Happy pub day to We Are Watching Eliza Bright, A. E. Osworth’s debut novel — and this was one a WILD ride! A huge thank you to Novel Suspects and Grand Central Publishing for this gifted ARC in exchange for an honest review. I devoured this techno-thriller in just about two days and loved so much about it.
Quick synopsis: From the back cover — “Eliza Bright is living the dream as an elite game coder at Fancy Dog Games, the first woman to ascend that high in the ranks–and some people want to make sure she’s the last. To her friends, Eliza Bright is a brilliant, self-taught coder bravely calling out the misogyny that pervades her workplace and industry. To the men who see her very presence as a threat, Eliza Bright is a woman who needs to be destroyed to protect the game they love.”
Now, a quick disclaimer: I am not a gamer by any means, unless you want to count Animal Crossing and Pokemon on my Nintendo Switch. So for readers in my boat, I did find that there was a bit of a learning curve when it came to getting used to the different gaming terminology in the world of massive multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs). But once I got used to it, I tore through this “cat-and-mouse” thriller. So definitely don’t let that discourage you at all!
CW for the book: sexual assault, harassment, rape, misogyny, stalking
In their debut novel, Osworth has crafted what I consider to be a sharp, gritty, and suspenseful thriller that flows nearly seamlessly between Eliza’s real-life nightmare that she finds herself in after reporting the workplace harassment she faces to a tech journalist, and the virtual world full of the men who view her as a threat to be taken down. Those men take up 4chan, Reddit, and the dark places of the internet that I can only imagine. What I found most intriguing about this book however was the unreliability of the narration — told from the collective POV of the online community of men constantly watching Eliza and waiting to strike. As a woman, it was honestly terrifying to hear the prejudice and often deep hatred toward Eliza (and women in general). But as a reader, it was a hell of an experience, allowing me to really zoom in on Eliza’s life, almost as if I were her stalkers. Creepy to say the least, but such a unique read.
Additionally, I loved how the book moved in and out between the real world and the Fancy Dog MMORPG itself, which is based around the fictional Windy City full of superheroes and villains. Sections surrounding the game almost felt as if I was reading fantasy, but the fact that they only mirror what is happening in real life makes it much more unsettling, especially for those who consider their game worth fighting for to the farthest extent.
This book had several twists and turns that were entertaining on the surface, but also made way for excellent commentary on the misogyny that pervades the gaming industry. It seemed very similar to (and I think may have been inspired by) the real-life events of Gamergate several years back. We Are Watching Eliza Bright made for a shocking story that seemed so far from anything that could actually happen, until you think about Gamergate and realize it could. It was unsettling to read as a woman, but also really cool to watch Eliza and her friends rise to face what seems like an impossible challenge.
I’d recommend this read for those who like thrillers, suspense, social commentary, LGBTQ+ and diverse representation, feminist-powered reads, urban settings, or gaming.