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Royals by Emma Forrest

Dazzling, inventive and layered, this novel is not what you expect from the title or blurb.  

July, 1981. London. Shy, working-class Steven finds solace in beauty. Eighteen years old, he dreams of being a fashion designer. He’s also gay, maybe – he hasn’t decided yet. There’s a lot Steven isn’t sure about, like whether he hates himself or thinks he’s amazing.

When he ends up in hospital after being brutally attacked by his father, he meets Jasmine, an heiress. Intoxicating, anarchic, fabulous Jasmine. Fuelled by their shared love of fashion, a friendship blossoms and soon, Steven finds himself swept into her hedonistic world, wholly beguiled. However, underneath the glitter and the frivolity, darkness lies. 

Devastating, dazzling, queer and radical, Royals is a love story between unlikely friends from completely different worlds. It’s about the power of art to transform lives and the power of families to destroy them. It’s about working out who you are and what you want. It’s a tale of giddy happiness, crushing lows and, ultimately, the fragility of lives lived too fast.

The book follows the meeting between Steven, aspiring teen fashion designer and a victim of parental domestic abuse,  and Jasmine, a high society ‘it’ girl. We experience the subsequent shockwaves they encounter in their young lives with the marriage of Charles and Diana as a framing device. Imagine Simon Doonan and Tara Palmer Tompkinson having an intense friendship….

Emma Forrest

It’s witty, poignant and incisive. Forrest is ingenious in evoking the early 1980’s, the story is peppered with cultural references, but not to the degree to take you out of the narrative. 

The writing and dialogue is clever without being showy and literary without sacrificing readability.

There are some unlikely vaguely operatic twists towards the end, but they are in keeping with the heightened period of Steven and Jasmine’s lives and you are swept along nonetheless.

The release date of October is the only puzzle as it’s the perfect summer read, perfect for hazy days in a city park with a glass of champagne in honour of Jasmine, and potted meat sandwiches for Steven.