Review: Geekerella by Ashley Poston (Spoiler-Free)

A Cinderella story with a fandom twist! Elle is a huge fan of the old cult sci-fi show Starfield, as was her father before he died. Her stepmother? Not so much, and her awful step-sisters don’t get it either – that is, until teen heartthrob Darien Freeman is cast as the lead actor in the new Starfield reboot! Meanwhile, Darien’s life is no cakewalk either. Federation Prince Carmindor is his dream role, but his manager keeps pushing him into things he’s not ready for, the Starfield fans don’t think he’s cut out for the job, and somebody on-set has been taking pictures of him and posting them online without his permission. His only real solace is a stranger on the other end of a wrong number, but could – as people keep telling him – his new friendship be getting in the way of his career?

This was such a cute book! Elle and Darien’s romance was really sweet, and felt very believable, despite the fact that they didn’t meet – or even know each other’s identities – for almost the entire book. And the individual characters (or most of them, at least) all seemed really well-developed, as well; Elle and Darien were both relatable and sympathetic, as were many of the side characters, although most of them didn’t play particularly major parts in the story. Of the very minor characters, my favourite was definitely Sage’s mum, who was a really fun character.

Geekerella is also really interesting as a re-telling, not just because of the modern-day, geek-culture setting, but also because Poston has provided really fresh take on many of Cinderella‘s traditional roles. Where the fairy godmother character is often a mother- or mentor-figure, in this book she’s one of Elle’s peers; and rather than being a single homogenised unit, you can tell that a lot of effort has gone into making sure that Elle’s two step-sisters, Chloe and Calliope, are distinct from one another. Even the wicked stepmother isn’t the same cut-and-dry villain that we usually see in Cinderella retellings – though she’s still pretty detestable. And although the overt magic of Cinderella has been entirely removed from the setting, I was really impressed by how Poston still managed to create a story that feels very magical.

And speaking of Elle’s stepmother (Catherine), she fascinated me. She initially does come off as this one-dimensional villain, who’s obsessed with her own self-image, and determined to make Elle’s life as miserable as possible for no reason (beyond spite, presumably born from jealousy over the connection between Elle and her father), but the more I read about her, the more pitiful she seemed. Don’t get me wrong, she’s still an awful person, but it’s also incredibly sad how her own warped world-view seems to be making her almost as miserable as she’s making everyone else – and it’s also a little unsettling, because I’ve known people like her, who are completely incapable of realising that not everyone has to like, or value the same things; that loving a show like Starfield (even loving it to the extent that you’d write a blog about it, or dress up as the characters) doesn’t automatically equate to an unhealthy obsession… In a strange way, she does seem to want what’s best for Elle; she just doesn’t  know what that is, and is dangerous because she’s so convinced that she does.

A couple of things that I didn’t like quite so much: Chloe was rather one-dimensional, which struck me as strange considering the amount of effort that Poston put into all the other characters. She’s an odd mash-up of unenlightened stereotypes, including the evil not-a-real-fan, the spoiled, vain princess, and the girl-who-pretends-to-like-something-in-order-to-impress-guys-then-makes-fun-of-them-behind-their-backs… The second thing was that Starfield was a clear in-story stand-in for Star Trek, which would have been fine if Poston hadn’t kept talking about the actual Star Trek, too. It just seems strange that two such similar shows would both have flourished (to the level where creating specific conventions for each of them was a worthwhile business proposition) despite being aired at around the same time and therefore being in direct competition. I feel like in a real-world situation, one of them was bound to have died in obscurity… It’s not a huge problem, but it did take me out of the story a couple of times.

Overall, Geekerella is a charming book, half-love story, and half-love letter – to Star Trek, to conventions, to cosplay… The wrong-number premise makes me want to (blind-)recommend this to people who liked Sophie Kinsella’s I’ve Got Your Number, but I feel that it’s closer in spirit to books like Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell or Backward Compatible by Sarah Daltry & Pete Clark, both of which are sweet romance novels that really embrace fan-culture.

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