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TJ is a rabid fan on LARPing and finally convinces his best friend (and secret crush?) Allison to join him and his friends, Jimmy, Stu, Chuck and their school friend Nathan, for a weekend of live action role playing. This adventure is in Arcanum where a wizard has enlisted the aid of a goblin clan to help him take over the fantasy world. It’s all fun and games until they cross over into a real Arcanum with real arrows and real monsters.
I loved the first 50% of the book. It was well setup story wise and I bought into the premise. I really liked TJ and Allison and was looking forward to reading the actual adventure from their POV. The plot was strong and it was specific enough that I felt like I had tagged along on a LARPing adventure of my own. I really enjoyed that. I liked how experienced some of the teenagers were, how Nathan hadn’t played in a while and how Ali was a total newbie. I liked how the steps of LARPing weren’t glossed over but we experienced it as if we, like Ali, were here for the first time.
The first “game” battle was cool and I bought into them getting the special ring. The transition between the real world and the fantasy world was smooth and believable to me. I felt like we were in the characters POV and not an omniscient POV and that fact was wasted in the second half of the book. Events up to this point were well developed with their own special moments along the way. The second battle was shocking and spot on.
I really enjoyed the explanation as to what was happening to them. They hadn’t felt when they moved into the fantasy world but they did notice changes in themselves:
“We have become our characters. Tell me, how well do you remember high school? Or driving your truck? Or precalculus?”
“Well, the fact that I can’t remember any math isn’t a shock. Precalc wasn’t really my thing. But yeah, I know what you mean. Those memories aren’t fading away, per se. They’re just becoming less vivid. And new memories are taking their place.”
So the premise rocked it and it was well setup. The second half of the book was not quite up to par. This was a 5 star book up until the setup was done. Then in wasn’t as well executed, it was hurried and not as well thought out (3 stars). The problem lies in keeping the page numbers under control with such a high concept premise as this one. What happened was we were thrown into Chuck, the thief’s POV, and stuck there for a predominant amount of the second half of the book (25%). What we needed was to go into each of the kid’s POVs and see there internal struggle with their real memories and the world’s memories. We especially needed this in Ali’s POV since she had the least backstory. She should have been the one most effected.
This was a perfect opportunity to see the teenager warring with the adult mindset. We could have gone from glossed over teen characters to “real” fantasy characters that we can root for but also not really want to return home and to that “regular teen” characters that they started from. This would have worked well with the limited character POV we were in, otherwise an omniscient POV would have been better where it was more about the concept than the characters.
Too much time was spent following the goblins step by step. Where that technique worked with the LARPing it didn’t with the goblins. I understand that the author didn’t have enough page space to do this correctly, not and keep it at 220 pages. Really the book needed double the pages, at least. I didn’t mind the large chunk with Chuck but equally large chunks were needed with the other characters. A little more wrestle with the situation in their memories would have also made the story richer and the characters the focus.
I enjoyed how they beat the goblins in the end and how a perceived enemy turned into an ally. The simple plot was well developed to be able to show these unique characters in their most intriguing light. I liked the fantasy adventure format where the next step of the journey would reveal a little more of their overarching problem: how do we get home before we lose all of who we were? I’ll read the next book for sure, but I hope some of these issues are addressed! This seems to be Dave Barrett’s debut and for a first effort it’s dynamite!
BOTTOM LINE: LARPing Adventure Conundrum.
Thanks to Netgalley and Nerdist publishing for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.