Several decades ago, half the population was wiped out by a disease known as the Loveborne Virus, or LBV. In the wake of the initial outbreak, the entire human race has become infected with at least a dormant strain of the virus. Scientists have since discovered that strong feelings of lust or, even more dangerous, romantic love, trigger a relapse of the disease that is almost instantly fatal. And so people have learned to live with less human-to-human interaction, more robot helpers, and virtually no close relationships. Alias Novar is no different; in fact, he is far more cautious given that his own mother is one of the few LBV cases where the illness lingers interminably rather than quickly killing. But the care she needs is expensive and Alias is nearing his wits’ end, so he responds to an advertisement for a new personal assistant to Deon Dehive, one of the most powerful men in the world and one on the brink of a breakthrough treatment to tackle LBV.
Deon may have built his fortune by being the premier manufacturer of the ubiquitous human companion robots, so-called hubots, and by helping develop an early treatment for LBV. But Deon is famous for being a “riskeer,” someone who engages in socially risky behavior, like being in constant close-contact with other people and even being something of a playboy. Now, Deon is ready to roll out LX, a new and more effective vaccine against LBV. Not only does Deon believe his vaccine is key to keeping people safe, he is convinced that it will pave the way for all humans to interact up close and personal, like they were always meant to do. Deon would also like to get up close and personal with Alias, his new and incredibly brave PA. But there are so many things vying for Deon’s time and energy, not the least of which is his former work partner and professional rival, Lyra McCarthy.
After a whirlwind several months, there’s no denying there’s something growing between Alias and Deon. But with McCarthy outright attacking Deon and making wildly false claims about the LX vaccine that hold a grain of twisted truth, Alias finds himself having to come to terms with the idea that he may be losing his heart—and risking triggering a fatal relapse into full-blown LBV—to a man he doesn’t even know.
Loveborne is a near-future, semi-dystopian story that follows Alias on his journey of self-discovery. Given the recent global pandemic, it was incredibly interesting to see how this imagined virus impacted Alias’ society in general, Alias in specific, and the world at large. For people who have been deeply affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, you may want to read with caution; there are cases of people who would presumably be at low risk for LBV quickly succumbing to the virus (including children), controversy of what treatments are effective and how they’ve been tested, and people in positions of power using that power to manipulate public sentiment about public health issues. Even with such heavy building blocks scaffolded around the story, I thought Alias’ transformation from being a young man wary of everyone into a strong and capable partner for Deon was deeply interesting.
Alias is our narrator. We are privy to all his thoughts and I really enjoyed getting to know him, not only as he interacts with Deon as his boss, fantasy, and romantic partner, but also interacting with his mother and a hubot he salvaged himself. Mostly, Alias’ relationship with his mother demonstrates how deeply he cares for her, despite the risk such attachment poses and his astronomical guilt. Alias is convinced (and perhaps rightly so) that his mother’s love for him is what triggered her LBV relapse and landed her in the hospital. Alias’ relationship with his hubot is more complicated. The hubot seems more like a roommate; it demonstrates compassion for Alias and acts as a sounding board and cheerleader for Alias’ ideas, specifically when Alias is mulling over whether or not he should apply for the position of personal assistant for Deon. This is perhaps a strange aspect of Alias’ personality, but it is definitely one that helps him fit in when he starts working for Deon. Not only does Alias find friends in the company’s hubot manufacturing business, but it’s an interest that Deon himself shares (and I know I like it when there’s something two romantic partners can bond over).
The romance in this story is a delightful mix of instalust and slow burn. Alias is immediately attracted to Deon; he admired the tycoon even before he started working for him. Initially, Alias tries to pass off his feelings as purely physical; after all, they mostly come in the form of wet dreams and fantasies. But when Deon shows a bit of teasing interest, Alias finds himself helpless to resist. If you’re wondering if the fact that Deon is Alias’ employer is an issue, fear not; this is a significant plot point Deon uses to cock block Alias when things get too far. It obviously doesn’t last, but I appreciated that Deon is at least making a good faith effort (or maybe a token effort?) to steer clear of unethical behavior. The slow burn continues by virtue of the fact that Deon is extremely busy; Alias himself marvels at being the personal assistant to a man he can go days without laying eyes on. This lack of face-time also let me savor the will-they-won’t-they quality to their relationship. And once they are ostensibly together, Deon behaves in rather mercurial ways. Mostly, I got the feeling he was very comfortable pursuing a relationship with Alias, but Deon as a character is rather inscrutable. When the media coverage and public reaction to LX started heating up in a bad way, Deon’s behavior grew more mercurial to me.
One surprising aspect about Alias’ character is how comfortable he becomes with all kinds of intimacy. He starts by basically forcing himself to be physically present where there are other humans, and that comfort grows as he begins to form connections to several of the supporting characters. But more than this, it becomes clear that Alias comes to love Deon at a truly selfless level. Alias is a staunch defender of Deon as a person, the brand he has built, and the vision he has for the future. There is such a delicious thread that develops that explores how Alias only falls more in love with Deon despite mounting evidence that there is something huge Deon is keeping secret…something or someone that Alias may have no hope of competing against. Eventually, the truth comes out in a way that maximizes the angst and hurt before resolving with a delightful bit of comfort at the very end.
All in all, this was a wildly entertaining story. Macbeth pulls together myriad threads and weaves them into a detailed tapestry, picking up various threads time and again to remind the reader there is more than a romance, more than the aftermath of a pandemic, more than a professional rivalry. If you like dystopian stories, complicated interpersonal relationships, or characters who sacrifice themselves for their beliefs, then I think you’ll find a lot to enjoy in Loveborne.