I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned it before, but I am a bit of a nerd. I like Star Trek, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings, but I wouldn’t call myself anything more than a casual fan. You’d never find me at a midnight showing of a film dressed as in costume or waving a lightsaber, and I can’t quote lines from any of them. And the closest I’ve ever come to a sci-fi/fantasy convention was well over a decade ago when I picked up a friend at Comic Con in Atlanta. You better believe that when I got a good look at the costumes going in and out of the convention center I decided that I would just slow down and my friend could jump in the moving car. I was NOT stopping!
So I have a lot in common with Emma Portland, the heroine of Abby Niles’ Defying Convention. She’s an investigative journalist for the biggest paper in Atlanta (woo hoo, Hotlanta!), and after screwing up her last exposé, her boss has given her the kiss of death – find a story at the 31st annual GalaxyCon. Emma only knows a little about these conventions, and what little she knows comes from her brother, Eddie, who attends lots of Cons and is the creator of a popular online role player game. Emma is following her brother around but having no success getting story ideas when Eddie informs her that to get the best scoops, she needs to pose as a native. Thus she finds herself dressed as Princess Leia. And not Princess Leia in a white robe with buns on her head, Princess Leia in a boobalicious metal bikini. Helloooo, ladies!
As Emma and Eddie are leaving their hotel room with her dressed in her cringe-inducing costume, they witness a guy being attacked by a Furry (person dressed as an animal with certain sexual proclivities that are not delved into in this book, thank goodness) with a Styrofoam sword, and while I’d like to say that “Styrofoam sword” isn’t a euphemism, it probably is meant to have some sort of Freudian meaning. Emma hates bullies, so she joins the fray by yanking the sword away from the Furry and beating him over the head with it. To her surprise, Eddie thinks that the man under attack, author Luke Blaster, deserves everything he’s getting. Luke Evans writes the Farmen Galaxy books under the name Luke Blaster, and he made the bold move of killing off the hero of his books, Ben Frank, in the last book. Now his name is mud, and he is sooooo not popular at this convention.
Luke and Emma have definite sparks (I’m sure the metal bikini helps!), but she’s torn. She’s attracted to Luke, but if she can get the scoop on his enigmatic book dedications and why he killed off his hero, she can salvage her career. Her boss is breathing down her neck, and she’s definitely going to be out on her bum if she doesn’t get a good story. To make matters worse, Luke makes it clear that he despises reporters, just as Emma’s rival reporter makes an appearance. There’s definitely a story here, but should Emma follow her heart or her dream of being a great reporter?
I love the choice of a sci-fi convention as setting for this contemporary romance, and Abby Niles does a great job of incorporating the Con culture into the book. Live Action Role Play (LARP) takes a central stage in encouraging the romance between Luke and Emma, and the fans of Luke’s Farmen Galaxy are a hoot. I am certainly sympathetic to their outrage over his killing off the hero, and their various forms of revenge are pretty darn funny. And the scene with the Vulcan Karaoke was a riot, even though I’ve done the Rocky Horror Picture Show Time Warp myself and am not sure that I’d qualify it as arousing as it is here!
The romance itself is sweet and entertaining. Emma’s drawn to Luke, who’s got a tortured past, and the conflict of heart over work is one many can relate to. There’s a nice secondary romantic conflict between Eddie and his ex-wife Fiona that mirrors the conflict Emma’s experiencing, since Fiona left Eddie because he was more focused on developing his game than his marriage. Eddie continually encourages Emma to take a chance with Luke instead of focusing on her career, pointing out how unhappy his past mistakes have made him. Eddie’s “wooing” of his ex-wife Fiona during a role-playing game was sexy, awkward, and adorable, and you’re rooting for this couple as much as for the hero and heroine. When Luke finally opens up to Emma about his traumatic past, you agonize with her, because she’s found place herself in such a difficult postion. She’s in love with Luke and knows that he will consider her silence about her profession a betrayal. Luke’s pain at her actions is palpable, but the conclusion is highly satisfactory.
I really enjoyed this novel, but I do have a few minor complaints. The first has to do with some of the language in the novel. Overall the book is well-written, but there was one point where Eddie describes Emma as “angsted up” that actually made me cringe. The phrase is such a trivial thing to criticize that I hesitate to mention it, but it was such a jarring note that it distracted me from the story for a moment. The fact that this was the only time the language disrupted my reading of the book should indicate that the rest of the novel was smoothly written, I think.
My only other complaint is that the rival reporter competing with Emma, Lila O’Brien, is a bit of a caricature. She’s so evil and ruthless while the other supporting characters are so well-rounded that as a character she falls a bit flat. You definitely will love to hate her, and it’s very satisfying to see her get her come-uppance in the end, but she’s a little too one-dimensional, especially when compared to Cecil, the farmen fan who aids her in her exposé.
But if you haven’t guessed so far, I really loved this book. It had a great romance with a tortured hero and a hysterically funny setting. This is the first contemporary romance set at a Sci-Fi convention that I’ve seen and the choice of setting was absolutely brilliant. Definitely check this one out!
I received this book for review from the Publisher through NetGalley.