I have adored this entire series and Hard Wired (Can we all admit that Hassell and Erickson’s title game is on point?) follows this pattern. Hold on to your angst meters, ya’ll. Things are about to get complicated!
Ian is at FallenCon to do his drawings as Cerise (the emo, playboy artist) and meet his Twitch mod team as Cherrycakes (the cheery blonde-haired girl.) And then, downplay the fact that he’s not the cheery blonde-haired girl the other mods expect. His plans are shot to hell when he looks up and locks eyes with Jesse Garvy. The same Jesse that Ian has been crushing on hard.
This was supposed to be my unveiling. The day I finally stopped hiding behind an anonymous avatar and let everyone in Kai’s channel know about the other side of me. But I’d hoped…that somehow Jesse would know on his own.
To tell or not to tell? Ian chokes back the confession. The problem? Jesse is as sweet and charming offline as he on it, and Ian ends up ravishing the blonde surfer babe against a wall.
Jesse is fascinated by Ian with his tattoos and his black hair and his complete and utter talent. When Ian gives Jesse his first experience with a guy? He’s all in. If only he didn’t find Ian – aka Cerise, aka Cherrycakes -are all one and the same.
This story tore out my heart while slowly rebuilding it piece by agonizing piece. Ian hides behind Cerise, and when we learn the why of it, it wrecked me. He needs it to feel safe. When Jesse wants Ian to be Ian, he bolts. I wanted to give Ian a big hug at the same time I wanted to kick his hiney into gear and tell him to go get his man!
The split personalities of Cherrycakes/Cerise/Ian did confuse me at first, and I believe focusing on two personas might have uncomplicated the story a bit. That said, this is a key part of Ian’s character. This crippling, social anxiety is something he deals with every day. Without them, the story would have lost some of its magic.
There was no such thing as identifying someone by their fucking soul, but it was easy to trick yourself into thinking such things were possible when you lived your life primarily within the pages of manga, fanfic, and original slash.
Then there’s Jesse. He’s one of the most forthright and charming individuals I’ve come across in a romance novel. While he can’t stand up to his parents (who take advantage of his sweet soul), Jesse has no issues taking Ian to task. I was actually surprised by this because I, too, bought into Cerise’s outgoing personality. But that’s not Ian, and I love that Jesse became the aggressor. I didn’t expect him to be, and part of that is because he is so self-conscious. Jesse lacks the confidence to start his own Youtube channel (his dream) and almost sabotages himself. He wants to move to LA with his cousin, instead of working at a surf shop and bailing his parents out of debt.
I haven’t seen another series or book in romance tackle the gaming community so well and so succinctly, and while I am not caught up on all the players and how streaming works, the background is given in such a way that I understood the gist of it. It interested me enough that I even looked up Twitch and watched a few streams. Side note: it’s quite fascinating! Props to the authors on that!
This in-depth look into online and offline communication added another layer to this book, and boy, can these two make use of communication! Um…also? Phone sex, anyone? 😉 It also gave the opportunity to develop Ian further as a character. He has to draw the line between his online persona and the Ian he saves for Jesse.
While the romance portion is front and center, I found that the emotional, individual journeys were the primary focus for me. We see how they each heal the other, together. It’s relatable; it’s heartbreaking; it’s an essential part of them both.
That is a version of romance I think we can all relate with and strive for.
*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Opinions are 100% mine. Hard Wired is book 3 in the Cyberlove series and can be read as a standalone (although, I would recommend reading them all. They’re AWESOME!) Hard Wired releases February 7th.*