Insignia by Averil Day Merritt
The Three Sentence Description: Britt is an up-and-coming PR maven who is finally on the brink of a deserved promotion when Cole, the utterly unqualified heir to a high-profile fortune, rolls into town to vie for the job. Even though Cole is smoking hot and their chemistry is palpable, Britt squashes ideas about dating him, refusing to let herself compromise her career for a man. But she has a moral decision to make: should she use her preternatural ability to beat him, scanning his insignia to uncover the desires and fears deepest in his soul?
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Multicultural Romance, Suspense Romance, Paranormal Romance
Primary Tropes: Enemies to Lovers, Tortured Heroine, African-American, Paranormal
Secondary Tropes: Class Warfare, Love Triangle, Office Romance
What Makes It Stand Out: A large cast of vivid, interesting characters make this book a total win. Without being caricatures, each reveals some truism about modern life. From Britt’s boss—who is less committed than any female executive should be to making sure another woman who deserves her promotion should be chosen for the job—to the young neighbor boy across the hall who is depressed because his parents are fighting, to Britt’s mother, the go-between Britt and her estranged father, each character clearly has a story of her own. The characters are original, but relatable—unique and memorable without being over the top.
What You’ll Love About It: Insignia is effortlessly complex—the main plot has a ton of surprises, and a handful of subplots are well-formed and are followed to completion. Not only is it rare to find authors with the skill to write meaningful details that bring stories full circle, it is rarer still to find an author who can do so in such a compact, standalone novel.
Truisms, Complexities, and Other Themes: Britt’s paranormal ability to find a unique insignia on every person’s body, and to learn their deepest fears and happiness through their insignia, is a highly original, vividly-written element that clinches the most compelling theme in the book. This superpower, though critical to the plot, is secondary to its true function—to test Britt’s character. It dovetails beautifully that Britt is also a skilled computer hacker. She has motive, means and opportunity to use both skills to manipulate her promotion. Yet, a checkered history around using them, and a past full of painful losses and internal ambivalence highlights her emotional cost. The paradox of her reality is deeply felt here. In some cases, her ability brings her closer to people and gives her a gift of true insight and compassion—in other cases, it prevents her from being loved by the people she loves the most.
Standout Side Character #1: This book isn’t a true love triangle, but a longtime guy friend of Britt’s who’s had a crush on her forever is woven into the story with tremendous skill. He and Britt both know they’re better off as friends, but a certain loaded anticipation colors many of their conversations. Both of them are aware that, under the right circumstances, they might just cross the line. As some emotional lows unfold for each of them over the course of the story, they’re nudged toward one another in a way causes a delicious tension.
Standout Side Character #2: I usually don’t mention more than one side character but this book had a great company IT guy who was not a geeky caricature. Instead, he had more of an “IT Mafia” kind of feel—someone who abused his power over company information and computer networks and ran his small fiefdom within the company. Anyone who’s worked in office settings for long enough has encountered an empire-building, gatekeeping IT guy…
Our Prediction: Averil Day Meritt could become HUGE. I don’t know what she’s got in the works, but this book will win awards. She’s my George R.R. Martin. I’d wait years to read anything she writes.