Review of Hard Wired (Cyberlove #3), by Megan Erickson & Santino Hassell

I was sent an ARC of Hard Wired, but Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell.

Description from Goodreads:
My FallenCon agenda is simple: sit on a couple of panels and let people meet the real me. Jesse Garvy—mod of a famous Twitch channel and, if I ever come out of my shell, future vlogger. I definitely didn’t plan to sleep with a moody tattooed fan-artist, but he’s gorgeous and can’t keep his hands off me. There’s a first time for everything, and my first time with a guy turns out to be the hottest experience of my life.

But the next day, I find out my moody fan-artist is Ian Larsen AKA Cherry—someone I’ve known online for years. And he’d known exactly who I was while shoving me up against that wall. Before I figure out whether to be pissed or flattered, the con ends.

Now we’re back online, and he’s acting like nothing happened. But despite the distance between us, and the way he clings to the safety of his online persona, we made a real connection that night. I don’t plan to let him forget.

I love the Hassell and Erickson team and I’ve enjoyed the Cyberlove series. But I have to admit this wasn’t my favorite. I liked the characters and the story, but aspects of it made me uncomfortable.

Let me start with the good. The writing is stellar as always, the editing good (even for an ARC), the characters distinct, the sex hot, it’s funny and I personally liked the easter eggs. Yep, all good. And honestly, the one big thing that bothered me might be me making a mountain out of a molehill, but it annoyed me. A lot.

(This might be a little spoilery, but it doesn’t give the end away or anything.) One of the main characters’ goals is to become an animator so that he can create his own art that brings attention to and increases the diversity in media. Yeah? It’s a good goal. And I might have been able to look over how didactic some of it came across with the use of what I call hashtag terms (the ones you generally only see online or in book reviews talking about how authors have failed to include X or are guilty of shaming Y). Except that, well, both main characters are white. So are the parents, presumably the cousin/best friend, as it isn’t stated otherwise, the adversary and both people who will obviously be the couple for the next book. Off hand, I can think of one person Ian spoke to that was described as having a bow in her afro and Garvy’s co-worker was Filipino. That’s it.

Of course, race isn’t the only form of diversity and both characters are gay, they acknowledge the existence of bi-sexuality and one is neuro-atypical. But it still felt like an uncomfortable oversight. Perhaps someone will tell me I’m wrong or that it was actually meant to be illustrative, I don’t know. But once I noticed it I couldn’t not. The book was advocating diversity without including much obvious diversity itself.

And I almost didn’t mention it here, because I know these authors (know being a loose term for follow them online and have exchanged a comment here or there, but it’s enough that I have a general idea what to expect in their books) and I’m certain this is something that’s important to them. But I have to admit that here I don’t think they lived up to their best intentions. (And yes, I do see the irony of stating that I ‘know’ them, given that some of the drama in the book is based on fans thinking they know a whole person when all they really know is an online persona.)

Other than that one big issue, that kind of overshadowed the whole story for me, I generally liked the book. Yes, it was very angsty, I thought Garvy was a little too patient to be believed, the happy ending came a little too easily, and Ian’s trauma and protective measures sometimes came across as disingenuous simply because he seemed a little too introspective about his own psychoses. It made it feel almost clinical, instead of devastatingly emotional. But these last critiques are small niggles that are almost meaningless in the face of other aspects I enjoyed. I’ll definitely still be picking up the next book they write together and any books they write separately.

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