I received a free copy of the first book in Brenna Aubrey’s Gaming the System series via InstaFreebie and I’m going to level with you here because I know haven’t always been pleasant towards ‘smutty’ novels in the past, but I actually didn’t hate At Any Price.
Please be wary that this review will be a little awkward because I’ll still never be completely comfortable with talking about the ~horizontal tango~ on the internet, but for the sake of reviewing, I will try my best.
When Mia Strong, proud geek-girl and popular gaming blogger, auctions off her virginity online, she knows she’ll make waves. But what she will not be making is a love connection. Her rules are set in stone: One night. No further contact.
It’s a desperate step, but it’s the only way she can go to medical school and pay her mother’s mounting hospital bills.
Adam Drake, the enigmatic auction winner, is a software prodigy who made his first million at seventeen. Now, in his mid-twenties, he’s sexy, driven and–as CEO of his own gaming company–he’s used to making the rules. Before Mia knows what’s happening, he’s found the loophole in the rules of her auction. Every stipulation she’s made to protect her heart gets tossed by the wayside.
In a way, if you’ve read one smutty novel, you’ve read them all. None of them are ever going to be plausible situations. In the real world, if a random dude buys your virginity in an online auction, he’s probably going to be in his late fifties onwards and a total creep. But hey, at least he’s rich? No-one is ever going to be as lucky as Mia and have a hot billionaire win that kind of auction. That just doesn’t happen in real life, but I suppose for the sake of the novel, we do have to suspend all disbelief.
To sum up At Any Price, it’s kind of like a wholesome and more entertaining Fifty Shades minus the BDSM storyline. That being said, Adam does have some stalker tendencies and can be likened to E.L. James’ Christian in the fact he’s still trying to work how to love and do the whole ‘hearts and flowers’ thing because he’s never done that before. And I know I shouldn’t be comparing every smutty novel to Fifty Shades, but they all do tend to have some similarities.
That being said, aside from the sex, there was an actually story in At Any Price which is always appreciated. I couldn’t even begin to count the amount of times where I’ve been sent novels in this genre under the guise that, aside from the all the screwing, there is a plot and read them only to discover that 99.9% of the book is the actual said screwing (which is just not realistic) and there is very little storyline. So, I was really pleased that At Any Price didn’t revolve around the shagging, but rather kept a strong and mostly engrossing plot that sometimes, but not overly frequently, included sex.
If we were going through a checklist of the common tropes both in smutty novels and in chick lit, I think that At Any Price would definitely tick most of the boxes. While you may roll your eyes a few times, At Any Price is not too cliche to the point where it’s unbearable. It is, however, predictable. Due to the fact that it follows typical chick lit guidelines very closely, you’re going to be able to guess what’ll happen next between Mia and Adam very easily which will make some people ask what the point in reading it is.
On the whole, I didn’t hate it with every fibre of my being as I have done in the past with some novels of similar content. Despite that, I didn’t love it. I’m sort of in-between. A little indifferent towards how I feel about it. The ending was lacklustre for all those endless chapters of tension, but a quick Google search told me that there are surprise, surprise, other novels in the series which I probably won’t be picking up.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a good concept and it did keep me interested enough to complete the novel. I just think At Any Price got a little lost in deciding exactly what it wanted to be and it seemed to be a mishmash of different tropes and themes that the author wanted to include, but didn’t really know how to execute smoothly.
I felt like the story would’ve been just fine as a sexy novel with an alpha CEO falling for the naive virgin without the geeky gaming element, but I also felt like if we removed the sex and just made it a cute, quirky romance novel about two strangers meeting in a game and so on then it would’ve been equally as great. At times, it just felt like two novels had been smashed together and while there was a charm to At Any Price that kept me going, I think the two prevalent storylines in this would’ve worked much better separately.