Book Review: Leveling Up, by Jazzy Mitchell
by Bren B. | 01/28/2022
Age gap? Women in the gaming industry? Betrayal in the form of intellectual property theft? And it’s Sapphic? Sign me up please and thank you! When I first read the synopsis for Leveling Up, by Jazzy Mitchell, I cannot overstate just how interested I was in the premise of this book:
Six years after completing her internship, Clarke Parson, a videogame graphic designer and animator, finds herself back in the orbit of Haboob Software’s CEO, Fran Silvetti. Clarke contacts Fran to warn her that the game her company is developing was stolen from Clarke’s computer by an ex-girlfriend after an acrimonious breakup. As Clarke is swept into a torrid affair with the fascinating woman, she covets their time together, hoping Fran may someday return the love Clarke harbors for her.
Unfortunately, for me though, Leveling Up didn’t live up to my internal hype from reading the back of the book. Reading the synopsis I was under the impression that the book was going to deal mostly with the conflict of having intellectual property stolen and that the romance would blossom while working together to battle legal cases or property rights to the game that was stolen from Clarke. I was more than surprised to find that part of the book’s plot was more or less resolved by the end of chapter one with a few quickly sent emails and meetings that were summarized and the remainder of the book was focused mostly on Clarke and Fran’s reconnection after Clarke left Haboob six years prior and their ensuing relationship. Leveling Up definitely fell victim of me having high expectations for the story as I’m an avid gamer and the synopsis was one that got me really excited about the book! But when I realized the story was mostly based around two adult women and their relationship that takes over six months to learn how to communicate their actual wants to each other, I was more than a little disappointed.
I’d like to put a quick personal disclaimer out there: I, as a reader, have a hard time with stories that involve office romance or romance dynamics between subordinate and boss. I have a hard time with it because professionally I have worked in the Human Resource field for the last ten years and as much as I try to disconnect fiction from reality when I’m reading, my brain can’t always separate fiction from my overbearing work brain. I will say, though, that Leveling Up handled the office romance dynamic in a way that I was able to enjoy! Sure, there is an explicit scene that takes place in the office itself, but Clarke isn’t Fran’s employee at that time–not on her payroll or through contract work. It was an office type romance that I was happy to see took care to consider work boundaries. It may be a very unique thing for me to notice and comment on but I really appreciated that Mitchell took the time to craft the narrative in such a way that didn’t depend on their current working relationship.
The story follows Clarke Parson and Fran Silvetti’s mostly alternating perspectives. Clarke is a younger freelance graphic designer and animator… and character creator, story-boarder, and narrative/story writer–she’s written like someone who can do it all. And as a freelancer, I can buy that she has to wear many hats, but there were definitely a few points in the story that I thought she wore too many hats, as she was doing all of the previous work and running social media and press release announcements for a game that had two development companies behind it. Surely they had a marketing team who could have been doing that or at least partnering with her to accomplish it.
And then there is Fran, Clarke’s senior by 15 years and the CEO of Haboob gaming who is known for her no-nonsense attitude and extreme intolerance to subpar performance. If you worked with her she would be someone to be feared, not looked up to with the way she admonishes people in front of others. There were several passages while reading that I couldn’t help but think “she’s is the living embodiment of crunch in the gaming industry” with how demanding and unforgiving she’s made out to be. She’s quick to default to wanting to fire someone instead of coaching. By way of Clarke and Fran’s romance, though, you see that Fran is more than just a harsh woman in the workplace. The reader gets to see her softer side, her lighter side that her daughter, Elaine, and Clarke bring out of her and you see her start to loosen up.
It is abundantly clear that Mitchell has done ample research into the gaming field to ensure this book sounds believable. My note about thinking Clarke wears too many hats still stands, but all of the things that are mentioned about Clarke and Fran’s work, from mocap requirements, to programs used in the industry, all the way down to critiques in animation were all researched and used well within the narrative. The care Mitchell took in researching the industry paid off and really sold that both Clarke and Fran were people to be reckoned with in their part of the gaming industry when the narrative actually focused on their jobs.
This book fell short for me mainly due to the narrative constantly feeling like a sputtering car that felt like it was just about to start but would never turn over. Most of the narrative felt very summary heavy, recanting feelings from before Clarke left Haboob, events, or conversations that happened outside of the perspective, or rehashing feelings and worries of inadequacies in their relationship. Most of the time the narrative only felt present during sex scenes with a few exceptions. Any conflict that was presented was then solved within the same scene or within the same chapter and the things that weren’t resolved were so repetitive that I had a hard time buying into their relationship. A simple conversation in most cases would have solved all of the miscommunication in this book, but that simple conversation didn’t happen until after half way through the book when the character started sleeping with each other in the first few chapters. I can understand some of the miscommunication mishaps in the book and chalk them up to anxiety but neither character is explicitly said to have anxiety.
The character arcs for Clarke and Fran were decent and the reader really gets to see them change and grow in their own confidence as they start to finally admit to things that they want in life and from each other. Seeing the two blossom in different ways was enjoyable and made the other more repetitive parts of the narrative feel more tolerable because it showcased their growth, even if in the moment I found those repetitive moments rather frustrating.
Leveling Up may not have been the book for me, but that doesn’t mean you as a reader won’t enjoy it. The story follows an intimate relationship that builds up from six years of yearning and wondering what if to the couple’s happily ever after. If you’re a fan of age gap romances or office romances and a whole lot of spice in your WLW reading, then Leveling Up might be right up your alley!
3 out of 5 Rainbows
Recommended Reader: WLW readers who enjoy various types of sex scenes and at different detail levels, those looking for an easy read to pass the time, and those whole like a wholesome age gap story and/or office romances.
Book Provided by Author: The Queerblr was provided a copy of Leveling Up for free by the author; this has in no way affected the review and rating of the book that was written by The Queerblr.