Giannine's birthday gift from her long-absent father is one she picked for herself: a gift certificate to Rasmussem Enterprises, a high-tech gaming parlor whose only similarity to a penny arcade is that it costs a pretty penny. Giannine arrives in the midst of a protest by a group of demonstrators who believe that fantasy and roleplay are of the devil. Soon after she plugs into a total-immersion, virtual-reality game about castles and wizards and barbarians and dragons, the protestors storm the facility and damage the machine Giannine is playing on. Thus she becomes trapped in the game, which she must start over each time her character dies. The only way out is to play it to the end and win. And she can only afford to "die" so many times, because the damaged machine will damage her more the longer she stays connected. If she doesn't make it out quickly, she never will.
So, no pressure.
The trouble is, Giannine is only fourteen years old, and the grandmother who has raised her can't afford to send her to Rasmussem Enterprises every weekend; so she actually isn't very good at gaming. Her inexperience tells early as she has to start the game over and over just to get past Level One. This isn't an encouraging sign in a fantasy game in which Giannine's character, very creatively named Janine, must rise from tending sheep to ruling a kingdom in three days.
Time passes much faster in virtual reality than in the real world; but even so, three days can be a lifetime when you keep getting killed on Day One and having to start over. And there are so many ways for a shepherd girl-turned-heir to the throne to die. There are three handsome princes, sons of the jealous dowager queen, who all have ambitions; deciding which of them to trust, and how to get him to trust her, is a life-and-death decision that comes out differently each time Giannine plays. Then there are the soldiers, who could become loyal to Janine if she can avoid getting assassinated by them; the barbarians, who intend to kidnap her; a witch with a knack for brewing poison; a wizard who likes to play a game of riddles with one hand on the lever to release the trap door under one's feet; a greedy dragon; an army of ghosts; and a mob of rebellious peasants, all with Janine's name on the blades of their swords or the tips of their arrows.
There is no one right way to play it. There may even be infinite ways to win. But as Giannine soon learns, there are infinite ways to lose. And unless she figures out how to get three royal advisors (one of them an embezzler, another a religious fanatic) to work together with three workers of magic, and keep the princes, soldiers, barbarians, and peasants from stabbing her in the back, she is just going to keep dying virtually until she dies for real. And that would totally ruin her birthday.
Giannine's fantasy adventure within a fantasy adventure is fun in and of itself. Particularly interesting is the unusual way she plays it—a sign that she is a special person in the real world, and one that endears her to the gaming tycoon who is desperately trying to save her. The idea that the sword-and-sorcery fantasy is a game that must be played over and over until the player figures out a way to win throws a unique light on the genre, and points out a variety of whimsical takes on the standard storyline. Plus, Janine/Giannine's double jeopardy adds an extra level of suspense as she gets closer to either final victory or total oblivion. A generous charge of mouthy attitude, a fizz of silliness, a tingle of controversy over the role of fantasy in the formation of children, and a sizzle of teen romance make this virtual world one that young readers will gladly plug into.
Saint Louis USA
Recommended Age: 12+
If you would like to contact Robbie, you may do so here.