By Suzanne Park
Published Date: August 18, 2020
Series or Standalone: Standalone
Links: Amazon – Barnes & Noble – Goodreads
Where to start with this book? First off, this book is marketed as a romance. In my opinion, it’s not a romance. It’s a book that has a romance in it, but the romance is not central to the plot despite the title and summary from the publisher. The little bit of romance we do get in the book is also pretty lackluster. Instead, I feel this book is more of a workplace drama and there isn’t anything wrong with that, but that’s really not how it’s marketing.
Melody Joo has started a new job at a prestigious video game studio. The video game studio is ran by a sexist and terrible CEO who treats women and minorities like props and thinks he’s god’s gift to earth. After joking with a co-worker about creating a video game focused on male strippers surviving the apocalypse to flip the script on sexist video games, Melody finds herself as lead producer on creating the game. However, word of the game gets leaked online on a gamer forum and people (aka male gamers) are not happy with the premise and start threatening Melody. In the midst of this, Melody is also forced to work with the new intern Nolan who happens to be the CEO’s nephew. She doesn’t like him at first, but ends up finding she enjoys spending time with him and he’s not like his uncle.
The romance plot is really a B-plot. It doesn’t drive the story, but instead feels like an afterthought that was thrown in. Melody and Nolan had no chemistry in my opinion and I honestly didn’t care at all if they ended up together in the end. As I was reading, I also felt like I was missing chunks of their interactions, but would then reread the passages I didn’t miss anything? I also felt like Melody’s hatred for him was a bit over the top. He literally didn’t do anything wrong and she explodes on him the first time they meet. There are a few moments where she seems to be inexplicably angry with him that I worried she had anger management issues. If you go in thinking this will be a fun workplace enemies-to-lovers story, you will be disappointed.
Outside the lack of a romantic plot, I also had some issues with the characters in the book. I felt like every single character was a caricature. Ian, the CEO, was an exaggerated sexist, racist, incompetent CEO; Melody’s parents were over the top and felt like we never really understood where they were coming from; Melody’s friends were obnoxious and annoying. I just couldn’t connect with any of the characters as they felt inauthentic. I even struggled with understanding Melody’s motivations. She never worked in the video game industry before her current job and didn’t even seem like much of a gamer so I struggled to understand why she put up with such a toxic work environment since it didn’t seem like a thing she was even passionate about.
Now, there were some things I did like about this book. As someone who is a female gamer, this book hit home with the sexist and racist abuse that women face in the gaming industry. If you’re at all familiar with GamerGate, you know that female gamers have faced harassment, death threats, doxxing, swatting and so much more due to the fact that they dare to be women who enjoy playing video games. The abuse Melody faces in this book by the trolls on the internet is all too accurate – and the inability for the police or others to do anything about is a sad reality. While I think the CEO of her game studio was a bit over the top, the sexist, toxic work environment, unfortunately, is a reality. Many game studios and tech companies as a whole tend to be bro clubs and women tend to be seen as an accessory and face harassment. It’s a sad fact, but it’s the truth. I thought Park executed the realities of working in gaming and being a female gamer incredibly well and I was actually invested in the plot centered around Melody’s harassment. The fact that Melody was also Korean added an extra layer to the harassment she faced as she was attacked not only for her sex, but her race. My heart ached for her when confronted with the vile messages she received – I can only imagine how hurtful ending up in that situation would be.
I really wanted to like this but it just didn’t click for me. I had some issues with the writing style in addition to the items outlined above. I’m sad this wasn’t better as I would love to see more stories centered around women in the video game industry. This just wasn’t the romance it was marketed to be unfortunately. Some people may still enjoy it, but it wasn’t my cup of tea.