The Seduction Challenge, by Akwesi Phillips, follows a group of romantically inept young men from London in an unlikely adventure to become globe-trotting, champion seducers. Along the way, they challenge conventional morality, experience existential crises, and discover a world none of them could ever have imagined.
Carl, Vince, and JB, “average shagless losers,” don’t have much success with women. But when they meet Otto, an eccentric Swiss researcher with an embarrassing secret, everything begins to change. Otto is convinced that, through his philosophy of Rebirthism, they can realize their true potential. After recruiting a guru to help them, they enter the First European Seduction challenge, traveling from country to country, collecting selfies with as many beautiful women as they can in an effort to win a million euros.
If the plot of The Seduction Challenge sounds silly, that’s because it is—but mordant humor and insightful satire manage to keep the premise afloat. Rebirthism, the central doctrine of the novel, teaches that modern seduction (among other things) has been destroyed by Internet dating culture, and the author is remarkably adept at developing this notion into a fictional, but believable, cult movement for his characters to get swept up in.
The tone of The Seduction Challenge is playful, flitting through absurdist comedy, magical realism, and genuine horror, before ultimately landing a little unevenly in the realm of science fiction. Otto’s secret, initially a strange aside, takes on a significance that turns the characters’ quest on its head; unfortunately, this trick is executed too late and too inelegantly to be as effective as it should. This late and uneven plot twist asks too much of readers, wrapping up the story too suddenly and tarnishing some of the enjoyment the reader has come to expect.
Still, there is much to commend The Seduction Challenge: likeable characters, credible dialogue, genuinely funny moments and (given the subject matter) a remarkable lack of misogyny.