Author: Matt Ruff
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link)|Indiebound |Goodreads
Summary: This was funny and gripping, but the ending was a let down and the social commentary wasn’t profound or subtle.
“John Chu is a ‘sherpa’—a paid guide to online role-playing games like the popular Call to Wizardry. For a fee, he and his crew will provide you with a top-flight character equipped with the best weapons and armor, and take you dragon-slaying in the Realms of Asgarth, hunting rogue starships in the Alpha Sector, or battling hordes of undead in the zombie apocalypse.” (source) Everything seems to be going well for John until he begins to suspect that his new, mysterious client might be Kim Jong-Un; the woman threatening him to get him to spy on his new client might be a spy herself; and either of them might be part of a prank by his ex-girlfriend Darla. Soon John finds himself entangled in intrigue and facing threats that aren’t confined to his online life.
I picked this book up because I wanted something fun and light to read and it definitely delivered. I couldn’t stop reading, trying to figure out exactly what John hadn’t gotten himself into and what would happen next. John’s narration was funny and sarcastic and I enjoyed seeing him both skewer racist tropes and show up trolls. While the narrator’s voice wasn’t quite as unique as Frannie’s from The Confessions of Frannie Langton, it did also successfully convey a lot of personality. It reminds me a bit of Andy Weir’s The Martian and may appeal to fans of that novel.
Another part of this book that I really enjoyed was getting to see the culture of MMORPGs captured so accurately. Reading about game mechanics and even the trolls was a delight, because it felt so true to life. And don’t worry if you’re unfamiliar with online games! There’s an enjoyable appendix with entertaining and helpful definitions to get you started. There are additional, amusing dictionary entries at the beginning of each chapter and sections being with ‘loading screen tips’ that I thought were a really nice touch.
One of the cover blurbs from my ARC suggested that this book would, in addition to being fun, explore interesting themes of identity and ‘the fluidity of self’. This got my hopes up that there would be some smart social commentary in this tale of adventure. Unfortunately, pretty much all the author had to say about identity was that 1) we judge people based on their perceived race and gender and 2) not everyone is who they seem to be online. Neither of these observations struck me as particularly profound. They were also things the author directly told us, via his narrator, not ideas his story made me consider more deeply. There was some additional political commentary too, given as an inner monologue by John during some downtime. While he wasn’t preachy or offensive, his opinions were so lukewarm that I didn’t think they added anything to his character. They certainly didn’t need several paragraphs of plot-irrelevant exposition.
My only other complaint with this book is that I found the ending was a bit of a let down. Otherwise, this was a perfectly serviceable, fast-paced, escapist reads – exactly what I was looking for. Just don’t go into it expecting anything more thoughtful than that.