Nathan’s review of Had Me At Halo by Nicholas Williams.
Take The Good Place, run it through a Hallmark movie filter, and then smash it together with Olivia Atwater’s Small Miracles and you will get something that very closely resembles Had Me At Halo, Nicholas William’s debut fantasy romance. This is a quirky, cute, slightly spicy book that invites you into its world, gives you a big hug, and then sends you on your way with a giant smile on your face.
Had Me at Halo follows the angel Amara as she tries to save her job as a kind of cupid; predicting and manifesting humans to find their perfect soulmate. The problem is that she is kind of bad at it, and she is only given one more mistake before she is shunted off to a much less desirable angelic profession. She has no worries as newly engaged Liam and Sierra seem madly in love with one another – a romantic slam dunk. The problem – Liam and Sierra tragically die while on vacation and they hadn’t yet officially become soulmates. Amara is given one less reprieve – place Liam in an alternative universe where he and Sierra haven’t met yet and have them become soulmates all over again. But sparks soon fly between more than just Liam and Sierra…
The first adjective that comes to mind when I think of Had Me at Halo is endearing. The book draws you in immediately with its upbeat attitude, clever puns (oh my the puns!), and messy, awkward, and relatable characters. From the moment we first meet Amara and Liam we quickly realize these are two imperfect beings just trying their best. We continue to root for them even as they get themselves trapped in the most infuriating circumstances and complicated emotions. We feel for their failures and cheer for their successes, all with the knowledge that we are safe in Nicholas William’s kind and comforting authorial hands. This is a feel-good book; that book that will pull you out of a bad mood with its positive vibes and sheer earnestness. There is no cynicism here – allow this to be your personal escape.
Had Me at Halo reads a lot like a Hallmark movie with just a bit more explicit spice. With that you can probably tell if this book is for you or not. Some of the character interactions are a bit contrived, some of the dialogue is a bit awkward, and some of it comes across as a bit corny. However, it all adds up to a book that is endearing in its positivity. Williams knew the kind of book that he wanted to write and he fully committed to the tone. Yes, it is a tone that is going to turn off a lot of readers, and I assume that this book might play better with readers who lean more into the romance genre than the fantasy genre (forgive me for creating a bit of a false binary there, but I think the point is clear!). You cannot come into this book with any kind of cynicism. Had Me at Halo wears its corny heart on its sleeve and you have to roll into it or just leave. It is a book that revels in human (and angelic) love and happiness; it is an escape from a dark world.
There are two parts of the book that didn’t quite work for me. The first is the inconsistent worldbuilding. Amara is clearly coded as an Arabic Muslim throughout the book in terms of her culture. However, later it is revealed (not really a spoiler) that none of the major world religions are correct in their theological musings. In William’s world it just isn’t clear what position the angels actually have or where these Muslim traits would have emerged from. THis is not a book-killing issue, but it did take me out of the story as I was trying to acclimate myself with these angelic beings and their world.
My second issue with the character of Sierra, or rather the AU version of Sierra that Liam is sent in to seduce all over again. The real Sierra is an absolute delight of a character. She completley contradicts the “girl next door” perfection that so plagues the romance genre. She is brash, opinionated, and independent is a way that only made me love her more. Williams never played these traits off as unlikable, but rather celebrated her rougher edges as something genuinely attractive in a person. My problem is with the AU Sierra because this is a character without agency in her own story. AU Sierra is not some computer simulation, but a real person living on another timeline. Yet, the angels use these AU characters for their own personal games. Liam is trying to seduce AU Sierra not to wind up with her, but only so he can get back to real Sierra. Everytime I would think about this it would take me out of the story a bit because the narrative never really considers AU Sierra as her own person separate from “real” Sierra. This was just a small think that irked me as a reader.
Despite these small foibles I highly recommend Had Me at Halo who are looking for a bit of quirky romance that isn’t afraid to be exactly what it is. This was definitely outside of my normal reading, but I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the book’s authentic charm and positive vibes. The book promises that a sequel featuring OG Sierra at its center, which might help alleviate the second of my concerns with this book. I will be one of the first to pick it up when it comes out!
Concluding Thoughts: An endearing mashup of romance and the fantasical, Had Me At Halo is an adorable and quirky novel about finding your true soulmate….even if you have to use angelic magic to do it. This book is not afraid to be exactly what it is, and it does not shy away from corny humor, bad puns, and the positive vibes it seeks to send into the universe. Even my cynical and ice-cold heart was melted by the story of Amara and Liam on a journey to just do their best even at their lowest points. Yes there were a couple of places that could have been improved upon, but this is a book that, as long as you have the right attitude, you just cannot be mad at. Highly recommended for everyone who finds the best in people and love.