Princess Anette doesn't love her fiancé, Prince Everett, and despite constant assurances from everyone around her, knows she never will. It's not that he's terrible, it's simply that she doesn't love anyone, or want to be with anyone, the way the rest of the world says she should.
But princesses must marry princes. She's expected to have her proper happily ever after. So Annette tries her best to be happy in her new life—until she catches her husband with the stable boy, and in a moment of anger wishes Prince Everett would just disappear.
And then he does.
I don’t quite recall how The Loveless Princess came to my attention, but I know it came to my attention as an aroace fairytale-inspired novella. I, loving every aspect of that description just blurb unseen, was eager to pick it up and did so at the earliest opportunity. 😀
And… I have a lot of mixed feelings about this novella. Overall, I personally liked it okay, but I also think it has the potential to really, really hurt readers and needed at least one more round of developmental editing. 🙁
Warning: Aromisia, acemisia, homomisia, on-screen sexual assault, and mention of off-screen rape.
Before I start talking about the warnings, let’s talk about the title: The Loveless Princess. I’m fairly certain that the title is intended as commentary on the idea that aros and aces are loveless. Anette doesn’t feel romantic love or sexual attraction, but she clearly feels a lot of love for other people. However, due to the way the novella is written, the story never truly comments on this distinction in any meaningful way and the title loses its ability to really comment on and criticise and accomplished the opposite of what I think was intended.
It’s a real shame because I think it could have been a terrific way to comment on these stereotypes if the writing had been through a few more rounds of edits. The story reads more like a novel draft than a novella with key scenes and moments sketched in or outright telling the reader what happened.
Much of the -misia in this novella stems from its fairytale-inspired origins. Anette is a princess and a princess must marry a prince because That Is What Princesses Do, and the people around her are casually amisic (and sometimes homomisic) and generally unaware of her feelings or somewhat aware and happy to dismiss them. This clearly hurts Anette and is never presented as a good thing, but.
But it’s also only really called out in the text during the climax of the story and this is where some major spoilers come in. If you’re an aro(ace) reader, though, you might want them. If you don’t, skip to “***” and continue reading from below the line. (I advise it, though, especially if you’re aroace and/or sex-repulsed.)
As I was saying: the amisia is a background persistence that’s only truly called out and addressed when the aroace antagonist repeats the same amisic comments that he’s dealt with (and that explicitly made him the bitter, angry antagonist that he is now). None of the amisia by the allo characters is ever called out in the same way.
Yes, the novella has two (!) sex-repulsed aroace characters in major roles! But they’re aroace in exactly the same way. Except Allan got very bitter and angry at the way he was treated and abducted Anette’s closeted gay husband to save her from marriage. Except she then goes off to rescue said husband because she’s empathetic and has a strong sense of what is just and Allan decides that this clearly proves she can’t be aroace after all and decides to, ah, test her aroaceness by conjuring the image of two people making out in front of them both, which makes Allan visibly uncomfortable and Anette feeling absolutely sick, does nothing to prove anything except that Anette is sex-repulsed and… If that sounds like it would trigger or otherwise hurt you for any reason, please be very careful. It was every bit as uncomfortable and squicky as it sounds.
On top of that, it’s also implied that Allan was raped because he’s aroace (and also this is partially why he’s the antagonist). Anette’s sexual assault earlier in the novella was because she was a woman travelling on her own and was halted before it got very far, but still.
In a more polished novel, the juxtaposition between Allan and Anette’s reactions to how society treats them and their roles in the story could work really well as commentary on the hurt and harm caused by casual amisia and, especially, aromisia. The story and the ideas are there, glittering beneath prose that just doesn’t quite manage to pull the narrative together. But it never quite manages and what I’m left with is a story that makes me deeply uncomfortable with the way it introduces an aroace villain and then makes his actions the only ones explicitly discussed as terrible (because he should know better) by the characters.
Oh, and I don’t consider this a spoiler, but I suspect others others will: Anette ends the story as an aroace and is… well, about as happy as a story can be when constrained by fairytale tropes such as “The prince and princess must be happily married at the end of the story”. She’s not pressed into sexual encounters she doesn’t want and it’s implied that she’s okay with presenting as a romantic couple in public. Given that the book is published be a small queer romance press, I just wanted to mention that, so people know roughly what to expect and what not to expect.
The setting itself was a lot of fun for me, obviously drawing deeply from both well-known fairytales (Everett, the prince, is the son of a certain Briar Rose and comes under a distinctly Snow White-esque sleeping spell.) and less well-known fairytales (The Three Spinsters, for example) and here is something where I wish the novella had expanded on simply because I was intrigued and wanted to see more of the world this was set in. But then I like fairytales and fairytale retellings, so this undoubtedly surprises no one who knows me.
I actually quite liked Anette as a person once the novella got its story going properly. I know that Bodley was setting up Anette’s aroaceness very blatantly very early on and I adore that, even though Anette doesn’t really speak up about her lack of romantic or sexual attractions to other people, she’s still presented as unapologetically aroace and happy with herself from the beginning. But it also means that her refusal to marry comes paired with a distinct lack of understanding how political marriages and royal duties work and I would have liked to have seen a little tension there. Not a weakening of Anette’s vehemence against marriage. Just more of a glimpse that she, intellectually, understands the reasons behind it (and it’s still awful and horrid and amisic).
For me, overall, it was a sweet and ambitious fairytale that sought to give a sex-repulsed aroace princess a happy ending in a thoroughly amisic world and to show that, yes, happiness is possible even in these circumstances, that aimed to show that aroaces are not ‘loveless’ regardless of what society tells them and that they are not broken or monsterous. <3 It’s a story filled with potential.
Sadly it was also a narrative that ultimately fell flat for me because it just wasn’t polished enough for me to feel like it pulled off what it was intending. I sincerely wish it had been through at least one other redraft and turned into a full and proper novel that had the space to address the issues I mentioned.
And, thus, I’m left with mixed feelings. On the one hand, despite the sheer amount of amisia, I felt Anette’s portrayal was fiercely and positively aroace and, more importantly, fiercely, unapologetically, embracingly aromantic and this is the first story I’ve ever read like that. I would have loved this story as a teen or even a child, when I would have seen only the positive aspects of Anette’s portrayal. As an adult, I find the narrative flawed and thus potentially deeply harmful to the very readers it’s written for. With more nuance in the way it handles the aromisia and a better sense of the characters and the worldbuilding, I would have loved and adored this story. Where it hurts, it can hurt badly, but, if it sounds like the representation is handled in a way that won’t hurt you, you may well find it as cute and sweet and ultimately uplifting a story as I found its heart. All the elements are there. They just needed to be polished.
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