Review: In Search of a Prince by Toni Shiloh
#1 This is a long review, so pull up a chair and grab a bowl of popcorn. You’ll be here awhile. #2 When I read a review, I want substantial information. So I will not skimp on the details. Which may mean some spoilers, so watch out.
Synopsis: Brielle Bayo lives a comfortable life as a middle school teacher in New York...until she learns her average life is a lie. Brielle is really an African princess, granddaughter to the king of Ọlọrọ Ilé. Not only that, but the king is dying and it’s time for her to assume her role as his heir. Will she abandon her easygoing life in America for the responsibility of an entire kingdom? Or will she let her grandfather die alone, leaving the kingdom to his harsh brother?
Pretty fitting that I start this book during Black History Month and finish it during Women’s History Month, eh? We’ve got a real cliche-bender here folks, with an African-American princess taking center stage instead of some bland faux European guy. And, seriously, I’m down with that. I get tired of the extremely overdone Netflix romcom trope with the American girl and the fake British guy, so the moment I picked up In Search of a Prince by Toni Shiloh, I all but leaped for joy! This was something new, unique, much more realistic than a fictional country randomly popping up in Western Europe that is so much of a carbon copy of England that they go so far as to name the country after an English town...(and, yes, I’m looking at you, Belgravia).
How could it go wrong?
Well, believe it or not, there are a lot of ways...but instead of immediately dumping my rantish opinions on y’all, I’ve decided to start by going over the positive and technical aspects of this novel first. Then if y’all don’t wanna get your feelings hurt by my feelings, y’all are more than welcome to skip the last part of this review. Sound good?
So for starters...I actually liked Brielle. Which is insanity. Because I rarely ever like the heroine...not even when she’s the only POV character. But Brielle wasn’t bad. She was well-developed, kind and respectful, and she wasn’t sarcastic or obnoxious or annoying. She was (for the most mature) mature and handled everything in a realistic, levelheaded manner, which left little room for contrived drama or cringe-worthy stupidity.
You’ve gotta admire that, eh?
And like I said, we had the absolute perfect premise here! An African country, a long-lost princess (instead of a prince), a hint of mystery...I’m honestly surprised a story like this hasn’t been written before, because it’s such a no-brainer than the concept is just splendid. Definitely the kind of story we needed to break up the monotony of small town second chance romances with billionaires and rockstars and cowboys (no offense to cowboys, of course...or small towns).
And, y’all. Shiloh didn’t just come up with an ingenious concept...she pulled it off. Everything was portrayed so realistically, and she didn’t gloss over the technical aspects of running a kingdom. Admittedly, yeah, a few events unfolded a little too quickly, maybe, and I think the rest of the plot could’ve been taken in a whole other direction (because it starts to fall apart about halfway through), and the ending was so rushed (the entire book was resolved in one chapter), but it didn’t read like a cheesy Hallmark movie. It had character, substance, realism. And Brielle’s reactions to everything going on around her were all realistic too. I’m impressed.
The setting was so vibrant and warm and inviting, and all the secondary characters were just as interesting and vivid as Brielle! Shiloh’s prose itself was technically on point—her voice didn’t stand out, but it didn’t fade into the crowd either. Everything was evenly balanced and flowed smoothly. From a technical perspective, I can’t complain.
But my favorite part? Oh, my favorite part, you guys, was the spiritual content. In every single thing, Brielle and Iris turned to prayer. They trusted in God and lived out their faith (most of the time) and God was never ignored or painted in shades of black and grey or shoved into a box. He was real. He was there. He was moving and working and I loved that. I needed that after so many stories of stagnant “faith” and diluted religion. I needed something fresh and revitalizing, where God was alive and a part of the characters’ lives. And, no, before you get on the “preachy” tangent, the faith elements weren’t “preachy” or “cheesy.” They were real. Just as our faith in God and walk with Him is real in the nonfictional world.
More than that, Shiloh did something I wasn’t expecting in the least...she gave Brielle a vision. I won’t go into detail, but I absolutely loved the fact that Brielle had a vision of God and Him speaking to her! You go, Toni, for putting that in there! I know y’all Baptists are gonna naysay it, but God does work through visions and dreams and it’s not “fake” or “fantastical” or “unnatural.” It’s a very real and very present part of God and how He communicates with us, and I love it when Christian fiction showcases God’s amazing power!
So whether you like that or not, that alone was worth the three stars.
Now, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for…
(Seriously, people, if y’all don’t wanna be bombarded by a lot of unpopular opinions on love, premarital sex, feminism, and children, leave. Go, run, get out of it. Tear out like the devil’s at your heels, okay? Because it’s about to get messy up in here!)
I mentioned above that the plot starts to fall apart about halfway through...that can be attributed to the ill-fated husband hunt. Whereas up to this point, Brielle kept a logical perspective about everything and sought the Lord, as soon as she was instructed to wed to inherit the throne, everything went to kaplooey. I mean, here was this heroine I actually liked who was sensible and genuinely followed God...and all of a sudden, she shoved Him to the back burner so that she could whine about everything.
*takes a breath*
Let me explain. Brielle let her feelings and fears dictate her...which is perfectly human and normal...but in comparison to the girl who was praying and seeking God just five minutes ago, it was a huge shock. More than that, Brielle’s main fear was that she would be “forced” to “pop out babies” rather than being wed to a nonbeliever, an abuser, or an adulterer.
I think that was the worst part, that instead of Mr. Udo’s four illegitimate children and close proximity to all his mistresses being portrayed as wrong and immoral and a sin, all Brielle felt was disgust toward the fact that he had kids (and this was before she knew they were illegitimate) and crippling fear that she too might have to bear a child.
For your information, sex outside of marriage is an abomination to God. Regardless of how sexual immorality is portrayed in Christian fiction and in today’s culture (both Christian and otherwise), it is a sin, it is wrong, and it has consequences. Are children a part of those consequences? Oftentimes, yes, but that doesn’t make children wrong or people wrong or having kids inside of married wrong at all.
It really bothered me, as the oldest of seven kids and someone who wants to have many children one day, that children were portrayed as such hated creatures. Brielle didn’t want kids—in fact, she saw them only as a necessity for “producing an heir” (and, yes, y’all, this was set in the 21st century, even though that sounds so 1800s). Tomori seemed to hate his family; although some dislike or slight aversion to certain members of it would make sense given the circumstances, he downright was ashamed of them. My family may hurt my feelings, but I will never be ashamed of them or apologize to someone for them. (I’m not responsible for their actions, for one. For two, I’m proud of my family, whether you like it or not.)
On top of that, if anyone had more than two kids, they were insane. I’m serious. That’s what Brielle would say. Coming from someone who has overheard many snide comments (“You do know what causes that, right?” being one of the top ones) directed toward my mother for having five, six, seven children, I think it’s totally realistic for someone to balk when they hear someone has eight kids.
I also think it’s totally realistic for many families to have eight biological children (I know many of my teenage friends are from families larger than mine), especially families who live in a third world country.
So the “you’re crazy” comments bugged me considerably, along with all the other disdain for kids and having children.
*SPOILER ALERT* Also, it really saddened me that Tomori was more distraught over drifting away from Brielle in his dream than the idea of losing a child. Like, he cared nothing about their baby. At all. Is it just me, or would that have been a perfect opportunity for Palpatine to step in? *SPOILER END*
Of course, I must mention the feminism. I agree with another reviewer that a movement that has such anti-God origins should not have been so praised and ingrained in a Christian book. Apart from that, I personally disagree with feminism and I just plain get tired of having it thrown into my face all the time. Like, I really don’t care. Call me a misogynist, if you like (I call myself that, so have at it), but I am pro-woman, and being feminist is notpro-woman, nor is being anti-man.
As a result of her feminism, Brielle was automatically prejudiced against all males except the cute ones. (Is it just me, or are cute guys exempt from all evil in novels? Like...hot guys can be bad guys. And ugly-butt old guys can be the sweetest things on the planet. Just sayin’.) *SPOILER ALERT* Worst of all, Brielle wouldn’t even apologize for her assumptions, specifically those regarding her uncle, when it was revealed that Dayo—a WOMAN, mind you—was behind all the threats and opposition. No, but poor old Uncle Sigowali can apologize for literally doing nothing, while heaven forbid Brielle get off her high horse and say sorry! *SPOILER END*
The weirdest part, though, was that Brielle was almost always very respectful and kind to all the men in her life, even those against her, instead of being rude and sarcastic. Typically, I’d say I admired her for that...but it went against everything she believed in and everything her internal monologue was screaming at me. Like, make up your mind, girl! Either you hate ‘em all or you don’t. It just felt like hypocrisy for her to be so nice and yet so spiteful. Make sense? Probably not, but that’s what I noticed. The thing is, you can’t be a feminist without hating men. So don’t treat men with respect if you think you’re better than them...otherwise, you’re not a feminist. You’re just a regular kind human who can respect other people simply for being people.
Again, I don’t think that makes sense, but neither did Brielle’s attitude versus her actions.
Also...this may be spoilery, but the fact is, this is 40% a romance and as such, you can expect me to talk about the heroine and the hero. In this case, Brielle and Tomori. Like I said, this was only 40% romance—the rest of the focus on just on Brielle and her transition into royal life. I’m totally good with the more women’s fiction vibes, don’t get me wrong, but I was sure as shootin’ that Brielle was in love with Tomori when they got married. I mean, she chose him because she didn’t love Ekon and because she didn’t think there was a chance that Ekon would love her. I get that. The marry-for-love stuff is extremely popular these days—and in the yesterdays, according to today’s historical fiction.
But here’s the thing.
She didn’t love Tomori either. They had a “connection” and a hefty dose of “attraction,” but no love. Nothing more than infatuation, really, and mutual respect. That’s lovely and all, but the infatuation will fade and mutual respect can be found in many other relationships. So it just stuck out to me so bad that Brielle jumped to marry Tomori but struggled with if she loved him or not, while she just totally ditched Ekon (who she knew for two hours) because she didn’t love him.
Speaking of...Brielle mentioned once that God is love and love is a choice, but when it came down to the wire (as in, determining whether she loved her husband or not), she was all like “But what is love? How do I know I love someone?”
UM HELLO. Love is patient, Love is kind, Love doesn’t boast and isn’t proud, He keeps no record of wrongs, He hopes and believes and endures all things, Love conquers all, Love casts out all fear, Love lays down His life...God. Is. Love. And you know you love someone when, through God Himself and His love for us, you would sacrifice yourself, whether physically or mentally or emotionally, for the well-being of that person.
It’s literally that simple.
So why Brielle, who knew all the answers already, struggled with that, I don’t know. She’s not the only character I’ve read who has such a hard time grasping the concept of love and loving their spouse. I can think of two others right off the top of my head. It’s apparently a popular thing nowadays.
So is waiting until love to have sex.
Okay, here’s the thing. If you get married, you can consummate your marriage. You don’t have to wait for anything else at all ever. It’s all been done, and it’s perfectly acceptable—in fact, it’s encouraged and desired—for you to have sex with that person on your wedding night.
However...75% of Christian romances these days have decided that NO! You absolutely cannot consummate your marriage or have sex with your spouse until you are sure you love them.
First of all...what if you never love them? Looks to me like you’re never gonna consummate your marriage. What if they die before you get to say the words? What if...oh, there are SO MANY what ifs! The biggest issue with this idea, though, is that love comes and that marriage means nothing without saying “I love you.”
Actions speak louder than words, people. Anyone on the entire planet can say “I love you,” but it means nothing unless they actually act out their love and walk in it and live like it. More than that, who ever sad love is an emotion? That love just comes to you whenever it feels like it? I’m sorry, Janette Oke, but love doesn’t “come softly,” nor does it slap you in the face.
Love is. Love was. Love will be. Love is an action, a verb, a choice you make.
If hate is the opposite of love, and I must wait for a mushy-gushy feeling to love someone, then I hate everyone on the entire blessed planet...and God considers hate murder.
So there you have it, folks.
I say all this to say that Brielle and Tomori waiting a day (basically until Brielle said “I love you,” even though Tomori already insinuated he loved her) to consummate their marriage was so dumb. And awkward. Like, their wedding night was the most awkward thing ever. If they’d only known each other a day, I’d get it. But they’d known each other for weeks and had chosen to marry each other and acknowledged that they were attracted to each other.
And when they finally did consummate their marriage, it was so blah. It wasn’t a climax or a beautiful, long-awaited moment where I’m like “Yes! Finally! I’ve been waiting for this so long, and it’s finally here! This beautiful melding of bodies and souls into one! This tender loving that bears such significance!”
Nope. I literally felt nothing. I just turned the page.
If you’re gonna hold off on consummation (this is directed toward authors now, not people in general), HAVE A REASON. Do they not know each other? Do they hate each other? Are they both virgins and they’re just scared out of their wits? That’s what I’m looking for—good reasons. Not excuses to hold it off until the “magic words.”
I’m sorry, but the words “I love you” have been so playfully tossed around and defiled that I’d rather not read them. They mean nothing to me. I’d rather them say “You have bewitched me body and soul” or “I am half agony, half hope” or “If I loved you less, I could talk about you more” or nothing at all than have to sit around and wait for “I love you.”
So, yes, there was no significance to the hold-off or the final action at all. It was pointless.
Lastly (yes, I’m only my last point here), there was some seriously bad sexism in here...and I’m not talking “women can’t rule.” I’m talking the way Tomori wasn’t a virgin and that was (1) included for no reason and (2) brushed aside like a piece of pocket lint.
Number one, virginity is a beautiful thing. Especially in men. Unfortunately, virginity in general is regarded with the utmost disgust, and male virgins are equivalent to eunuchs these days. (Once upon a time, a male virgin would’ve been called gay, but that’s apparently not an insult anymore.)
Number two, men do not have to have sex before marriage. However, Christian fiction (yes, Christian fiction, because that’s all I read, so all my opinions are based on CF, not secular fiction) makes it out like men must have sex before/outside of marriage, and authors make it a point for their heroes—their almighty, upright, Christian heroes—to have had sex outside of marriage. Y’ALL. There are male virgins out there, okay! You do NOT have to make every single guy character be defiled! They’re still “manly”—in fact, even more so—when they wait for marriage!
Number three, if your hero isn’t a virgin, don’t blow it off. Characters are characters, and they’re also people...so we can make them do or be whatever we want, and people can do or be some crazy things. If your hero isn’t a virgin, it’s okay (bad in real life, acceptable in fiction)...but ONLY if you handle it tastefully and Biblically! Don’t shrug it off as if it’s nothing. If you’re gonna do that to the poor guy, give him a reason—for him to have had sex before and to bring it up. In this case, there was no reason—this was not Tomori’s redemption story, nor were he and Brielle having an in-depth conversation about their pasts (which they so should have...I mean, what if a kid showed up with Tomori as his father on his DNA test? Just sayin’). Books like Beyond Her Calling by Kellyn Roth and A Passion Most Pure by Julie Lessman are two great examples of how broken, defiled heroes can be written in a way that’s realistic and meaningful, rather than “Oh, that’s just how things are.”
Number four, why is it only the heroes who have had sex outside of marriage...or why is it that, when the heroine has, it’s a cause of great shame, whereas the man just rolls with it? THAT, my friends, is sexism. Men and woman are equals, the Bible says, and therefore they each share the same amount of blame and consequences for sexual immorality. God didn’t give women hymens so that we could be shamed for sexual immorality, while men get away scot-free. Nope, He made us to take equal responsibility for our actions and even sin, as screwed up as it is, is all equal. No sin is greater or worse than another, nor is any sinner dirtier or cleaner than the other. So before you start whining about sexism and gender inequality, ask yourself if you’re regarding men’s sins the same way you’re regarding women’s.
Number five, where was Brielle’s reaction to Tomori’s confession? Tomori went so far as to admit that he “wasn’t proud of it,” while Brielle was the one who did the blowing off, letting his admission go in one ear and out the other. Well, I dunno about you, but (1) I want to know everything about my husband before I marry him (because I’ll be telling him all about me) and (2) I want a man who puts as much effort into saving himself for marriage as I do. That means no provocative clothing or actions, no porn, no sex—none of it. Obviously, Brielle didn’t care about that, because she let it slide. Is that an attitude to promote for women—especially young ones like myself? That we should just let men do and be whatever? That our husbands have the right to live however they like? That we shouldn’t strive for healthy relationships and Godly husbands who either live morally or regard their sins as sins? The answer: no.
So, yeah. Sexual immorality—on Tomori’s part and Mr. Udo’s—was not handled well, in my opinion. Did I blow everything out of proportion and regard these characters as real people and generalize basically everything?
Yes. Yes, I did.
But do you wanna know why?
Because I am a sponge. I soak in everything I read and it permeates my mind and soul. I stew on it and think about it. I develop my own thoughts and opinions on what I read. I regard what I read as a reflection of what people believe.
That’s why I want to read good things. I want to read things that permeate my mind and soul with honorable things, pure things, righteous things—the things Paul talks about in Philippians 4:8. I want to think about lovely things that come from God. I want to see this world believing in truth—especially Christians.
So I blow things out of proportion. I regard characters as real people. I generalize and apply my rants to everything and everyone.
Because that’s how my mind works, and I don’t want y’all’s minds to be filled with anything impure or dishonorable or wicked—whether your mind works like mine or not.
Long story short...In Search of a Prince had a lot of good elements, from a likeable heroine to an engaging plot to a unique premise. The spiritual content, too, was pretty darn good! However, a lot of the content was handled badly and not at all Biblically, which was such a shame. Had it not been for the ungodly views presented and the secular portrayal of certain things, this just might have been a five star read. As it is, readers with less sponge-like, perceptive minds will probably find this novel enjoyable and intriguing!
Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher, publicist, or author, including NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.
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About the Author
Toni Shiloh is a wife, mom, and Christian fiction writer. Once she understood the powerful saving grace thanks to the love of Christ, she was moved to honor her Savior. She writes to bring Him glory and to learn more about His goodness.
You can connect with her at www.tonishiloh.com!