Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Tropes: grump/sunshine; golden retriever hero; opposites attract; forced proximity; rom-com; holiday-esque
I’ve been sitting on this review for too long. Honestly, I finished Penny Reid’s Drama King in one sitting well before the release date. It’s not hard to do if you’re reading Penny Reid. She creates characters who mirror us, even when they are highly successful action movie stars such as Cyrus or buttoned-up bodyguards like Beth. Reading their journeys on the page feels like our own. I’m certain it’s the reason I love her stories so much.
But, as I was reading Drama King, there were aspects of this story about a movie star, gregarious, affectionate, empathic, and his female bodyguard who is decided, planned, and emphatic which are intentional and intelligent. In fact, if you ever walk away from a Penny Reid novel without the realization of her choices as a writer, then you’ve missed her genius. So bear with me as I use my rusty academic brain to point to Penny Reid’s genius.
First of all, Reid has intention with her storytelling. Every piece of writing has a hook, the means to grab the reader’s attention. I teach academic writing, and my students already know their “go-to” hook. For Reid, it’s a well-placed quote by a “somebody” to draw us in. I think, however, that many of her readers miss the purpose of each chapter’s quote. I’ll admit that I too have glossed over these quotes, a vague understanding that the quote serves a purpose. At face value, it highlights the movements of the plot and characters in the chapter. But this is Penny Reid. She’s a cerebral writer, so there’s more. In most of her books, each chapter has a quote from a different source. For Drama King, the quotes were begotten from one source: Aristophanes. This struck me, and I did a deep dive into an academic source *ahem” Wikipedia. Aristophanes was an ancient Greek comedic writer. He was known as the “Father of Comedy.” This is Reid’s first tell: Drama King is a comedy of the romantic variety. That Aristophanes wrote comedic dramas, we can deduce it parallels Cyrus’s career path. Every actor requires an author, and Aristophanes represents this. Even more, if you do your own research on Reid’s references to his comedies in certain chapters, namely Lysistrata, The Frogs, Peace, etc., you’ll find even deeper parallels between parts of those plays and Reid’s characters’ plotting.
You may ask “why.” In the scope of this review of a romance book, why take the time to research and make these parallels? Why spend time underscoring this aspect of the story? Why not spend your time providing the general plotline of this story, tell you why I enjoyed the characters, and offer up the spice level of the book? Well, because to do so, reduces the decidedness of Penny Reid’s authorship. There are distinct reasons why she places quotes at the start of her chapters. To avoid understanding that, reduces her as an author. Maybe it’s just her hook, and there isn’t anything more to it, but I don’t see it that way.
In a world, where people find every way to demean another person’s choices, as readers, it feels imperative to point to the people doing more for the genre we adore. Romance isn’t just smut; it isn’t just “mommy p*rn.” With an author such as Penny Reid, it’s a reflection of people in society. Aristophanes in ancient Greece was using comedy to point to the people of his society just as Reid is underscoring the people of our society. That’s powerful, especially in a genre such as romance that gets boiled down to $ex. Romance is more because authors such as Penny Reid construct it to be. And don’t get me wrong. I love a good smutty book. It does a body good; authors such as Reid allow us, through the scope of her storytelling, to find our struggles represented in the pages of her books. We feel seen, and that’s all anyone asks for in our world.
Now, my proselytizing done, Cyrus and Beth are pure delights. Why? Because Cyrus is a bright, beaming, touching hero. He exudes sunshine. He has golden retriever energy. He cares for and loves everyone around him. BUT…and that’s key. There’s a reason for it. His sunshine hides a wealth of pain. Similarly, but packaged differently, Beth is a planner. She has grump energy, but really she’s organized, careful, and lives to protect others. While Cyrus seems messy, Beth is pure discipline (much to the chagrin of the readers of Drama King). They are clearly opposites, but their scars are similar. Vulnerability is difficult for both, but they protect against it through different means. They are instantly attracted to each other, but Reid takes the scope of most of this story to bring them together, and the pacing is spot on. I love a good slow-burn, and Drama King does this well, ramping up their chemistry to its zenith.
Drama King is also fun, charming, and heartfelt. It has holiday feels without all of the holiday brou ha ha. I adored every bit of Cyrus and Beth’s story, and this book served as another reminder that Penny Reid is a genius storyteller.
In love and romance,