Story Rating: 3.75 stars
Audio Rating: 3.5 stars
Narrator: Rudy Sanda
Length: 12 hours, 14 minutes
Vera has developed a new computer dating artificial intelligence engine, who she calls Archer. Her company is eager to get ahead of the curve on the tech and Archer’s going to get a debut on making matches for some of the most difficult persons to pair. Archer’s engine is unique in that it accesses a client’s entire online life and profile, even turning on their device cameras to watch how people’s eyes glaze over—or home in on—content in web searches to discover potentially hidden interests. Vera’s male coworkers think she’s nuts, especially because some of her ideas are built on an arranged-marriage ideal. Archer would act like “protective parents arranging a marriage” to a degree, but it makes a calculated decision to ignore a single profile caveat: the sex of the desired partner.
Fox Kinkaide is a wealthy businessman who has a lot of first dates, but virtually no second ones. His matches seem to fall in the 90% compatibility, but there’s always something off with the women he meets once they go out. Essentially, they don’t completely connect emotionally or numerically. Fox relentlessly analyzes his potential matches, relying on an algorithm he’s honed over five years of dating. Meanwhile, Drew Larson is a lonely Ph.D. student who has a close relationship with his elderly neighbor, but few others. He seems to be a magnet for crazy women, even within the dating apps. Fox and Drew are convinced to sign on to the enhanced Archer AI matching engine. It’s a long shot, but they are just desperate enough to give up their online privacy for a chance at love.
Archer, ignoring the directive about the sex of the partner, pairs Fox and Drew with a 99.5% compatibility factor. Expecting a PR nightmare from this experimental match, Vera and her team unsuccessfully try to cancel it before the clients get connected. Fox and Drew are shocked, dismayed, and…curious. They decide, eventually, to talk. And then to meet. And, they find they are highly compatible. The men have a couple of dates in person, plus some phone conversations, before they recognize there’s more going on than just companionship.
Over the course of more than a month, Drew and Fox begin to experiment with a physical relationship. It’s not easy, as one might expect. Fox is especially resistant to reframe his sexuality—and nearly ruins this relationship before it gets started. However, his feelings for Drew also exceed any of those he’d held for the women he’s met in the past three years. An emotional intimacy is developing, but will it lead to more?
The story was a little convoluted, with changing POVs between Vera, Drew, and Fox. There’s a lot of technical jargon regarding the computing pieces and personnel that run Archer. Vera and Archer do talk, via a virtual voice she’s assigned him. There are a lot of characters—at least 20 different voices the narrator must carry, including several females. Though Sanda did a great job trying to make them unique, it’s just difficult to manage so many characters. I felt overwhelmed at times, especially as the POV rapidly shifted. I found the narration was manageable, though the cadences and pacing were a little stiff to my ear.
I liked the secondary characters, including Fox’s best friend, Chad; Vera’s friend, Padma; and Mrs. Schwartzman, Drew’s nosy neighbor, who are all interesting and provide necessary support and comic relief. There are a lot of interesting themes that are addressed, including the sexism Vera experiences in her job and the internalized prejudices Drew and Fox must discard in order to accept their unusual match. Unfortunately, there are some dry moments, too, most notably when Vera and Archer are chatting. The tension regarding the matching parameters and how Archer ignored them made for some interesting conversations to absorb. I liked how this was explained, and how Fox and Drew responded to the knowledge that they were a true 99.5% compatibility match, once Parameter 3 was excepted. It gave them both courage to focus on the feelings they had developed for one another.
This story had a quite happy ending, which balanced Drew and Fox’s struggle to come to terms with their sexual awakening. There are some sexy bits, though they are few and far between. Expect a slow burn.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.