Review: Well Played, by Jen DeLuca
This is the second book in Jen DeLuca's Renaissance Faire series, and first things first, I will say that the first book is better (not by much - but it is better).
Well Played focuses on Stacey, one of Emily's Ren Faire friends from Book 1, and her relationship with Daniel MacLean, the manager of one of the Ren Faire performing acts (that's not a spoiler. It's very obvious from both the cover and the set-up that Daniel is the hero). Stacey has had a casual, friends-with-benefits relationship with Dex MacLean, one of the members of the band. But after Simon (hero from the previous book) and Emily get engaged, she realizes she wants more out of life, so she sends a message to who she thinks is Dex - and ensues a long-distance, text-only relationship in which 'Dex' and Stacey exchange their thoughts, worries, deep fears, feelings of their hearts, etc. Until Stacey finds out, of course, that who she's been messaging all along isn't Dex at all.
The plot is perhaps a bit neater than in the first book, which I both liked and didn't like. I think the fact that it ended up being an excellent pandemic love story (the last 6 months of my relationship were all texting and phone calls, thanks to the lockdown - no one ask me any follow-ups); except, obviously, that was an entirely accidental success, as I don't think Jen DeLuca was anticipating that when she submitted her manuscript. But, in another way, I feel like Well Played ended up landing in too many of the obvious tropes that DeLuca had successfully avoided in Well Met, and it ended up reading an awful lot like a template - especially with that ending.
I think this functions essentially as the second book in a series, though. We got to wrap up Simon and Emily's story and lay the groundwork for April and Mitch in the next book. Unfortunately, that is kind of how the story and the characterization felt - Stacey and Daniel felt very much like a sophomore couple, a middle-child book. They were fun, and a quick read, but everything about their love story felt way more superficial than the first book did. I think that's a combination of the trope-heavy nature of the plot, and the way Daniel's messages and voice never felt very differentiated from Stacey's, and the way the story unfolded - very obvious from the start, and the twists and turns didn't pack the emotional punch DeLuca was going for. The story was just as fluffy and cute and wholesome as in the first book, but it lacked a bit of the originality and a bit of the emotional depth of the first book, and I'm hoping that comes back in Book 3.
I enjoyed reading the book, but it isn't going to stick with me the way Well Met did. I'm still way looking forward to the third book, though!
Anyway, quick review this time - I thought I'd have more to say about Well Played, but really, it's just a light, fluffy, fun read that could have done a lot more. Nothing bad, just not as much as I would have liked in the end.
Let's all reconvene after Well Played next fall.