefs. As Dominic and Sylvie layer flavor upon flavor and craft intricate details into their cakes, they uncover essential truths about each other and themselves. Parker strikes the perfect balance between relationship growth and delicious, pastry-related escapism.
In Karina Halle’s The Royals Next Door, a duke and duchess’s departure from royal duties leads to romance between two solitary people who find themselves unwillingly fascinated with each other.
Piper is a second grade schoolteacher, diehard romance reader and anonymous podcaster. She also lives with and takes care of her mother, who has borderline and dependent personality disorders. Then the Duke and Duchess of Fairfax—a fictionalized version of England’s Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex—move in next door to Piper’s modest cottage on an island off the coast of British Columbia. Harrison Cole, the duke and duchess’s personal protection officer, takes his job very seriously and is not easily amused by life’s vagaries. He sees Piper as a security hazard; she sees him as a burr under her skin.
The main couples in both Battle Royal and The Royals Next Door have to take giant leaps of faith into trust and love, giving these royal-adjacent romances a satisfying dose of reality. Parker and Halle have a lot of fun with all the glamorous trappings of royalty, but they temper the whimsy with the emotional inner journeys of their four main characters, all of whom come to terms with their turbulent childhoods over the course of their love stories.
In Battle Royal, Parker slowly reveals that Dominic’s stepfather was openly disdainful of him, and Dominic’s subsequent desire for control over his emotions results in his somewhat narrow-minded arrowing through life. The Royals Next Door’s Harrison was a caregiver to his mother and siblings in his early teens, and he’s found comfort in adherence to rules ever since. Both men expect structured excellence from themselves and others. Imagine their consternation, then, when they are strongly attracted to whimsical women.
But under their carefree exteriors, Sylvie and Piper have struggles of their own. Sylvie must overcome recurring feelings of inadequacy, while Piper has been haunted since childhood by her mother’s debilitating illnesses, which contributed to Piper developing anxiety and complex PTSD. Halle does an especially good job of realistically and empathetically depicting Piper’s relationship with her mother, who is never stereotyped or demonized.
Drawing on the strength of the friendships with the royal women they encounter, both Sylvie and Piper gain confidence over the course of their stories. Even with their sorrows, both women retain their desire to eke out a life for themselves that is joyful, which constantly endears them to readers.