Charming, charismatic, and effortlessly popular, Conrad Stewart seems to have it all…but in reality, he’s scrambling to keep his life from tumbling out of control.
Brilliant, guarded, and endlessly driven, Alden Roth may as well be the poster boy for perfection…but even he can’t help but feel a little broken inside.
When these mortal enemies are stuck together on a cross-country road trip to the biggest fan convention of their lives, their infamous rivalry takes a backseat as an unexpected connection is forged. Yet each has a reason why they have to win the upcoming Odyssey gaming tournament and neither is willing to let emotion get in the way—even if it means giving up their one chance at something truly magical.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Conventionally Yours has some of my favorite tropes: slow-burn, road trip, enemies-to-lovers, hurt/comfort. I appreciate that the setting is deep in fannish culture, and though doesn’t repeatedly point it out glaringly, it also doesn’t just mention it and dispense with it for the rest of the book. The backdrop for the story is the card game Odyssey, a thinly-disguised version of Magic: The Gathering. The snippets of gameplay that are included are illustrative of the personalities of the players, and although some readers have found it tedious I thought it was an interesting additional and a unique way to provide the reader insight to how the characters think.
Main characters Conrad and Alden are each at a crossroads in their lives. Conrad comes across as a bit of the jock stereotype, partying and sleeping around through college, though appearances are of course deceiving. Alden’s moms have been pushing him to medical school, but that’s not what he wants, though exactly what he does want is still hazy for him. Alden is also neurodiverse in some fashion, and I like that the author doesn’t try to get more specific than that. Difficulties reading social cues, anxieties, and other traits suggest underlying issues, but that’s as deep as it gets, and that’s fine. Both are participants in their professor’s YouTube series, “Gamer Grandpa”. Having only interacted over gameplay, each finds the other annoying and exasperating.
Circumstances send Alden and Conrad road-tripping from New Jersey to Las Vegas for the biggest national Odyssey convention, where the winner could join the pro tour and receive the money and (fandom) fame that comes with it. Winning the tournament would mean validation and success for either of them, though the problem is there can be only one winner, a dramatic tension that builds through the story.
I loved both of these guys. I saw bits of people I know in each of them, and that made the story that much more enjoyable. This is very much a slow burn romance, but watching them slowly open up to each other and realize that they’re a better match than they ever would have guessed was so very sweet.
The book is told by alternating the point of view between Alden and Conrad chapter-by-chapter. The audio version did a great job of this by having two brilliant narrators swapping off, Joel Froomkin (aka Joel Leslie) for Alden’s chapters and Kirt Graves for Conrad’s chapters. Joel nails Alden’s Jersey-boy accent, while Kirt’s earnest Midwestern Conrad is dead-on. My only quibble is that this meant that we actually heard four “voices” as, for example, Kirt read Alden’s dialogue in Conrad’s chapters, and that didn’t match Joel’s delivery. I still like the approach, though, and I’m happy to see it is used again in the sequel.
This is a fun, geeky, and very satisfying story of an intense rivalry that becomes an sweet relationship. I happily recommend it!