First Comes Like by Alisha Rai
February 16, 2021, by Avon
Review by Melinda
I’m a big fan of Alisha Rai’s Forbidden Hearts series but was so torn on First Comes Like. What I loved was having a Muslim hijabi protagonist who was not having sex for religious reasons. Jia Ahmed has a story I’d been waiting to hear as she was a beauty influencer, which isn’t something I’m exactly interested in IRL, but I wanted to see how she dealt with her Muslim family’s expectations. And I appreciated how Jia struggled with her parental expectations and balanced that with what she wanted for her own life. Bollywood star Dev Dixit enters her life in an unconventional way but becomes someone who actually champions her work and seems to understand what she does, and this aspect was really moving.
For me though, there wasn’t a ton of emotional depth in certain other areas of the book. While I connected a lot to both Jia and Dev’s family storylines, when it came to their romance I felt like it was lacking. I liked the catfishing conceit and setup but it was kind of *hand waved* away later on. There’s a plot point where their fake relationship escalates suddenly for…reasons, and I legitimately looked around and thought I’d skipped a section because I didn’t understand how that equated their emotions deepening for each other. I reread multiple times and I hadn’t missed anything, it just was glossed over in a way that didn’t make sense to me. The majority of the love story is in the much later chapters and this left me pretty confused on why.
But my other issue with this book is how Rai deals with COVID times. I completely understand that authors are in a very awkward position here because they have to choose whether or not to include this in their contemporary books. And at first, I was very much like ooh is Rai a genius here for including it but not naming it? There are mentions of overworked doctors, and Jia and her sister having been sick – and her sister still needing breathing treatments. There are quite a few nods throughout the book without actually naming it, to the point that there’s no way it wasn’t COVID. However, Jia and Dev go out in public to parties with no mention of masks. There are people traveling on planes. For me, I can’t have a book set during COVID without mentioning these safety precautions as well. It feels extremely…wrong? Maybe I will feel differently in a few years, but while I’m living through it I need authors to either fully commit or not mention – and either is fine! An alternative contemporary world works for me, but if it’s in COVID times I’m going to need masks, safe traveling, and lots of sanitation.
Overall this book had potential but I think it fell a little short. I miss the emotional impact I used to get from Rai’s characters and her mental health rep.