When Rick lost the ability to run, he came one step closer to becoming a hero.
New High Score! New Record Time!
Rick nodded with grim satisfaction. He laid the game controller aside on the sofa and reached for his crutches.
Rick Dial was the best quarterback Putnam Hills High School had ever seen. Unflappable. Unstoppable. Number 12. But when a car accident left him crippled, Rick’s life as he knew it ended. He disavowed his triumphant past. He ignored his girlfriend. He disappeared into his bedroom—and into the glowing video screen.
But Rick’s uncanny gaming skills have attracted attention. Dangerous attention. Government agents have uncovered a potentially devastating cyber-threat: a Russian genius has created a digital reality called the Realm, from which he can enter, control, and disrupt American computer systems . . . from transportation to defense. The agents want Rick, quick-thinking quarterback and gaming master, to enter the Realm and stop the madman—before he sends America into chaos.
Entering the Realm will give Rick what he thought he’d never have again: a body as strong and fast as it was before the accident. But this is no game, there are no extra lives, and what happens to Rick in the Realm happens to Rick’s body in reality.
Even after Rick agrees to help, he can’t shake the sense that he’s being kept in the dark. Why would a government agency act so aggressively? Can anyone inside the Realm be trusted? How many others have entered before him . . . and failed to return?
When A Bibliophile’s Reverie received the request to review this novel, indicated to appeal to Matrix-fans and gamers, it spiked my interest as I love a good videogame. Admittedly, the premise of a ‘jock turned video-game superstar who needs to enter a virtual world to save the ‘real’ world’, isn’t very unique but nevertheless can be surprising and marvelous, if it’s well-executed. And that’s the thing: it isn’t. Sure the novel is amusing and at times exciting but it doesn’t offer a new take on this premise, nor is it very captivating. I feel Klavan’s world has a lot of potential that remains untouched and that’s a pity. It lacks originality which for me really puts a damper on it.
The novel commences in an exciting and engaging manner, which I enjoy. After this high paced, in your face opening the story slows down quite a bit to introduce characters and backstories. Although this is necessary, the contrast with the opening is substantial and for me it felt tedious to have the story take on such a slow pace. It does however deftly display how Rick’s life, outside of video-games, is pretty dull and lacks substance. Speaking of Rick, he isn’t particularly likeable at first. Klavan does a great job at writing him as the sulky teenager who’s unable to deal with his life and shuts everything and everyone out while stewing in his feelings. I find this unappealing. Luckily Rick becomes more relatable and likeable throughout the novel once he enters the Realm.
The development of Rick’s abilities in the Realm is relatively slow-paced. Some might consider this a downside. I appreciate this cause it’s more credible that it would take Rick some time to master abilities in the realm. It also leaves room for development in the upcoming novels of this trilogy: Rick can gain more abilities in those novels without quickly becoming overpowered. Besides, according to others characters in the novel, Rick already develops himself more rapidly than others who entered the realm. Speaking of which, the other characters are flat and lack purpose and drive unrelated to Rick. I wish Klavan had spent more time creating these side-characters and had made them more interesting beyond aiding Rick’s story. Furthermore, I wish the Realm was more elaborate; you have this virtual world which Klavan could have shaped to his heart’s content yet it consists of some castle, with few surroundings, reminiscent of earlier videogames. Kind of a let-down if you ask me…
Earlier I mentioned that the novel lacked originality and briefly touched upon the premise, unfortunately the unoriginality isn’t limited to that; swords received from ladies in lakes, a reluctant hero who’s destined to save the world, castles that need to be infiltrated, monsters that sound like something straight out of old-school games…not very imaginative. Here’s one more: Purple diamonds that are very conveniently located portals in and out of the realm. While this is a nice nod to savepoints in videogames, especially the earlier ones, their location is just a tad too convenient. It doesn’t make sense story-wise that the bad guy would place these so conveniently for our hero. Then again, many video-games employ the same thing, don’t they?
The prose flows nicely and is very descriptive, making it easy to imagine what transpires in this novel. Considering the fact that this is a young-adult novel, the prose is naturally aimed at that category. Though the novel could be enjoyed by adults, the simplicity of the prose might prevent that. Based on Klavan’s experience as a crime novelist, it’s to be expected that the crimes and fight scenes in the novel fit the genre and are reminiscent of an action movie-sequence. The battle-scenes often read like sports commentary. While this graciously reflects Rick’s past as a star football player, I’m not taken by it, though I realise that others it might enjoy it. What I am particularly fond of is the ending: The novel could function as a standalone novel and at the same time sets the stage for a sequel. That is some good writing.
All in all, the novel is entertaining, especially if you’re into virtual reality and videogames. Klavan wrote a novel that I believe will appeal to its genres audience. Sadly, it fails to bring something new to the table. Klavan does create a world that has a lot of potential for sequels and spin-offs. Hopefully follow-up novels will be better than this introductory novel. If you’re looking for a decent novel on this premise, this one is worth a read. If virtual reality and videogames aren’t your thing at all, then you probably want to skip this book entirely and look for something else, as I doubt this one will be able to win you over.