Firewall – Sierra Riley
After reading Carry the Ocean and being disappointed with the final product I have been keeping my eye out for other books with an autistic character where autism isn’t the main topic. Apparently including autistic characters in gay romance books is becoming a semi-common theme because I found ‘Firewall’ and ‘In the Absence of Light’ (amongst others not from that genre) to add to my backlog.
I think I mentioned in my review of Carry the Ocean that romance novels are not my preferred genre of reading – I do tend to read mostly non-fiction books and when I do read fiction it’s usual crime, sci-fi or fantasy novels. Unfortunately there aren’t many autistic characters in those genres yet (send me recommendations if you know of any), so back to the genre of romance I go. As with any other review involving sex scenes I will struggle to know if that side of the writing is good, average or poor because I have no reference point for “good” in this genre.
“Good morning”, Justin responded automatically as he sat down and produced the folder from his bag. He launched straight into it, as always. Sometimes initiating conversations was difficult, but Justin found it easier when it had to do with his work. Pat didn’t give him grief, at least. Previous employers had expected him to chitchat about the weather before dropping the bomb-shell of a stupid security flaw they hadn’t fixed.
The story in this book revolves around Justin and Calder. I will admit that I thought I was going to be resigned back to stereotype land when I learnt that Justin (the character with Asperger’s) was a “sought after IT technician, with lots of social difficulties”. So – the same vein of stereotype as Emmett from Carry the Ocean. I think this stereotype really needs to move on – for me the STEM/IT genius stereotype of autism is just as bad as the Rain Man stereotype. So not a great start, especially given some of the terminology surrounding Justin’s difficulties in the social world of work and some out-dated terminology in reference to ASD. Justin did develop into a more well-rounded character as the book progressed – and whilst the words used to describe Justin were clunky and at times poorly chosen, there was good use of his internal thoughts to describe how he experienced the world.
Calder I think plays up a bit to what little I know of the romance genre with the whole “he’s a jock not like all those other jocks” but his character is quite likeable. I know some people probably took offense to the fact that he “steered” Justin through a number of social situations but personally I found that quite relatable since my partner has frequently had to do the same thing to me. I also liked the fact that whilst he guided Justin, he didn’t try to change him and was very conscious of things like Justin’s need for time to recharge after social situations.
It was exhausting. This was taking way more energy than Justin was used to giving. Fortunately, Calder was in tune and steered him away to quieter areas when it seemed like Justin was getting overstimulated.
“There are so many people here. And we’ve only just been doing introductions!”, Justin exclaimed.
“You’re doing well”, Calder assured him, reaching out and squeezing his shoulder, “Any time you need a break, just let me know.”
I don’t really know what to write about the plot – it’s a crime, hacking, stalking storyline where Justin finds himself set-up for a security breach he didn’t have anything to do with. Justin is portrayed as this super IT genius, but there isn’t much evidence of that across the course of the book – it’s all quite vague. I suppose this might be due to Riley’s limitations in understanding the world of IT, and the storyline is reasonably steady even with the vagueness. The stalking storyline is reasonable, and the interactions between Calder and Justin help to keep the storyline stronger but there’s a lot of convenience and coincidence that pushes them together. I suppose it’s your average gay romance storyline? There is one scene involving the police and a fake call that should either have been drastically altered, or cut from the book entirely and replaced with something else because it’s jarring and unrealistic.
On the autism side of things it’s alright – probably on the plus side of average. As I mentioned earlier some of the terminology and ideas are clunky or out-dated and it seems like Riley has little personal experience with Asperger’s, but on the plus side whilst the traits of Justin’s autism are a key part of initiating the plot due to lack of understand and acceptance from his colleagues (which can be a common problem for those of us on the spectrum) they aren’t the whole plot and that was a pleasant change.
If you like the romance genre then yeah, it’s pretty good if rather reliant on stereotypes and cliches.
Value for money?
If you have Kindle Unlimited you can borrow it for free – otherwise it’s £2.49 on Kindle so digitally yes it’s worth it. Not not much value for money in physical format since that comes in at £9.