Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️++
“I think you need to write your own code of ethics when it comes to who you love.”
I’ll begin this review by offering up my complete and utter adoration for April White. Throughout the SmartyPants releases, her stories have stood out as some of the best of the series. Her newest offering, Code of Ethics, is no different. Researched, reasoned, and romantic, this story is compelling and articulate. In this book, you’ll find a narrative that doesn’t capitulate to romantic norms. It’s developed layer upon layer with the nuance of romance as its least important quality. For avid romance readers, you might be disappointed by that. For this reader, however, I found myself in awe of April White’s choices.
Here’s the business of this book: it’s set in Penny Reid’s Cipher Systems world, and Quinn, Alex, and their ilk are present and accounted for. April White’s heroes and heroines from the first two books of her Cipher Security series also play parts in this tableau. As far as I’m concerned, that’s all you need to know before you enter this book.
What is brilliant about Code of Ethics is its ability to marry current societal challenges with the fictional world of Penny Reid’s beloved characters. White dazzles you with her capacity to write heady, investigative romance. Her heroine, Dallas, is an Indigenous woman from the Yukon who has become a close protection security specialist. Her skills were honed on the plains of the Yukon through the education of her Grandpop. Buttoned up and terse, Dallas meets Oliver, White’s hero, accidentally through a game she loves to play to keep her skills fresh. Intending only to follow him and allow him to show her his life, she unintentionally saves him from being killed. Freaked out and afraid, they cross paths again when he finds himself at Cipher Security. After another threat, Dallas takes on the job of protecting Oliver, even though his entitled, privileged ways annoy her. When he must go with her to the Yukon to her family’s compound, Oliver and Dallas grow closer, and the personas that both of them have created are relaxed. It is there where they start to realize their attraction to each other. However, the threat against Oliver continues, and any potential for a future is confused by their working relationship. Even more, Oliver and Dallas are opposites, and it seems impossible that they can have a future.
In the articulation of Dallas and Oliver’s journey, White takes the space to talk about the trials of Indigenous people, about the way in which their culture has been stolen from them through assimilation. She highlights white privilege through Oliver’s inability to “see” Dallas’s reality. But what is lovely about April White’s focus on these social ills is her response to them through her characterizations. Oliver is a challenge. At first, she makes it difficult for you to like him in contrast to Dallas. While Dallas covers her vulnerabilities with a strong exterior, you can’t help but admire her capability (as Oliver would call it). White has intentionally drawn her as the strongest person in the room at any given time (even in the presence of her Grandpop). Given her ability to temper her responses and save Oliver from outside threats, you can’t help but adore her, even when she uses her “walls” to push Oliver away. Over the course of the story, White deftly humanizes Oliver, so that you can’t help but begin to root for him. Through his characterization, White shows us appropriate responses to other cultures and $exes. When he makes the mistake of viewing another culture through the filter of his privilege, he apologizes for it and begins to research for better responses. He recognizes Dallas’s capability and strength from early in the story. Initially, it reminds him of his mother, and he believes it to be her fatal flaw until he recognizes the reasons for her ability to do many things. Once he understands it beyond the filter of his privilege, he listens and obeys her when it is meant to protect him.
Over and over again, April White plays with her title, Code of Ethics. She contrasts Dallas and Oliver’s sense of ethics to tell a story about the attraction of opposites. But she also does this through the societal ills that she highlights in her story. Bigger than Dallas and Oliver’s story, April White challenges us to think beyond the pages of her book, to know more, and to do more. That, my friends, is the true power of literature, even a romance story inspired by the world of Penny Reid. Don’t miss this one; you will regret it.
In love and romance,