Not quite as good as "Ready Player One".
Better than "Warcross", but not as flashy.
Different from both.
Categories: Sci-Fi Thriller, MMO Fiction, LitRPG, Virtual Reality, Young Adult.
This is going to be a bit difficult to review because so much of what I’d want to say and comment on would be spoilers. And this really is a book you want to enter into without knowing much, except what you’re told at the beginning.
Nick’s classmates are secretively passing around a CD person to person, and no one who has received one will tell others what it is. So of course those that haven’t received one are very, very curious. Also, some of his classmates have begun to act strangely, including a good friend Colin, who is avoiding him and not returning his phone calls.
Nick thinks, “It couldn’t go on like this—somehow, he had to get one of those CDs. How come he didn’t have one? And how come no one was telling him anything about them?” and it’s entirely believable. At his age the mystery, secret, and being left out by those “in the know” would have driven me crazy. I’d want to know just what that CD was all about.
Ok, let's be honest - it'd probably work on me a bit even as a wiser adult. Although now I am aware this is also how sketchy pyramid schemes and cults operate. So yeah, I'd have more skepticism.
Finally someone offers Nick a copy, and of course at this point he’s thrilled to finally be able to learn what this is and what it’s all about. But before he’s able to accept the CD he’s required to agree to a few stipulations. He has to affirm he has a computer, and that his parents give him plenty of time to use it, and able to use it privately. He’s not allowed to tell anyone about it. Or tell anyone he’s been given a copy.
It turns out to be a computer game called “Erebos”. Soon after starting this game, he is confronted with this question:
‘“This is Erebos. Who are you?”
Nick made a quick decision. He would choose the same name he had already used in a few other computer games.
“I am Gargoyle.”
“Tell me your name.”
“Your real name.”
Nick was stunned. What on earth for? Fine. He would supply a first name and a last name so he could finally move on.
The name was there, red on black, and for a few seconds nothing happened. The cursor just blinked.
“I said—your real name.”
He took a deep breath and had another go.
There was no response for a moment, and then the game answered.
“Thomas Martinson is incorrect. If you wish to play, tell me your name.”’
The game knows his real name, and when he provides fake names. Creepy!
At this point I’d be rethinking things. Although Nick does react to this as strange he chooses to provide his real name and proceed. But right along with Nick, I’m engrossed in the mystery and want to know what this is all about. As the story goes along we see how the players are impacted not only in the game, but in real life as well. In fact curiously they are sometimes privately given secret tasks to perform in the real world that at first are small and seem rather pointless. Over time though the impact, and implications, become larger and more menacing.
Something I did very much like about this story is how immersive the virtual world seemed, and how believable as an RPG. It feels written by someone very well familiar with both MMORPGs and how gamers can feel so linked to their game characters that their avatars start to feel like an extension of themselves, it can feel like your avatar is you in a very real way. And your time in virtual reality can feel as real, or even more real, than real life.
In spite of a few flaws and quibbles I had about this story, I felt completely hooked and drawn in. I truly didn’t want to put it down, and while I might have a question or roll my eyes or have a blip in my suspension of disbelief here and there, I still very much enjoyed the ride and felt very forgiving of the imperfections.
The flaws and foibles:
First, there are a few places were a word was missing from a sentence, and one where it appeared a line was missing. It’s not difficult to determine what those missing words would need to be, but still those errors are there. Also, although this is set in London, the MC calls his mother “Mom” rather than “Mum”, and there are a few other Americanisms in the text that really shouldn’t be there. As this book was not originally written in English, but was translated into English, I think it’s safe to call these translation errors.
In general I think the feel of being caught up in something like this, the near-addiction and obsessive quality, which can impact critical thinking and common sense, is crafted here in the MC very well. He comes off, for me, in general a good guy, but one who is flawed and more selfish and less virtuous than we might like, particularly after becoming hooked and influenced by the game. However, even so, there are places where it’s hard to believe his questioning, morals, and skepticism didn’t kick in just a bit sooner than it did. But while there are places he’s not quite as likeable as I would have liked, he does come off as believable for someone who has situational ethics. Which sadly isn’t all that uncommon.
There are also things that are an issue – until they’re not, and just dropped or forgotten. For example, at the beginning our MC is playing the game and discovers there is no way for him to choose to Exit the game. The game decides when to shut the user down and out, and until then the user is stuck. (a bit creepy!). Later gamers do mention choosing to leave at certain points, but with no explanation given if they’re actually able to do so, or why and how. There are several inconsistencies and contradictions like that within the story.
I found the revelation of what was going on a bit disappointing, as I was hoping for something a bit bigger in scope. But parts of it I did like, it was not completely unbelievable, at least as a premise, a motivation, the execution was ok. Not great, not awesome. But ok. So, that left me a bit underwhelmed, but I enjoyed the ride so much even that doesn’t taint my pleasure at having read this book.