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Heartbreak Incorporated by Alex de Campi


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Heartbreak Incorporated

by Alex De Campi
June 22, 2021 · Rebellion Publishing Ltd.
ParanormalRomantic SuspenseRomance

Heartbreak Incorporated is kind of a bonkers book, and I love that about it. It commits pretty hard to its own premise of a sexy, mysterious man breaking up relationships for money while also maybe doing vigilante justice on the side, and the aspiring journalist who wants to uncover all of his secrets (in both a sexy way and a hard-boiled PI kind of way). Also, there are demons, and this book is very queer. All things I am into!

I was actually moderately confused after reading the blurb for Heartbreak Incorporated as to what genre to expect. Dark romance? Sexy thriller? Horror? Somewhat to my surprise, the book hews closest to paranormal romance, though it’s not an exact genre fit. The paranormal elements are of critical plot importance but are actually introduced fairly late into the plot (which makes the book hard to talk about without some vague spoilers, FYI), and the entire book is only from the perspective of the heroine, Evie. But the overall arc common to PNR of “plucky woman meets a superpowered, supernatural lover who both scares her and makes her extremely horny, and then she becomes involved in his secret dangerous magical world,” is here.

At the outset of the story, Evie Cross, an aspiring journalist living in NYC, is very broke and very desperate. She ends up interviewing for a temp position at a small consultancy firm headed by Misha Meserov that specializes in breaking up marriages in such a way that the spouse who hires the service gets a favorable financial settlement (e.g. the agents of Heartbreak Incorporated entrap the other party into adultery. Fun!) Evie starts to wonder if Misha is some kind of psychopath vigilante when one of HI’s clients, Greg Pickford, who is abusive towards his husband, dies shortly after an—ahem—meeting with Misha. (The meeting involves sex. I told you this book was bonkers).

There is a lot to like about Heartbreak Incorporated. The seedy wackiness of the marriage-breakup-for-hire business is successfully exploited for all of its comedic and dramatic potential, complete with angry spouses, sexy photographs, and late-night rescues from compromising situations. By combining this premise with elements of eldritch horror, romance, and some on-the-nose commentary on modern tech culture, this story feels new and daring in the way that it plays with multiple genres while genuinely relishing camp. If this book were a movie, I’m sure it would be a cult classic.

The dialogue is punchy and fun, and the plot moves along at a fairly fast clip as Evie first tries to figure out what lies under the surface of Heartbreak Incorporated and then how to deal with the implications when she does learn the capital-t Truth. There is also a strong cast of secondary characters, including the beautiful, competent, and vulnerable Gemma, who is first introduced as Evie’s professional rival but quickly becomes her confidant and friend; the truly odious Don Kieselstein, a lawyer who sends clients to HI regularly but looks down on Misha; and a very kind, funny priest name Kevin who loves gossip in all forms.

By far the strongest part of this book, though, is the hero, Misha. A flamboyant, bisexual, sensual, stylish, dangerous, vulnerable, witty, sexy KING!! He reminded me a lot of Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle (both book AND movie) if Howl was openly bisexual and had a lot more sex. In a word, Misha is enchanting. His character successfully conveys a multifaceted, mercurial personality without seeming inconsistent. He’s confident and wounded; he’s principled and terrifying; he’s deeply sad and full of effervescent mischief. The mysterious Misha makes this book come alive. Thankfully, he features prominently in most chapters. The desire to read more Misha was the primary thing driving me to keep turning the pages.

I loved seeing a queer hero who is openly sexual with both men and women through the course of the book. On that note, readers should be aware that Misha has or is implied to have a lot of barely off-page sex with other people before (but not after) getting with Evie, if that is not your catnip. Personally, I found it kind of hot and really refreshing. Readers should also be aware that with the exception of an extremely R-rated interlude in the middle of the book, there’s actually not much explicit on-page sex in this book, either. I wish the sexy stuff had been sprinkled through the book a little bit more instead of being given in one giant lump, but hey, it was steamy.

This book offered a fun and wacky remix on a few genres with an enjoyable plot and cast of secondary characters, and Misha is probably one of my favorite fictional heroes of all time. Unfortunately, the weakest part of this book is the heroine, Evie, who alternated between “fine” and “extremely annoying” for me. If I had to pick one word to describe her, it would be “ninny.” While she has moments of admirable competence and pretty good banter with Misha, overall, she is somewhat spineless, indecisive, and worries a lot about morality for someone with extremely gray morals.

Early on in the story, when Evie is first hired to work for Misha, she is actively planning on writing a very journalistically unethical piece “exposing” him. This decision makes no apparent sense from a practical or ethical standpoint. First, she has signed a massive NDA, and stands to make way more money working for Misha than she would get from her one-time questionable article that would land her in immediate legal hot water. Ethically, it would be one thing if she actually decided or had a solid reason to believe Misha was a bad person before she starts setting the betrayal in motion, but she basically knows nothing about him at the point at which she starts uploading his secret information to the cloud (no joke). On top of this, the person she is planning on working with for the expose, an editor at a New York magazine named Nicole, has previously taken credit for Evie’s work and been just generally a disrespectful nightmare. (A CLEARLY telegraphed “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…” situation). I don’t expect my main characters to be perfectly logical or always moral, but I do get frustrated when I’m expected to root for someone who consistently makes such colossally poor decisions along multiple metrics such as the ones described above.

Evie is also incredibly indecisive. For example, for a solid third of the book, Evie waffles between completely freaking out about the supernatural/magical/demonic things she has learned about (and wanting to dramatically run away from it all), and being completely fine. While it would be perfectly reasonable for a real-life human to engage in multiple oscillating freak-outs after encountering the supernatural, in a character, it is both repetitive and irritating. Personally, I prefer a more clear-headed, competent heroine who is fun to read about to one who has a psychologically realistic reaction to the knowledge that there are supernatural beings and she is having sex with one.

Similarly, Evie keeps waffling back and forth as to whether she LURVES Misha and thinks he is both the sexiest and best person alive or whether she actually finds him scary and maybe bad. Again—potentially a realistic human reaction, but very annoying in a character, especially because it seems telegraphed pretty clearly to the reader that Misha is, in fact, a good (or at least good-ish) person. My general feeling about Evie’s reactions to Misha and his actions were GET ON BOARD OR GET OFF THE TRAIN, EVIE. While I LOVED Misha as a character, I would have enjoyed the romance more if I had felt like Evie was more of a match for Misha. Instead, I found myself wondering why he was actually into her, particularly with so many other interesting and more compelling secondary characters around.

I do want to be clear that while I found Evie moderately annoying, she did not completely sour my interest or enjoyment of the book. Most of the time I found her to be an unobtrusive enough vehicle for enjoying the world and characters the book presents, with distracting moments of breakthrough annoyance. Still, it was enough to detract somewhat from what was otherwise a highly enjoyable reading experience.

Other than my complaints about Evie the ninny, my only other critique would be that some of the world-building verges on the info-dump-y, especially when the Secret Supernatural World is revealed rather abruptly in the middle of the book. It feels ever so slightly clunky. I think if some of the paranormal information was telegraphed more clearly earlier in the story, the reading experience would be a bit smoother.

In conclusion, Heartbreak Incorporated is a really fun, madcap, and sexy book with a couple of flaws that prevent it from ascending to the heights of true book greatness for me. Misha has secured a solid place in my list of all-time greatest heroes, and Evie has secured a corresponding place in my list of all-time most ninny heroines. It is a testament to my enjoyment of the book in spite of its flaws that I am actively hoping for a sequel focusing on one of the other characters affiliated with Heartbreak Incorporated (like Gemma!!! GIVE ME A BOOK ABOUT GEMMA!)

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