What do you do when your fiancé dumps you after you quit your job and bought him the Spite House of his dreams? Athena Greyson moves to into the spite house in Harlot Bay, finds a job and starts rebuilding her life. The problem is, the spite house is very very close to her ex’s brother’s house. The brother, Dr Matthew Vine the f*cking Third, who frequently objected to the engagement and encouraged Johnny to break-up with Athena. The houses are not only very close, the windows face each other, and Athena doesn’t have the budget for curtains. Athena vows to torment him, and he faceplants into love with her.
I enjoyed At First Spite so much. While there are shenanigans and humor, Athena has a significant depressive episode on page, and Matthew has to address the childhood trauma that has driven him to enable Johnny’s self-centered world view. There’s an emotional weight. Athena and Matthew have to learn to love themselves as they are before they can have any kind of healthy relationship. Athena isn’t successful in the way that our society tells us we need to be – professionally. She punishes herself and feels unworthy of love and respect despite being smart, emotionally intelligent, curious and generally competent at whatever job she has at the moment. Her ex-fiancé, by contrast, is professionally successful, a pediatrician, but emotionally immature and thoughtless. Matthew’s growth arc is probably the trickiest. We aren’t truly concerned with Johnny’s emotional growth except as it relates to Matthew’s coddling of Johnny harms people, and that’s where Matthew needs to learn, grow, and repair. It’s a tricky redemption arc.
Matthew helped explode Athena’s life by convincing Johnny to break up with her. Athena explodes Matthew’s life by forcing his to face the consequences of his actions, and then by existing near him. The best parts of Matthew are the ways that he is brave for Athena and extends himself for her. In the culture we live in, most people would say that Matthew is the successful grown-up. Olivia Dade makes it clear that Matthew has a lot of growing up to do before he deserves the bounty that is Athena Greyson.
The fictional Harlot’s Bay, Maryland is lovely and I can’t wait to spend more time there. From the grumpy baker who listens to monster erotica, the bookseller with the emotional support chicken (Roberta Downy Jr.), and Matthew’s long suffering business partner, the community of characters is rich and interesting.
By the way, if you pre-order this book, you get a lovely, not safe for the average bookstore shelf, alternative bookjacket illustrated by Leni Kaufman.
CW: on page depression, on page anxiety, on page self-loathing, neglectful parents in past, death of an infant remembered.
I received this as an advance reader copy from Avon and NetGalley. My opinions are my own, freely and honestly given.