The Charm Offensive
I was generally charmed by The Charm Offensive, which is funny, romantic, a little ridiculous and a lot of fun. But the book fails to set up any proper representation for its Indian protagonist, which caused me to dip the grade a little bit.
Dev Deshpande is a total romantic, a fact that leaks into his film projects. A director/producer possessed of breezy confidence, when he is assigned to head the reality dating program Ever After, his romantic imagination goes into overdrive and he becomes the most successful head producer the show has ever had. But this season he’s in charge of a special case, and that case’s name is Charlie.
Charlie Winshaw is Dev’s hopeful Prince Charming for the season, though he doesn’t seem to be settling well into the role. A tech wiz who crashed and burned in the press after a scandal, Charlie does not make a good impression on Dev when Dev first steps up to direct him – the guy throws up anxiously all over Dev’s shoes during the pep talk. Since Charlie is only doing the show because he wants to improve his public image, things are off to a very tough start. When Dev discovers Charlie doesn’t believe in true love, he decides it’s his job to make the guy open up to the possibility of romance.
As the show goes on, Charlie and his would-be girlfriend Daphne trot the globe in pursuit of romantic dates and true love. As the other men are removed from the scene and Daphne and Charlie deal with the drama of being television stars, Dev deals with his jealousy. Could Dev and Charlie be falling for each other? Could love be real?
The Charm Offensive is an enjoyable read. I loved Cochrun’s narrative voice and the driven, romantic Dev. Panicked Charlie and the cool-headed Daphne are also treats, and they are all wonderfully complex people. I really liked the world Cochrun has set up and the way the story unfolds, romantic drip by romantic drop. This is one slow-burner of a romance, so readers will have to exercise patience if they want to fall in love with Charlie and Dev.
There’s a lot of fun to be had with the plot, but Cochrun doesn’t shy away from exploring racism, homophobia and sexism in the reality TV world. I did, however, wish that she had more deeply defined Dev’s background. There are no traditions to be had, no sense of any cultural flavor to his existence, and that’s a disappointment in a book with such diverse and rich representation that is handled well otherwise, especially when it comes to its neurodivergent characters.
I still can’t, however, resist recommending The Charm Offensive because of its romantic fearlessness. It’s a gorgeous little treat of a book that has one big problem that I hope might be ameliorated by the author in future..