Alex de Campi’s Heartbreak Incorporated is the kind of book that if it were a person would seize you very firmly by the shoulders and shunt you against a door – but in a surprisingly intriguing and hot sort of way. If this is what the next batch of urban paranormal fantasy novels look like, then sign me up to read all of them.
The book’s premise follows Evie Cross, an 20-something investigative journalist struggling to make it in New York, as she gets a break at a consultancy that deals in breaking up relationships. Its principal, Misha Meserov, is a jaw-droppingly handsome, charismatic individual, one to whom there is more than meets the eye, and who quickly embroils the newly hired Ms Cross into the private world of dissolving marriages, scandal, and intrigue.
At first, I was wary of the clichés brought about by a genre like this. However, Heartbreak Incorporated breaks the mould in a few ways. It has a unique twist on an interesting premise (a breakup agency), whilst following a road that many other paranormal thriller romance novels dare not tread – it is wonderfully, unabashedly queer. Misha is explicitly bisexual, for one, and I think the strongest and best character in the entire book with real depth and emotion (and spades of sarcasm).
“Misha looks down, his voice quiet and rough. “I want you to remember something, Evie. I break up marriages for money.” […] He looks up at her, his eyes twin chips of Arctic ice. “But I ruin abusers for free.”
Of course, there is a lot more to divulge here. The plot does shift in focus wildly around halfway through as Evie and Misha go from breakup artists to hunting down a book that could kill people. But without going into spoilers, I enjoyed the (eventual) paranormal world-building within this book, and the often sharp and funny writing. I only wished that this supernatural element had been brought in sooner – but since we were viewing everything through Evie’s perspective, it made sense to be a bit slower.
As for Evie, I wasn’t wholly convinced if I liked her enough. She is an intelligent, ambitious young woman but her overall characterisation sometimes came across as dense for someone so seemingly skilled and felt a little flat for me at times. Sometimes, I felt that the book veered very much into the cliched territory of “young woman meets gorgeous supernatural male and falls in love” so seen (and devoured, yes don’t come for me) in the spate of YA 00s-2010s novels. Despite this, de Campi delightfully blends a mix of tropes and genres together to serve up a fun, engaging read.
“The world is not full of the hidden supernatural, Evie. Just a handful of abominations and crooked mistakes.”
The main twist in the novel wasn’t wholly surprising, and comes a little later than I would have liked, but the way in which de Campi explains just what kind of supernatural being Misha is and how that has affected him is actually quite touching. The bubbling romance between Evie and Misha is steamy, yes, but it isn’t a book without heart. For example, the decision of whether or not Evie chooses to divulge Misha’s secret to those who could destroy him is one that kept me hooked, and delivers a punchy conclusion, right up until the very end.
Heartbreak Incorporated is an easily devourable read; enjoyable, intriguing, and definitely good for getting your steamy paranormal romance fix. Whilst it flip-flopped in tone from mystery thriller, to suddenly introduce the supernatural elements, I hope there is more that de Campi explores from Heartbreak Incorporated (a sequel? A spin-off?) whether that’s through Mischa or the wonderful cast of secondary characters she introduced to us.