As usual, I will be very honest. I started reading this book because I like the author. It’s not just that I like him as a writer. I like him as a person. A lot. When Scott told me about the book, he said “it’s not a book about games, but it’s about gamers. Would care to read it and review it if it’s any good for your website”. He trusted me with a link that would allow me to download the book (actually, if would allow anyone to download the book, but, for obvious reasons, that link will remain pretty secret!) so I did.
So that means that I wouldn’t be able to give this book a bad review even if it were rubbish. However, and this is just to put your mind at ease, if this book were rubbish, I wouldn’t tell you, but wouldn’t lie to you either. I simply wouldn’t write a review about it and would tell Scott to rewrite it. Thankfully I don’t have to do either because this book is excellent. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Or ahead of myself at least. Let me tell you what this book is all about.
Breanne, Mitchel, Rico, Scott and Molly, a group of five teenagers about to graduate from High School and going through the stuff teenagers go through when they’re about to graduate (I haven’t been a teenager for too long, so can’t say I remember very well) are challenged by what appears to be a spam email to beta-play a new game called “Vindicator”. The five youngsters have history together. They have played role playing games for a long time now and this is a challenge they just can’t miss. And there is a $50.000 reward if they finish the game. However, the game turns out to be a lot more than they bargained for and they will end up facing a different type of game, more dangerous and unexpected. In the process, they meet Carl. More on him later.
I know what you are thinking. I was thinking the same. It sounds predictable and it sounds cheesy. Hold on to that thought.
The narrative is told in first person. This is, basically, the story as told by Scott Gray, one of the teenagers. You could say that the author decided to have an early day when he came up with the names for the characters, but there is a lot more to it than just not wanting to find new names.
The writing style of the author is very compelling and a bit over the top. There are a lot of emotions that he can’t describe, things that happen that he can’t remember, a massive sense of overwhelming everything that pervades his life and everything around him. In short, there is a lot of angst in that first person character that just happens to share a name with the author. And he is angry. He is very angry a lot of the time. He can also be a [anatomically unpleasant reference].
I will confess that, when is about books, characters matter to me a great deal more than the story itself. Boring and impossible stories can be made amazing by great characters that can make it look closer to you. Help you relate to it. Of course that can’t happen unless the author knows the characters very well. Scott does.
The whole group appear to be just a bunch of ordinary teenagers to start with. Yes, they are clever. Very clever and, overall, underachievers. You know, the type of people who find school boring and fail massively, just to get home and hack into firewalls and create new robots that will save lives. And they know they are clever. They know they are the best.
What makes those characters interesting and make you warm up to them as the story unfolds is that they haven’t figured out themselves. Their anxieties, doubts, wishes, anger, problems; they are all carefully placed in their lives and revealed little by little so their seemingly stupid reactions start to make more and more sense until you find yourself thinking “of course he feels like that! I’d feel like that too!”. By the end of the book, the feelings of overwhelming emotions and feeling, the impossible to describe situations and feelings will slot in making you realise that, for Scott the character, they are indeed impossible to describe. And so would be for you if you were there.
Of course this doesn’t apply to the main characters only. Carl, Lincoln, Malkov and Karya, secondary characters. Well, Carl is not really secondary. He is indeed very primary, but I won’t say anything else about him. You’ll have to read the book to find out about him. And you should read the book anyway.
What I will say, though, is that they are also laid out just as congruently as the group of teenagers. Don’t get me wrong, their past and the reasons why they are where they are at the moment are not explored in the same depth as the main characters, but they all make perfect sense. You could argue they are a bit too “good” and too “legal” for being in the line of work they are in (well, Malkov isn’t) but that is a license I a prepared to live with.
Remember the cheesy and predictable bit? Well, this book is a bit cheesy and predictable. And the author knows it.
What I really like, though, is what Scott the author does with the chessiness and predictability. He gives one a perfectly valid reason to be there, and it does something unpredictable with the other.
You see, the problem with predictability is that it can’t surprise you. But when you think “this is what is going to happen” and when it happens, it either is in a different way that you had in mind, or something else happens as a consequence that throws the predictability factor out of the window, predictability becomes fun.
And there are tons of fun in this book. Chases, technology, philosophy, politics, conspiracies, love, hate, anger, parents, schools… it’s all there and it’s all very well put together.
I would happily read this book again. In fact, when I have finished with the queue of books I have at the moment, I will read this book again. It won’t be in another few years, but not because of this book, but because of the queue (line… sorry!) of books I have. It’s a pile taller than me.
I like the plot. I like the characters, descriptions and their personalities. Lots.
But what I like the most is how much of the author there is in this book. Wether it is because there is indeed part of his personality and experience in the book, or because he’s masterfully crafted a few lives and turned them into printed words, there is a lot of hidden depth exposed to a level that makes you feel very close to Scott Gray the character while you wonder if you’re really feeling close to Scott Gray the author.
It’s a weird thing to explain and I am not sure I am being very good at it. I think the best thing you could do is to actually get the book and read it. The likelihood is that you’ll enjoy it anyway. If not, I’d love to hear why!
I could give this book five stars. But I want to see more and better from Scott Gray the author, so I will give it “only” four and say that working to iron some of the rough edges (there are a few, but not many and you have to find them yourself. It’s all part of the fun) will make the next book even better.
Oh, and if you think I am saying all of this just because I know Scott, read the book and find out if that’s true or not.
You can head now to the Insane Angel website (that’s Scott, by the way) and find out more about the book, as well buy it.
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