Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, geek romance, relationship fiction
Published by Montlake on July 1, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
From Cathy Yardley, author of Love, Comment, Subscribe, comes an emotional rom-com about two middle-aged gamers who grow their online connection into an IRL love story.
Maggie is an unapologetically grumpy forty-eight-year-old hermit. But when her college-aged son makes her a deal—he’ll be more social if she does the same—she can’t refuse. She joins a new online gaming guild led by a friendly healer named Otter. So that nobody gets the wrong idea, she calls herself Bogwitch.
Otter is Aiden, a fifty-year-old optimist using the guild as an emotional outlet from his family drama caring for his aging mother while his brother plays house with Aiden’s ex-fiancée.
Bogwitch and Otter become fast virtual friends, but there’s a catch. Bogwitch thinks Otter is a college student. Otter assumes Bogwitch is an octogenarian.
When they finally meet face-to-face—after a rocky, shocking start—the unlikely pair of sunshine and stormy personalities grow tentatively closer. But Maggie’s previous relationships have left her bitter, and Aiden’s got a complicated past of his own.
Everything’s easier online. Can they make it work in real life?
I was tempted to start this review by doing one of those “there are two types of people” kind of things, but those always leave some people out. Also, in this particular case, there are four types of people, introverts, extroverts, ambiverts and omniverts.
This is very much a story about introverts, as both Maggie and Aiden are both clearly on the far end of the introvert side of the introvert vs. extrovert teeter-totter. Maggie, in fact, may be just a bit too far over, as she realizes that she hasn’t been outside in days and has run out of absolutely every food in her pantry and will be forced to rely on condiments if she doesn’t go to the local small town gossip factory that passes for a grocery store.
For anyone wondering why not just get food delivered, well, food delivery is something that Maggie misses – a lot – by having moved to tiny Fool’s Falls in eastern Washington State. She’s so far out of town that even the local pizza place doesn’t deliver.
Maggie is a freelance editor, so she doesn’t need to go TO a job to HAVE a job. She’d rather socialize online anyway, which is why she’s still very much an online gamer at 48. She’s also suffering – really, really hard – from empty nest syndrome as her son, and fellow introvert – has just started college at the University of Washington in Seattle.
But she’s right about the grocery store being town gossip central, and she’s equally right about being accosted the minute she steps in by one of the local, means so very well but isn’t listening, obvious, oblivious, obligate extroverts who is determined that Maggie get out of her house and won’t take no for an answer.
Won’t even hear ‘no’ as an answer.
Which is where Role Playing takes off, as Maggie finds herself stuck in the role of introvert at a party of extroverts who all focus on her. One thing leads to another – not necessarily bad things, just frustrating things from Maggie’s point of view – leading to the lovely heartwarming answer to a question that hasn’t been asked but should be: how do introverts find each other as they retreat to their homes to escape a world full of loud, intrusive extroverts who are just sure that their way is best.
The answer is delightful from beginning to end, and all the more so because Maggie and Aiden – or rather Bogwitch and Otter – are not your typical 20somethings finding true love. Instead, it’s a story about two grown ups who have given up on finding someone who will ‘get’ them EXACTLY as they are, and who will love them not in spite of their introversion, or even because of it, but because together they fit in a way that neither ever expected to find.
And it makes for the best kind of romance, between two people who have accepted who they are in themselves and have finally found ‘their’ person in spite of all the meddlers and extroverts trying to get in their way.
Escape Rating A: I picked this book out of the virtually towering TBR pile for two reasons. One, I loved the author’s Fandom Hearts series with its combination of romance and geeky fun. And two, because it’s a reality in my house, particularly this month when there are long weekends and time off built in, that the two introverts who live here are going to be spending a LOT of time playing video games. Because that’s part of what brought us together, too.
So, I fell hard for this book because I felt hard for both Maggie and Aiden, but especially for Maggie. I really got her, both in the whole sense of how easy it is to get lost in your own little world when your job lets you avoid the big world outside – even if it’s lonely. AND her combination of extreme annoyance and absolute cringing when confronted with determined extroverts – because they are all determined and they are all wrong but convinced that they are right.
(Obviously I’m venting my own feelings here, but hers were just SO REAL and felt SO TRUE. Also, I’m also still a gamer, and a bit older than Maggie, so people’s reactions to that part of her persona felt equally spot on.)
I digress, but hopefully in a germane way.
And then there’s Aiden, who is caught up in a bunch of really, really HARD adult dilemmas, with no good outlet for the stress except, of course in this context, gaming. (I understand so completely that there are nights when pixels just need to die that I can’t even…)
Both Maggie and Aiden are in some very hard places, but they are also very grown up places. Maggie needs to make a life that works for her by herself now that her son is in college. Which is going to mean changes – and that she’ll have to find ‘her people’ somehow because Kit’s presence in the house kept the social isolation at bay for both of them.
Aiden has also been in a holding pattern as he came home to tiny Fool’s Falls to take care of his dying father. But his father has been dead for a year and Aiden is left in a place he never wanted to come back to, dealing with his grief-stricken mother who is determined to blame Aiden for never being the son his parents wanted him to be in spite of his very real success.
His mental health requires his departure, but his mother still needs him even if she seems to hate everything he is and does. (If you’ve ever read any 9-1-1 fanfic, Aiden’s mother is toxic in the same way that Eddie’s mother is. I digress again, but geeky references are part of the fun of this story)
Maggie and Aiden find each other through the gaming that everyone in their lives thinks they should have given up years ago. Quite possibly because it’s a symbol of the fact that they are both determined to live THEIR OWN lives and not FOR anyone else.
Obviously, I had a ball with Role Playing, to the point that I’m a bit chagrined that I missed it when it came out back in July , but am oh-so-glad I rediscovered it now thanks to Book Riot’s Best Books of 2023. I sincerely hope the author gives us some more grown-up but still geeky romances to fall in love with, but in the meantime I’m going back to see where I left off with Fandom Hearts the next time I need to put a little more heart in my reading!