She felt forgiveness and she felt forgiven and that, too, was the magic of Rahul Chopra.
Sandhya Menon’s Of Princes and Promises is, thus far, the most disappointing book of 2021. It’s been about a week since I finished it and I’m still mad. Because the truth is, this book had everything going for it. Of Princes and Promises didn’t have to be a massive disappointment. It could have been one of the best books I’d read all year.
And I’m just left wondering why? Why did this book have to fail so horribly when it was set up to be so wonderful?
I don’t think there’s anything more frustrating to me than watching a book that has so much potential destroy itself utterly in the last few chapters.
A quick spoiler alert, I can’t adequately explain the problems with this book without them. Sorry.
She’d felt like she had all the power then, like she could do no wrong.
Caterina LaValle makes her second appearance in Menon’s St. Rosetta’s Academy series, but this time as the lead character. This was a, quite frankly, brilliant choice on Menon’s part in my opinion. Caterina was somewhat of a villain in the first novel, and in essence, is the perfect character to lead in a The Princess and the Frog retelling.
Fresh from having broken up with her boyfriend for cheating on her, Caterina remains a quasi-princess of the school, but is certainly in need of something to refresh her reputation. Truthfully, recruiting someone to assist her in holding on to her shiny reputation is not exactly a far cry from retrieving her golden ball for her. So, for these reasons, it does genuinely seem that Menon had the perfect setup for this novel.
“Are we going to dance?” Caterina asked, surprised. “Right here?”
“Right here,” Rahul said.
“I’m not putting my heels back on,” she warned.
In answer, Rahul kicked off his own shoes.
In fact, it gets even better when we’re introduced to Rahul who is quite possibly the most adorable character I’ve read in a while. Despite being so socially awkward that his family has hidden him away for being too embarrassing in public, Rahul is unerringly genuine and kind. Though his understanding of social situations is deeply lacking, the boy has an incredibly authentic drive to do better in the most honest manner possible.
He’s even got an ulterior motive for going along with Caterina’s scheme, leading him to a rather intriguing hair gel that grants him the powers to collect himself in social situations. And it matches perfectly with the fable we know, for Rahul wants both to be near Caterina but also learn how to improve himself.
He was still standing where she’d left him, simply because she’d asked him to wait and he was someone who was good for his word.
Quite honestly, Rahul’s character arc as a whole is entirely the basis for why Menon struck gold with the set-up she gave us for this novel. There was a massive amount of potential hidden in the depths of Caterina and Rahul as characters. And to her credit, Menon does really begin the story this way. For the first half of the novel, you do genuinely believe that the novel will follow a path of detailed character development that drives the story as a whole.
I found myself thoroughly engaged in the narrative between these two characters, so much so that I was able to ignore any mild complaint I had about the writing and rather ridiculous pacing of the story. Despite hating the pointless and out-of-place time jumps, they seemed minuscule next to what I thought the plot would be.
In truth, I was anticipating a masterpiece about losing yourself to addiction, seeing the pain you can cause someone else, and finally getting to a place of acceptance. And, if I’m being honest, we did get a sense of this. But the problem really lies in the fact that it was kind of surface level and took a backseat to the most pointless and story-damaging villains I have ever had the misfortune to come across in my entire life.
He adjusted his sweater collar, wanting to rip it off his body. Being in this body, being Rahul 98 percent of the time, just wasn’t cutting it anymore. Not when he knew he could be RC, the guy he’d always wanted to be, the guy the world liked so much better.
So, the way Menon sets up her Frog to Prince transition is through this magical-esque hair gel that basically transforms Rahul into a ‘princely’ version of himself. When he attends the first party with Caterina–to prevent anyone from seeing her taken down after her breakup–Rahul becomes RC, a suave and impressive mysterious man everyone wants to know. Naturally, this is something Caterina is thrilled by and Rahul becomes enthralled with.
This plot alone opens up a world of opportunity to explore ideas of what it means to reinvent yourself. But, even better, it offers up an expansive opportunity to delve deeply into the concept of addiction. There’s this visceral quality to feeling as though you cannot function without a substance driving Rahul’s character arc. What first began as a way to help Caterina save face in a difficult situation quickly becomes something Rahul cannot let go of.
As a result of his reinvention, thanks largely due to the hair gel, Rahul becomes despairingly addicted to the substance. And it changes him.
What’s even more stark about this is the fact that everyone around him recognizes this. And though Rahul sees these changes as good, going so far as to believe the gel is allowing him to “unlock…his truest potential” and leads him to feel invincible, everyone else sees something far more sinister. His friends grow increasingly concerned about him. Feeling they are being unsupportive, he pushes them away. More and more, Rahul begins to feel as though his entire existence requires this hair gel.
Then the girl for whom he made all the changes to begin with slowly realizes the damage she has done.
His chiseled jaw, his long eyelashes, his silky-thick hair, the easy, confident manner with which he occupied his space. It was exactly what she’d wanted him to be; it was precisely what she needed to show Alaric up. Everything was working perfectly. It was like a flawless windup world she’d created from scratch. And yet…the way he’d said Rahul, like an old skin he was molting off. Something about it felt wrong, somehow.
I honestly thought this story was the makings of a great take on the ‘getting addicted to something that makes you popular and helps the popular girl fall in love with you’ trope. First of all, Caterina wasn’t getting tricked, thank the skies. She always knew who Rahul was. In fact, she was directly involved in getting him access to the hair gel that would change his entire persona. And at first, both she and Rahul see it as a good thing.
The way Menon allows the effects of the gel to slowly seep into Rahul’s character is impressive. It’s especially brilliant when seen through Caterina’s eyes, “knowing in her heart that Rahul Chopra was becoming more and more self-hating with every day that passed, with every event that he went to as RC. And it was all her fault.“
Seeing the sheer guilt she feels at having been the one to do this to him is almost tangible in how easily we are able to feel it with her. And you genuinely feel that this is going to be the big epic moment in the story. Everything is leading up to the dichotomy of how she changed him and realizing deep down that she already loved and appreciated him for who he’d been before.
“It’s more like he hurt himself and I didn’t want to stick around to watch it. Which, I suppose, makes me selfish.”
And damn, can we just talk about how she left him? Let’s forget for a moment that this entire portion of the novel was deeply diminished by an incredibly stupid and pointless villain and just think about that line. Cause I have some words for it.
Now, admittedly, Caterina is unquestionably the catalyst that sent Rahul diving into the deep end of his addiction. He never would have gotten his hands on the gel without her and that is an indisputable fact. But I think there’s something to be said for the fact that there is something deeply damaging about having to watch someone refuse to leave behind their addiction.
And she’s right, in a way, that it does make her selfish to leave him. But I think it’s important to recognize that it’s not good to damage ourselves watching someone we care about destroy themselves. Certainly, the commentary could have been better. Caterina had every opportunity to reach out to his friends to get him support. I understand this is more of a fluffy-themed book, but you’ve got themes of addiction here. The directions Menon could have taken with this novel are endless.
And I am so disappointed in her for not doing so.
There was something sharp about Mia; she reminded him of glass shards wrapped in velvet.
But, as if missing out on an opportunity to have a substantially brilliant commentary on addiction and love wasn’t bad enough…Mia exists.
Honestly, that is the worst and most unforgivable thing about this book.
It’s fully because of Mia that this book dropped from a 4-star read to a 2-star for me. Her entire existence is the worst thing about this novel, from the nonsensical miscommunication-fueled plotline she embodied to her idiotic villain speech. I could rant for hours and never fully illustrate the level of hatred I have for how much she ruined an otherwise genuinely good–if not great–novel.
She’s almost single-handedly the entire reason I feel like Menon failed so wholly on Rahul and Caterina’s character arcs. Cause Menon just had to have some unimaginably moronic villain appear literally out of nowhere to…spearhead a miscommunication campaign. Menon really likes her miscommunications for no reason, doesn’t she?
I cannot stress this enough: if the conflict in your novel only exists because of dumb miscommunications, your conflict has some serious problems.
What’s most frustrating about this piece is the fact that Menon already had the perfect conflict. It didn’t actually have serious problems. Rather, she decided to create massive flaws in a book that was otherwise fantastic. What the hell did Mia add to this story?
I’ll tell you what she added. Absolutely nothing.
I hate Mia. I hate everything about her. She was completely pointless and served only as a way to detract from what was otherwise an incredibly promising plot and story. WHY, why does she exist?
“But I think I’ll find a way to be happy by myself, regardless.”
What this all boils down to, in the end, is that Menon simply tried to do too much with a story that already had an excellent plot and conflict. She chose to forgo genuine character development in order to have this pointless side plot villain and it fully destroyed her novel.
Mia was nonsense of epic proportions, taking readers away from the true and most important conflict of the novel; that of self-perception of worth and human connection.
I don’t even know how to get into the ridiculousness of the boyfriend. As if the only reason someone could sell Rahul a ‘be your best self’ concoction that is bad, actually, is because they were trying to help their girlfriend destroy the person who got the life she wished she’d had. There’s just so much wrong with the entire Mia subplot.
But, frankly, the worst thing it does is take generously away from what could have been a truly amazing story.
“Most people wouldn’t say I have a heart, and most people wouldn’t say you’re easy to talk to,” Caterina Mused. Her brown eyes glittered. “It sounds like most people don’t know us.”
As far as I’m concerned, Of Princes and Promises is in desperate need of a rewrite. Menon needed someone to sit her down and tell her where the real story was. She needed someone to tell her how dumb it was to include Mia’s character at all. I cannot stress enough how crucially bad the decision to have this villain was. There is no need for the second conflict and it does little more than detract from the best parts of the book.
Menon, unquestionably, had the perfect conflict. She had the perfect opportunity for character development. She should never have strayed away from it, not for a second. Mia should not exist. The guy who got them the hair gel should have merely been a guy who sold the magic hair gel. Even he did not need to be a villain greater than the representation of the beauty industry itself and society’s expectations of attractiveness. This should have been only a story about Rahul and Caterina learning to love themselves and, through that, each other.
And in the end, I can’t even bring myself to focus on the numerous tiny things about this book that just irked me, like the random dig Menon makes at how periods make women emotional or how Rahul’s friends weren’t even really that great toward him. Cause everything pales in comparison to the ginormous missed opportunity in Rahul and Caterina’s development and stories.
I mean, Menon built up these characters to have a connection of epic proportions, ready to fall apart all due to one’s ability to feel confidence and self-love. This would have been an amazing story. So, why the hell does it take a backseat to stupid as hell side plot with monumentally dumb villain???
Ugh, I’m so fucking disappointed.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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