Desert Isle Keeper
Olivia Dade’s Spoiler Alert is a warm, witty and gorgeously romantic romance that captivated me from the very first page and didn’t let me go until the very last. Featuring two superbly crafted and incredibly relatable protagonists, a unique premise and an engaging secondary cast, it’s a fabulous tale of acceptance and self-discovery, of healing and growth, all wrapped up in a beautifully developed , sexy love story. I haven’t read anything by Ms. Dade before (although I’ve been meaning to), and what really drew me to this particular title was that fact that it’s set in the world of fandom and, specifically, fanfiction. As a former fanfic writer and reader (a looooong time ago now!), so many of the issues and attitudes the author explores in the story really resonated with me.
Marcus Caster-Rupp is the star of one of the most successful shows on television, an epic-fantasy story based on a series of novels called Gods of the Gates that is, in turn, based loosely on Virgil’s Aeneid. When the book opens, Marcus – who has played the role of Aeneas for the whole of the show’s seven-year run – is filming his final scene. The role has made him a huge star, and for that he’s grateful – but that doesn’t mean he’s blind to the weaknesses and failures in storytelling in this final season that are likely to lead to howls of outrage from all corners of the Gods of the Gates fandom. A fandom in which he’s actively participated for the last couple of years as Book!AneasWouldNever, excising his frustration with the way his character was being written by writing fix-it fanfiction. During that time, he’s formed a close online friendship with a fellow writer named Unapologetic Lavinia Stan (ULS,) whom he’s nicknamed Ulsie.
(As an aside, I never watched Game of Thrones, but I recall many a complaint that the showrunners screwed it up once they ran out of source material and that the final series was … er, not good. Gods of the Gates seems to have experienced similar problems *wink*)
Geologist April Whittier (who is, of course Ulsie) has never told any of her RL friends or colleagues about her love of cosplay or her fanfic, aware that one slip of the tongue or one stray photo taken at a Con could damage her professional reputation and see her “devolve from an experienced professional into a silly fangirl”. But she’s about to start a new job which has a completely different culture and where she won’t need to hide that part of herself, so on her last day at her old job, she decides it’s time to throw caution to the wind, and she posts a picture of herself in costume on a Twitter thread. Returning to it a few hours later, she’s not surprised to see a lot of really cruel, fat-shaming comments but IS gobsmacked to see that she’s just been followed by none other than Marcus Caster-Rupp – and not only that, he’s ASKED HER OUT ON A DATE. On Twitter. Of course, she wonders if it’s just a publicity stunt, but after exchanging a couple of DMs – in which Marcus assures her he absolutely does want to meet her – April agrees to have dinner with him.
Not long after meeting Marcus. April senses that there’s more to him than he usually allows the public to see. In the media, he always comes across as nice but dim, taking care to talk about his exercise routine or diet or grooming products, but never himself. But some of the things he says, the vocabulary he uses during their conversation, point to his being anything but dim, yet each time April tries to get him to talk about himself or his work, he deflects. But when he does at last open up a bit, he’s articulate, interesting and takes little to no credit for any of his achievements. Which is, again, surprising for a man known for being vain.
Marcus thought April was gorgeous as soon as he saw her picture, but is even more bowled over by her in person. He’s always been drawn to intelligent, accomplished and passionate women, even as he knows he can never be enough for them – whether he’s the fake him OR the real him. But he’s completely smitten with April; she’s smart and funny and direct, and he realises if he’s going to get a second date (and he really really wants a second date), his pretty-but-dim act isn’t going to cut it. He’s going to have to show her something of the reality behind the veneer. The question is – how much can he safely reveal without possibly compromising his reputation and his career?
Both Marcus and April are expertly drawn, empathetic characters who have struggled under the weight of parental expectations for pretty much their entire lives. April is a wonderful heroine; she’s clever, witty, successful, confident – and (I’m using the author’s words) fat, and sick to the back teeth of well-meaning friends and partners subtly and not-so-subtly ‘encouraging’ her to lose weight. She likes her body and doesn’t feel she has to answer to anyone about it – and the worst fat-shaming she’s been subjected to has been from her own parents; a father who has basically ignored her since puberty and a mother who is forever sending her diet and exercise tips. And Marcus – who is a completely swoonworthy hero – is the son of two academics – teachers – who failed to recognise that he was dyslexic and couldn’t understand why he never seemed able to learn the way they thought he should. Reading about the way they treated him broke my heart – he’s worked so hard and achieved so much, finding ways on his own to overcome his difficulties with written communication, and yet all they can do is snipe at his choices – they even published an article criticising Gods of the Gates from a classicist’s point of view – tell him they hated the show and thought he was wasting his time. They live in their own little bubble and nothing he’s achieved is important to them. Marcus’ character arc is amazing; he’s buried his true self so deeply as a method of self-protection that he’s almost unable to find a way out – until, that is, he finds something – someone – it’s worth risking the truth for.
With baggage like that, it’s no wonder that both Marcus and April make missteps in the early days of their relationship, but they’ve both able to take a step back and think about what happened in a mature way, and aren’t afraid of apologising when they get something wrong. It’s true that it’s easy to see the major conflict in the story coming a mile away, but that didn’t in any way detract from my overall enjoyment of it, or the impact of the serious issues the author tackles throughout the book. And she addresses all of them – fat-shaming, body positivity, dyslexia, toxic parenting, acceptance and personal growth – in an appealing, totally non-preachy way that feels completely organic and true to her characters.
Spoiler Alert is a fabulous read that works on every level. Olivia Dade explores the dynamics of fandom and social media really well, the chemistry between the leads is sizzling from the start and the writing is sharply focused and insightful. I loved the little snippets of fanfic (and scripts of some of the terrible movies Marcus made on his way to stardom) that were included between chapters – and kudos to the cover artist for properly depicting a luscious, curvy heroine.
If you read my reviews regularly then you’ll know I don’t read a lot of m/f contemporary romance – I made an exception for Spoiler Alert and I’m glad I did. It deserves to be on every romance fan’s keeper shelf.