Out of Character

In last year’s Conventionally Yours, Annabeth Albert took readers on a virtual roadtrip, while the country was in lockdown, so that they could join tabletop gamers Alden, Conrad, and Jasper as they made their way from New England to Las Vegas for Massive Odyssey Con West, the annual national gathering and competition for Odyssey players. When Jasper is forced to return home due to a family emergency, Alden and Conrad continue on their journey to Massive Odyssey Con West, a life changing game of Odyssey and, ultimately, love. Now, Jasper is back and on a quest of his own in Annabeth Albert’s new romance, Out of Character.

The last person Jasper Quigley expected to see walk through the door of Gracehaven’s game shop is Milo Lionetti. Jasper and Milo have a turbulent history. They used to be inseparable best friends, until high school. Suddenly, Milo was part of the “cool” crowd and a jock. Jasper was definitely not a “cool” kid and was the target for any number of assaults launched by the jocks against anyone considered “uncool”. What hurt the worst was Milo never once tried to help Jasper or protect him from the taunting and abuse. And, now, years later, Milo has come to Jasper for help. Milo has lost his brother Bruno’s VERY rare and VERY valuable Odyssey cards in a drunken bet. He needs to replace them before Bruno returns home from deployment.  He claims he is willing to do anything if Jasper will help him find replacement cards. Jasper is at first reluctant, but finally agrees to help because a) searching for the cards may be fun, and b) he always had a soft spot for Milo, even though he hurt Jasper deeply.

While there are a lot of shared memories, there are also a lot of missing years. Neither young man is exactly as the other remembers him. As they begin their quest together, focused on securing the replacement cards, neither is prepared for what they find in each other, which is much rarer than the cards for which they are searching.

In Out of Character, Annabeth Albert returns to her world of Odyssey gamers and conventions, with the addition of cosplay and a focus on the supporting character of Jasper, whom readers met in Conventionally Yours. However, while Jasper is the entry point into the new novel, the focus is really Milo Lionetti. Milo is a young man struggling with the expectations, from his friends and family, about who he is supposed to be, his own self-doubt, and the lasting repercussions from some poorly made decisions. Readers follow Milo on his journey of self-realization and discovery as he reconnects and makes amends with Jasper and discovers a whole world open to him, if he is only brave enough to take the necessary steps.

The romance between Jasper and Milo is sweet and tentative, moving to passionate and committed. Each young man finds what they have been looking for in each other, and Albert does a nice job of drawing out the tension between them until it breaks with a single, tentative kiss. She also allows Jasper the opportunity to fulfill his own, and possibly many other LGBTQ readers’, fantasy of dressing up the object of his affection in a flattering, while somewhat revealing, costume which was part of the bargain made for Jasper’s assistance in securing the replacement cards. This takes place LONG before their relationship begins to form.

Out of Character is another round of nerdy fun for those looking for a bit of romance by Annabeth Albert, who was interviewed earlier this year.