published: 11th January 2022
Isobel is the Queen of the medieval rave-themed VR game Sparkle Dungeon. Her prowess in the game makes her an ideal candidate to learn the secrets of “power morphemes”—unnaturally dense units of meaning that warp perception when skilfully pronounced.
But Isobel’s reputation makes her the target of a strange resistance movement led by spellcasting anarchists, who may be the only thing stopping the cabal from toppling California over the edge of a terrible transformation, with forty million lives at stake.
Time is short for Isobel to level up and choose a side—because the cabal has attracted much bigger and weirder enemies than the anarchist resistance, emerging from dark and vicious dimensions of reality and heading straight for planet Earth!
Galley provided by publisher
Do you ever read a book that’s so utterly nuts, you have no real way of describing what you have just read? No words I choose could ever convey just how utterly insane this book was. I don’t even know how to go about thinking about it.
Let me attempt—most likely in vain—to give you some idea of what this book is about. First of all, there is a video game. Our protagonist, Isobel, is the undisputed champion at this video game, so much so that she is dubbed the Queen. And then this video game, in ways that remain inexplicable to me, starts to spill over into real life. That and there is the discovery of a shadowy group of people learning magic and manipulating everything.
Honestly, a lot of this book I am still really not clear on and ended up just going with the flow.
Which is possibly my first point: as much as I don’t mind not getting everything and just going with the flow, perhaps at times it was too much here. Like, I came out of this book with only a vague idea of what I had just read and that’s really bare bones vague. Granted, this could be that I wasn’t paying enough attention to this one. That’s entirely possible. However, even then, surely I shouldn’t come out of it with so little an idea as to what happened that I couldn’t even begin to explain it?
I will grant, though, that this concept alone is wild, so obviously the book is going to be as wild to accommodate it. And it was, genuinely, nuts. It was as though the author said, “well why can’t this happen” to every seemingly impossible thing. Which is energy I can respect, truly, even if it makes for an occasionally incoherent world. It was that energy that kept me reading this one, even as I got more and more confused.
Because, world and plot aside, the rest of this book is somewhat forgettable (although to what extent I will remember the plot at all, let alone in detail, remains to be seen). The characters were just not that compelling. I couldn’t even tell you much about them. Not to mention the entire thing gave off a “haha look aren’t I funny” tone, without actually being that funny, barring a couple of points.
A quick note on the audiobook too before I close, since that was the format of this ARC: I actually quit listening to it after less than 10% and picked up an ebook to finish off this one because, seriously, they couldn’t have picked a more irritating narrator for me. A lot of what I find irritating about narrators is things they cannot change, basically amounting to how their voice sounds, and how it sounds sped up to 3x normal speed. Here, I just found the narrator’s voice too annoying and the way they read almost a snail’s pace at normal speed. And even when I sped it up to 3x, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get past the irritation of her voice. (Apologies to the narrator, of course, for being so easily annoyed, but that switch to ebook probably made this book a 3 star read and not a 2 star one.)
So. On the whole, I would recommend this book. I’d just suggest you pay a bit more attention to it all than I did.