The Perfect Escape originally caught my attention because of the original concept (a romance framed around a zombie survival contest) and the fact it was blurbed by one of my favorite romance authors, Helen Hoang. I was also drawn to this book because I’m always looking for new voices in my favorite genre. Getting down to the nitty-gritty – I really, really wanted to love this book – it sounded original and I’m a sucker for a good contemporary romance. While I didn’t love it as much as I had hoped, The Perfect Escape was still a fun contemporary story with a great plot and good leading characters.
Nate Jae-Woo Kim wants to be rich. When one of his classmates offers Nate a ridiculous amount of money to commit grade fraud, he knows that taking the windfall would help support his prideful Korean family, but is compromising his integrity worth it?
Luck comes in the form of Kate Anderson, Nate’s colleague at the zombie-themed escape room where he works. She approaches Nate with a plan: a local tech company is hosting a weekend-long survivalist competition with a huge cash prize. It could solve all of Nate’s problems, and Kate needs the money too.
If the two of them team up, Nate has a true shot at winning the grand prize. But the real challenge? Making through the weekend with his heart intact…
The plot was the strongest part of this book – it was well paced and had a surprising amount of action and adventure. The beginning of the book set the tone well, and really raised the stakes for the best part of the story: the zombie survival contest. I didn’t put the book down once during the zombie survival scenes – they were tense and action-packed, chockfull of personal growth and a healthy dose of martial arts. From a writing standpoint, I really like the author’s use of alternating points of view (between the two main characters). Having these multiple points of view helped demonstrate the difference between Kate and Nate’s home lives, as well as the differences in their motivations and dreams.
While most of the characters were realistic, the biggest sticking point with this book was the side characters. Too many of them were wholly based on tropes and didn’t bring anything original to the table. Kate’s father was the worst offender – he was a caricature of an overprotective, controlling Dad. He might as well have been twirling his mustache and holding Kate hostage in a castle while thunder cracked overhead like an old movie. His character had no nuance and his total lack of redeeming qualities really made him unbelievable. For example, he’s set up as a savvy VP of a major tech company, but he drugs a kid at one point. This would have been more forgivable in a dystopian, but it felt wildly over the top in a contemporary romance. Even worse, every time he made an appearance in the story, I found it hard to continue reading.
Kate and Nate, on the other hand, were great characters. They each had their own complex motivations for entering the survival competition. Kate had every advantage at her fingertips, with the exception of a caring and supportive family and true freedom. Her father was trying to force her to go into the family business despite her repeated rejections of his plans for her. I loved how tough and resilient she was – she didn’t let her father steamroll her with his plans; she stood up to him at every turn. Nate, on the other hand, wanted to climb the social ladder and become a business tycoon / inventor – and was wholly driven by money and the need to provide for his family. As they got to know each other better, they taught each other that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and really helped each other grow and develop as characters. They were a great study in opposites attract – they had completely opposing motivations and backgrounds, but they still somehow worked together – but not as a romantic couple. Kate and Nate didn’t really fit as a romantic couple, they really only had friendship vibes, not any romantic chemistry.
In the end, The Perfect Escape really didn’t feel like a romance to me – it felt more like a story of friendship and following one’s dreams. The book was weighed down by the inorganic romantic relationship between the two leads and the trope-ish side characters. The story overall was a fun ride, with a good balance of personal growth and adventure. If you’re looking for more contemporary romance, be sure to check out Tweet Cute by Emma Lord and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. 3/5