Location: at home
Date Read: June 2019
Team size: 1; we recommend 1
Page Count: 139 pages
Price: $4.99 paperback; $1.99 kindle
Author: Alyssa Cole
In Can’t Escape Love, romance novelist Alyssa Cole brought together a nerd blogger and an escape room designer in a 2019 novella, as part of her Reluctant Royals series. I’m not a romance novel connoisseur, but when my sister mentioned this novella, I was intrigued to see how someone outside this industry would portray my lifestyle. After all, the main character was a nerdy, 100% focused, busy-all-the-time woman blogger.
Can’t Escape Love cultivated the characters’ romance around a genuine issue: building escape rooms in established intellectual property and navigating the fandom that comes with that opportunity. The novel nailed what’s at stake in this scenario.
I found the writing hokey. To me, the characters’ relationship felt unrealistic, and at times downright silly. That said, I lacked the context of the larger series and the romance novel genre.
If you like romance novels and are interested in the idea of an unusual novella based around escape rooms, bloggers, nerd culture, and diversity, try this out.
Who is this for?
- Anyone with experience in puzzles, escape rooms, blogging, or romance novels
- Discerning romance novel aficionados looking for a lot more story than sex
- Folks who recognize that representation matters
- Best for people who have read Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals novels, given how novellas tend to work (see below)
- People interested in how escape rooms are portrayed in other media
- Worlds-collide crossover between escape rooms and blogging that plays out in a romance novella
- An antidote to bodice-ripper stereotypes about romance novels (complete with three-dimensional characters, consent, and a heroine who doesn’t need saving)
- A plot that addressed genuine issues, albeit in a magical version of the world where you can always expect a happy ending
Reggie was a nerd blogger and a businesswoman trying to launch an online media company in the 21st century. (Sounds familiar!) Gus was a puzzle-obsessed designer tasked with creating an escape room based on a popular anime series for an upcoming con.
Reggie struggled with insomnia. Gus had the most soothing voice.
Gus couldn’t understand the appeal of the IP he was working with. Reggie was a huge fan.
When they traded his voice for her knowledge, they discovered a chemistry. Could they escape love?
Can’t Escape Love was a fairly typical romance novella in some ways (story structure and role in a larger series) and an emphatically non-stereotypical one in others (decidedly feminist and inclusive perspective).
There wasn’t any gameplay, per say. As a reader I could appreciate that the characters were enjoying puzzles, but I couldn’t solve alongside them.
Core “gameplay” revolved around reading.
➕ Alyssa Cole captured the blogger life pretty realistically. I could identify with her portrayal of a nerdy blogger. Reggie had depth of character and her day-to-day was relatable.
➖ The puzzle enthusiast character lacked depth. I wanted more insight into the puzzles Gus was designing and solving. Puzzlers and escape room players will likely want more from this character and his work.
➖ The story felt corny. His voice? Really? I don’t read a lot of romance novels, but there were so many cringe-worthy lines as they started to fall for each other. For instance “… maybe it was the happy-anime endorphins rushing through her veins, but everything they said to each other seemed to be dipped in an innuendo sauce and served with a side of ‘let’s bang’ fries.”
➕ While I didn’t connect with the story, the emotions seemed heartfelt. I could empathize with the characters.
➕ In the story, Gus was designing an escape room based in a popular IP. Fans will play this escape room and judge it… as only the fan can. Alyssa Cole nailed this conflict. She also captured a fan’s excitement for a creative world.
Time Run faced these same hurdles in real life with Sherlock: The Game is Now. Creative Director Nick Moran alludes to this commitment to getting it right for fans in our interview from last summer, before the room opened. His talk at Up the Game in 2019 homed in on the challenges involved.
Gus was out of his element designing an escape room around IP he didn’t understand and couldn’t appreciate… until Reggie showed him what it meant to her, and convinced him of its value. As we see more escape rooms based in IP, this will be what sets the good ones apart.
➕/➖ Can’t Escape Love was a crossover that could appeal to both puzzle nerds and romance readers, and especially to anyone who already likes both. I’m thrilled to see escape rooms featured in different genres of culture. That said, Can’t Escape Love didn’t quite build the necessary bridge. As someone who doesn’t know and appreciate the format of a romance novel, the story felt contrived and, at times, downright preposterous. Someone who reads romance novels but doesn’t know or appreciate escape rooms will probably feel similarly, wondering why the characters care so much about that weird thing people do for fun that seems terrifyingly like Saw.
❓Romance novels aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. That said, romance novels can do good things in the world, and even more so when they represent the vast array of humans who fall in love. Can’t Escape Love is this kind of romance novel. While its style may not satisfy everyone’s desires, it’s written with intent.
❓Can’t Escape Love is a novella in Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series. Novellas typically give more depth to minor characters who show up in the longer novels in a series. This makes novellas awesome if you’ve already read the novels and wanted to see a minor character’s happy ending. This also makes novellas a little confusing and light on context as a place to start. I read Can’t Escape Love without having read any of the novels that give it context. Without this, the culminating conflict fell flat. I could relate to the conflict as a person who is close to her sister, but I wasn’t invested in the characters’ own drama and I didn’t really understand a good portion of it. In contrast, my sister had already read the book about the protagonist’s sister and knew exactly what the final conflict was about (and could also relate as a person who is close to her sister!).
Speaking of my sister, this is her first appearance on Room Escape Artist. We co-authored this review.
Tips For Reader
- You will get more out of the story if you either already like the romance genre or want to give it a whirl.
- You will get more out of the story if you’ve read the novels in the Reluctant Royals series. I found it a bit hard to get into. I think my lack of a previous connection to the characters had a lot to do with this.
Buy your copy of Can’t Escape Love, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
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