Alright, am I cheating with this one? Maybe a little.
Because Spoiler Alert isn’t brand new. It came out almost a year ago. But pair recent fan fiction discourse on Twitter with my ever-mounting excitement for the second novel in this delightful series by Olivia Dade, and I think I can make an exception to my own rule.
Marcus Caster-Rupp is one of the stars of Gods of the Gates, a big-budget TV show based on a series of popular fantasy novels loosely based on the Aeneid. On a meta level it’s clear Dade has based Gods of the Gates on Game of Thrones, a comparison that only gets better and better the longer the book goes on. Faced with the declining quality of scripts, and two failed-upwards showrunners who don’t understand their show or their characters (see what I mean?), Marcus turns his frustrations into a creative outlet, and starts anonymously writing fan fiction centred around his character Aeneas and his love interest Lavinia under the name Book!Aeneas Would Never.
April Whittier is a geologist, a budding cosplayer, and a fan fiction author. She is a diehard fan of Gods of the Gates and the character of Lavinia in particular. She gravitates towards her because as written in the book, Lavinia is not what anyone would consider a beautiful woman. Though April herself is pretty, she is also a fat woman living in a world that treats fatness like enough of a reason to dismiss someone as worthless. A prolific fanfic writer, April is one of the more prominent participants on a Lavineas server, and writes under the name Unapologetic Lavinia Stan. She also has a mutual beta-reading agreement with another user.
That user being Book!Aneas Would Never.
After some truly horrible (but unfortunately not unrealistic) trolls make cruel and degrading comments about April’s appearance when she posts a picture of herself in cosplay on Twitter, the exchange catches Marcus’s eye, and he invites her to dinner. An invitation April accepts, because why not? Over the course of their meal, Marcus realizes he and April have been internet friends for years, but chooses to keep the information to himself out of fear for his career.
Beyond the delightful premise of the circumstances of their meeting, Spoiler Alert is also the story of two people coming to terms with the damage that the world around them has inflicted on them. More specifically, their parents. Self-loathing doesn’t always stem from things strangers say in passing, but often the far more cutting comments made by people who are supposed to love you no matter what. Especially when those people cannot see the pain they’re inflicting (or don’t care enough to see it). Dade does a wonderful job of striking the balance between the fandom side of the story, and the more emotionally resonant plot threads that are the hallmark of really good contemporary romance novels. It’s not just learning to love another, but learning to love yourself too.
Spoiler Alert is also a love letter to fandom. To the shippers, the cosplayers, the fic writers. To the communities we build up around these stories we all love so much. And I won’t lie, as someone who did not care for the last season of Game of Thrones, and who was firmly on the Jamie/Brienne ship (on whom Aeneas/Lavinia in Gods of the Gates are loosely based), this book is nothing short of cathartic. The not-so-subtle dig at the showruners of GOT was also appreciated, particularly for someone like myself who works in a creative field, and who knows that she wouldn’t be given the chance to fail upwards as much as they did (or indeed at all)
What really resonated for me the most in this book, ultimately, is the strength and support that Marcus and April build into their relationship. There’s none of that “no one will love you until you love yourself” nonsense. Anyone is worthy of being loved at any point in their life, no matter where they are personally, mentally, emotionally. The journey of healing from the wounds inflicted on you intentionally or unintentionally does not need to be undertaken alone. It can be done with someone who loves you just as you are. April and Marcus really see each other. They are the first to truly see the other for who they are.
What else do any of us want, really, when you get down to it?
Spoiler Alert is available now.
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