Loathe at First Sight
I was really excited by the premise of Loathe at First Sight. It’s easy to root for a heroine who is in a hostile environment, and enemies-to-lovers is a well-established trope, especially in the workplace. I liked a lot about the book, but the end was unsatisfying.
Melody Joo is a young woman in her mid-twenties, living in Seattle. She’s just made an exciting career jump from advertising to the gaming industry, and become a producer at Seventeen Studios. Almost immediately, she fears that this is a mistake. The environment is not what we would call hospitable; in her first week, Melody rarely sees a friendly face, with the exception of her colleague, Kat, one of the few women at her office. To add insult to injury, Melody is booted from her desk and shunted to a shared office to make room for an MBA intern – Nolan MacKenzie, who happens to be the nephew of the company’s CEO. Said CEO is Ian MacKenzie, a gaming titan with the manners and temperament of a feudal despot. Despite his handsome features, Nolan does not make a good first impression; he’s a well-connected, rich white guy who is taking advantage of nepotism. Then he goes and breaks Melody’s coffee mug, landing him firmly into asshole territory.
If plopping feet-first in a misogynistic and racist office culture isn’t enough, Melody mis-steps by making a joke where her boss can hear it, and then an off-hand remark to Kat turns into a giant, scary project. Melody has to face down the sexism of the gaming industry, her disagreeable co-workers, and the challenges of developing her first game. To her chagrin, Ian foists Nolan onto Melody’s team, and she is forced to slowly acknowledge how smart, kind, and funny he is. She can’t get involved with him, because she is technically his boss, and her officemate Asher is looking for any reason to get Melody in trouble.
When Melody becomes the target of a persistent harassment campaign, she has to decide if the career she could have in gaming is worth it. Coupled with this, she has to face constant obstacles from Ian, who doesn’t seem to want her game to be successful, despite being the one who greenlit the project. Her growing feelings for Nolan add to Melody’s internal conflict, and she is increasingly torn between her desire for success, and her need for emotional intimacy.
Melody is a relatable heroine. She’s a successful woman, but she still enjoys microwave meals and sitting around at home, and when she gets strong-armed into difficult situations, she finds her own way out. Melody’s parents are notable presences in the book, and they are as overbearing as they are amusing, but while they love and support Melody, they have the stereotypical ethnic family gripe of wishing she was married with babies. Melody’s work struggles are infuriating to read about, and you really feel for her.
Melody’s friends are a little underwritten; they seem to be stock-character best friends who get drinks and hang out. I really liked Jane, just because she’s strongly – even though not entirely positively – characterized. Candace, Melody’s other friend, is a publicist, and that’s pretty much it, and their boyfriends are similarly bland and unremarkable. Weak secondary characters distract from the strong parts of the narrative, which lie in the workplace conflict and Melody’s chemistry with Nolan. The romance does play second fiddle to Melody’s work challenges, but it’s still one of the best parts of the book.
Nolan is a great leading man – he expresses himself well and provides support for Melody when she needs it. His is a realistic portrayal of a young man who grew up with privilege and advantages, but is completely unaware of that fact. This doesn’t make him unlikable, but it does present an additional obstacle to a relationship with Melody, an obstacle I’m not sure is fully resolved.
Ian, Melody’s boss, is an antagonist it’s easy to hate without his being a cartoon villain. He’s just a regular bad guy, which only makes him more realistic. The secondary antagonists are also pretty well-written, easy to dislike without being ridiculous. I did, however, find the ending to be somewhat unsatisfying, in that it didn’t really live up to the compelling beginning, and it kind of fell flat, especially given that the stakes were so high earlier in the story. It also seemed as though big conflicts were only partially resolved, and the ends were tied up with just a few lines in the last chapter and the epilogue. Melody’s work life is such a vibrant, interesting place, partially because of the conflict she constantly deals with, and partially because her co-workers are fleshed-out characters. It makes her personal interactions with her friends seem dull by comparison.
In general, however, Loathe at First Sight is an enjoyable, fun read, with some really great moments. Melody is a strong point-of-view character, and her story is really interesting. The less polished parts of the book detracted from my enjoyment a little, but the book is still a fascinating introduction to the world of game creation and the culture that surrounds it, as well as a sweet, romantic story.