Before I picked up Falling Hard for the Royal Guard by Megan Clawson, every part of me expected to read a romance story with some very early ‘00s romcom vibes. From the cute cartoon cover to the Tower of London setting and the synopsis hinting at meet cutes, fairytale romances and a very British love interest, everything about Falling Hard for the Royal Guard had me thinking of Amanda Bynes in What a Girl Wants and the Olsen twins in Winning London, channelling the idea of a fish-out-of-water tale of girl meets boy and falling in love against a quintessential London background.
To an extent, that’s exactly what this book offers too, following 26-year-old Maggie as she begins her search for a new happily ever following the end of her toxic seven-year relationship with her ex, Bran. Although living in the Tower of London means that Maggie is being watched more often than not – both by curious tourists and the Tower’s omnipresent CCTV cameras – the end of her relationship and the loss of her mother has sent Maggie retreating into herself, preferring the safety and comfort of a quiet life at home with her dad – until a literal run-in with new Royal Guard Freddie, that is.
Although their first meeting is a complete disaster, living and working in close proximity gives Freddie and Maggie some unique opportunities to clear the air and form a tentative friendship, and Maggie quickly becomes acquainted with the rest of the guards in Freddie’s regiment too. With their encouragement, Maggie begins to put herself back out there, even embracing the wonderful world of Tinder in her search to find her Prince Charming. But this is London in the 21st Century and, as it turns out, princes are few and far between, especially when Maggie can’t seem to get one handsome but entirely closed-off royal guard in particular off her mind.
I couldn’t be closer to him if I tried. In this intimate proximity, the soft scent of peppermint cuts through his woods cologne and I immediately come to the conclusion this is how I want to go: smothered to death against the soft linen of Freddie’s shirt, under the pressure of his perfectly sculpted muscles and drowned in whatever his aftershave is called.”
On the surface, the rom-com elements are clear. Maggie is a likeable character and her main character energy definitely feels very reminiscent of the Daphne Reynolds, Jenna Rinks and Sam Montgomerys that came before her. She’s clumsy, quirky and prone to putting her foot in her mouth, and often finds herself in more than a few embarrassing situations, whether it’s ending up half naked after escaping a catfish via a disgusting bathroom window or tripping up over her own feet in front of confused tourists and bemused Beefeaters. Freddie, too, is a very traditional romantic hero, starting off with Maggie on the wrong foot and maintaining an aloof distance even as they begin their new friendship, opting to quietly stew and say nothing when the question of Maggie’s dating life comes up, as opposed to actually opening up and being honest about his thoughts and feelings.
Between the will-they-wont-they relationship, the supportive, meddling group of friends around them and the challenge to go on a set number of dates before giving up on love entirely, Falling Hard for the Royal Guard offers a very familiar kind of romantic story and it’s a quick and easy read that will definitely have you grinning, cringing and groaning at all of the right moments. Despite this, however, Freddie actually plays a very small role in the first two-thirds of the novel, often disappearing without a word as he continues to hide a big part of his life from Maggie. It quickly becomes clear, then, that as much as this is a romance novel with romance quirks, it’s also first and foremost a story about healing and finding yourself, with all the uncertainties and emotional setbacks that such journeys usually bring with them too.
Coming out of the end of a controlling relationship with a man who gaslights, manipulates and cheated on her has left Maggie feeling isolated, lonely and lost, struggling to regain control of her life again. It’s heartbreaking to see Maggie through her low moments, but it makes her triumphs all the more rewarding, and every time she finds her inner confidence, stands up for herself and fights for what she deserves feels like a moment worth cheering for.
The balance isn’t always completely there; it would have been great to see more of Freddie earlier on, not just to give Maggie’s feelings of interest a bit more ground to grow on but also because their friendship, when it did finally come, was sweet, flirty and full of romantic tension and we didn’t get nearly enough time to enjoy that side of things. The big denouement and ending too, while naturally featuring a scene worthy of any ‘00s movie climax, also felt a bit too rushed and abrupt, with a lot of big developments taking place off-page or within a time-jump so readers were only given access to the aftermath and saw none of the plot unfolding.
Still, Falling Hard for the Royal Guard is a fun book with a nostalgic feel. It combines the whimsy of a rom-com with both a bit more depth and a hefty dose of personal growth nicely, making for a well-rounded story and a read that ultimately leaves you feeling joyful. This is a novel that you’ll pick up for the promise of a very British romance story in a very unique setting, but you’ll keep reading for the wonderful characters, the sweet slow-burn relationship and Maggie’s heartwarming personal journey too.
Falling Hard for the Royal Guard is published by Avon on 27 April 2023