Brilliant, guarded, and endlessly driven, Alden Roth may as well be the poster boy for perfection...but even he can't help but feel a little broken inside.
When these mortal enemies are stuck together on a cross-country road trip to the biggest fan convention of their lives, their infamous rivalry takes a backseat as an unexpected connection is forged. Yet each has a reason why they have to win the upcoming Odyssey gaming tournament and neither is willing to let emotion get in the way―even if it means giving up their one chance at something truly magical.
Comment: Another book by Annabeth Albert from my TBR... I saw it was a little different from her usual style and decided to give it a try.
In this new series, the focus is on college students who like gaming. When this story starts, a well established you tube team is going to do a road trip to promote their page and a specific game in hopes of participating in the decisive contest in Las Vegas. The prize is everything for Conrad, whose life got very complicated recently, and that would help him start over without being afraid to try so he bets pretty much everything on winning the competition...but first he has to arrive in Vegas. Having the same idea but for different reasons, is Alden, whose mothers are putting pressure on him to pick a path for the future and he isn't certain yet on what would fulfill him. Alden and Conrad don't seem to get along, although they are part of the same team, but will a road trip where they have to spend time together make them see each other through different eyes?
I've read this author's gaymers series, featuring slightly older characters, and liked it. I wasn't really planning on going into this one already but at the same time, it does leave my shelves more organized. Plus, the opinions by people whose taste is similar to mine when it comes to m/m romance has been generally positive and of course I would want to try...
This is basically a road trip plot with an enemies to lovers trope. I mean! It just had to be a good story overall, but the characters would make or break the success of this book. I've seen some pertinent opinions that the fact this was more new adult instead of the author's usual adult target audience means the focus was more on the characters' connection and processing of their personal issues instead of highlighting the romance.
I can understand this because for a good part of the novel, the romance was non existent and since they start off as enemies, it's obvious things between them don't happen quickly. Personally, I don't mind as I prefer these types of romances (slow and more character driven) to something immediately physical or just focused on the erotic part of the relationship. I feel Conrad and Alden had time to respect each other, to give the other time to talk and explain things, to understand each other and by the time they were half way in love with each other, I was already believing it.
The romance might not be the most romantic one, it certainly lacked more sexual tension to make their connection feel more "destined to be" or something like that, but clearly the author wanted to convey the many possibilities we can find in so many different people. Alden is neuro-diverse, or appears to be, and his reactions aren't merely indifference or not caring for someone else, only he acts and reacts differently. I liked he wasn't immediately able to know how to act as others would expect, I liked he took time to think and analyze his surroundings and I liked he wanted to help Conrad and liked him for what made him unique.
Conrad still felt the most intriguing for me, for his issues come from a situation that might go one way or another. By the end of he book, I kind of liked the author didn't go the cheesy path and wrapped up everything in a perfect bow, but let it be possible that change can happen but it might be slow. Conrad's issues in life felt more urgent to me, in terms of how quickly one might solve them, in detriment to Alden's, although one issue isn't any less demanding or reason to worry than the other. I think the complexity of these situations were what truly made me enjoy the book and root for the guys.
Some pacing was a bit too slow, though. I think there was a bit too much time spent on showcasing the animosity between them at first...at the same time I liked the author did exactly that, instead of just telling us about it. Hard to explain why I didn't like this more but there you go, too much slowness in some moments made for some boring parts here and there and since sexual tension wasn't highlighted in a more obvious way (them thinking about the other sometimes doesn't count), in some scenes I doubted how romantic this would actually end up being. I also didn't pay much attention to the constant gaming talk, which is a big part of the plot but that I find no interest in whatsoever.