I used to be adamant about my distaste for Romance novels. I knew them as the Harlequin Romance novels my mom used to devour alongside Junior Mints on a quiet Sunday afternoon or the bodice rippers one of my friends used to have her nose buried in during high school lunches. I thought they were an inferior literary genre– simple, formulaic, and full of smut, which I did not want to read; in hindsight, I think that perspective was deeply rooted in internalized misogyny. Then a few years back, I read the Flat Share by Beth O’Leary, and my appreciation for Romance literature started to blossom. I’m still learning my preferences when it comes to the genre, so my experience is hit and miss, and unfortunately, my most recent venture into the genre with Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade was a big miss.
In 280 words or less…
Spoiler Alert centers around the fictional fandom of Gods of the Gates, a live-action fantasy TV series that created legions of fans worldwide but started going downhill once the writers and TV producers ran out of source material…not unlike the Game of Thrones series based on George R. R. Martin books. Our main character, April, is a Gods of the Gates superfan, who writes smutty fan fiction about her favorite on-screen couple– Aeneus and Lavinea. Marcus Castor-Rupp, the actor that portrays Aeneus on-screen, secretly writes fan fiction too, and in fact, is April’s longtime online pal and beta reader. The two are unknowingly united after April posts a photograph of herself in Lavinea cosplay on Twitter, and folks criticize her for her weight in true internet fashion. When Marcus sees the post, he decides to invite April to dinner.
By the end of dinner, Marcus has made the connection that April is one of his closest online friends, but April is none the wiser. Geekery, drama, and steamy bedroom scenes ensue.
I picked up Spoiler Alert for its unabashed love for fan fiction and nerdy pop culture. I, too, loved fan fiction in my youth. I used to devour Sailor Moon fics as a pre-teen, and I used to write awful Lord of the Rings fan fiction when I entered high school. (It was bad, folks. So, so bad.) I also admire cosplay culture and spending the day at comic book conventions. But, beyond this really cool element, the story made me cringe. First, the premise seemed unbelievable. I mean, I understand there is an element of fantasy in romance novels, but it was hard to suspend disbelief for this one– an actor that secretly reads and writes fan fiction for a fandom in which he acts (about the character he plays!) is kind of weird and creepy.
Also, the characters were the worst. It’s hard to enjoy a romance when I’m just rooting for the couple to break up.
The way the author introduced April made it seem like she was going to be a confident, plus-size bombshell working in a STEM field– heck yeah! But, in reality, this was not the fat-positive story I thought it was supposed to be. One particular scene that stands out to me and represents about 90% of the conflict in this novel, occurs early in the relationship. In the scene, April and Marcus are discussing the hotel breakfast options. April asks Marcus, who adheres to a strict diet for his career, what’s good for breakfast. Marcus tells her that he usually just has a bowl of oatmeal with fruit. April took that personally and as criticism toward her body, so she gives Marcus the cold shoulder and cuts him out of her life. April exhibits this kind of behavior several times throughout the story– she projects her insecurities onto Marcus, makes assumptions about what he means even though he’s never ambiguous, and then gives him the cold shoulder. I found her behavior to be toxic at best, and I was screaming internally, “Use your damn listening ears, April!”.
Marcus is only slightly more bearable. He’s kind and sensitive and nurturing and a bunch of other character traits that fall under the list of “THE PERFECT MANTM“. Somehow, all of that kind of make him boring? Like, don’t get me wrong– I’d totally marry him, but I don’t want to read books about him if that makes sense. He does harbor a deep, dark secret though– he’s dyslexic? Oh, also he’s April’s longtime internet pal, but instead of telling her the truth, he not only hides it from her during their relationship but his online persona essentially ghosts her as well. (I mean, this is actually really bad. Maybe I wouldn’t marry him.)
I will say, if you love #smutsmutsmut, you will appreciate the steamier scenes in this book. Dade leaves nothing up to the imagination; this stuff seemed explicit. I do not like #smutsmutsmut, however, because I am a prude, so listening to the audiobook version of Spoiler Alert, and having Isabelle Ruther narrate the sex scenes to me as I washed the dishes was mortifying. It made me so, so uncomfortable.
Writer’s Fuel by Friday Tea
The name of this blend may be a little on the nose, but I couldn’t resist pairing the Writer’s Blend with a novel about writing fan fiction. The Writer’s Blend is subtle pine smoked black tea that reminds me of many chilly evenings spent writing by the fireside.
Direwolf from Friday Tea
Rumor has it, Spoiler Alert is actually a self-insert fan fiction inspired by the Game of Thrones (or rather about a certain actor who stars in Game of Thrones?) Many Goodreads readers seemed to take issue with this, but I’m not particularly bothered by it. However, I cannot unsee the connection to Game of Thrones, which is why I’m pairing Direwolf with this book. It’s a blend that features juniper and sage and shou Puerh, and it tastes like hiking through a rainy pine forest.