Review – Level Up: Serials by Alexa Sommers

It’s hard to fully judge author Alexa Sommers‘s Level Up franchise in their entirety, as only three of the planned five books (and potential spin-offs) have been released. That said, they’ve proven to be a very interesting take on the “college conquest” and harem genres, wedding geeky references and witty banter with steamy wish fulfillment and managing to do justice to both romance and smut.

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Dillion Strands is a 20 year old college student learning Game Theory and taking other classes to pursue his interests in game design. He has a unique idea for a party game which helps bring the story along, but is also well versed in some real world favorites like Pathfinder and D & D. He has a core group of friends from high school, but a chance encounter with one Suzanne Andrews changes all of that. She introduces him to some new girls, ostensibly for a role playing campaign but also to test out his proprietary board game. Things start to heat up when these women make their own sexual play towards Dillion, and before long he finds himself navigating his heart and his manhood as he attempts to stay honest to himself and his desires.

It’s not uncommon for wish fulfillment stories like these to feel forced, with two dimensional characters and women that feel less like potential lovers and more like actresses hired for a low budget porno. By contrast, the most unreasonable and unbelievable situation in this franchise is that a character actually believes playing a crossbow wielding ranger in Pathfinder is in any way viable. Level Up takes the time to flesh out the women of the group as characters outside of the relationship first, then addresses why they are seeking companionship with the main character and what they expect to get out of a relationship with him. Dillion’s interactions with Suzie often make it seem like, in some way, she is engineering the group’s romantic focus on him even if the two themselves have great chemistry. Dani comes off as a bit shy and bashful, sure of what she wants but not sure of what she’ll do when she gets it. Stacie definitely feels a lot more experienced, but as their relationship develops its clear she didn’t expect to get emotionally attached as quickly or as thoroughly as she did. Later on, other women make a play for his affections. As of book three, I’d argue the book plays more with polyamory than a traditional literature take on a harem, but it’s refreshing to see the characters handle this with dialogue that shows maturity and depth, even as its clear some of them struggle with the implications more than others.

This franchise is very nerdy, and perhaps that’s part of its charm. The author captures the feeling of a tight night gaming group beautifully, and the camaraderie that develops from the games they play together. These games help to ground the whole experience, being something of a nexus that the various characters gather around and something to pull them together outside of their trysts and feelings. Expect a lot of quotes from Tupac, of all performers, and a lot of talk about real life games feel nostalgic and welcome. You can tell the author knows her stuff, but also wants to make the romance palatable to readers who might not be familiar with the minutia of tabletop gaming or nontraditional board games. It all flows together really well.

I do have two complaints. The first one is that the first book does a good job of laying out the frame work for the rest to follow, at the cost of being kind of dull for the first half and a poor representation of what’s to come. I worry how many potential fans will never make it to the point where the ride actually begins, becoming too bored with the vanilla romance burn that starts the affair. The second is that, since this is a serial, a reader can’t really enjoy one of these books without going all in and planning to read all of them. To that end, it’s worth noting that readers with Kindle Unlimited access can devour these books as quickly as they come out, but as a customer buying each book individually I found myself wishing I was buying all parts of the serial at once at a more modest price. This second complaint is really just me complaining because the books make me want to read them and I’m impatient, which may be equal praise. Less of a complaint and more of an aside, I wish this franchise had a different title than Level Up to differentiate it from the multitude of other books that share the name or a close derivative.

Overall, to steal the terminology that this book is based on, I can’t quite say this book is a natural 20 but it definitely is a confirmed critical. If you’re looking for a bunch of sexual encounters circling around a traditional slice of life college gaming group, look no further. These books have you covered.

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