One needn’t be a gamer to appreciate the fast-paced, adventurous romp presented in this near-future light sci-fi story. However, those who are familiar with concepts like virtual sandbox worlds and light role play are likely to take particular enjoyment in the sense of authenticity this book has to offer.
Phoenix “Nixy” Bauer is the kind of competent, ambitious, takes-no-crap heroine this reader loves to see. With the advantage of parents who happen to be developers for the world’s biggest virtual reality game, she fills a specialized niche—tracking down and extracting the consciousnesses of minors whose parents are fed up with their children’s absence from reality. She has few friends and makes no apologies for her entrepreneurial ways. (Hey, a girl has to pay for college somehow.)
Nixy has her flaws as well. Her inclination toward snap, instinctual judgment leads to misjudgment—not only of situations but of people. And her hard-earned character growth was one of the more gratifying contributors to the story arc.
Durango’s writing style is descriptive, concise, and caters well to the many high-action scenes. The conflict is believable and there is an element of intrigue that steadily unfolds—culminating in a twist that I honestly didn’t see coming. Readers can also look forward to a satisfying and organically developed romance (though it’s not clear whether its Nixy’s first experience with this sort of thing.)
The dialogue is punchy and natural in its handling, if not particularly quotable outside of Nixy’s keen sarcasm. The story is told entirely from her first-person perspective, and using the least annoying present-tense I’ve encountered in a long time. I dare say the immediacy feels especially appropriate for the vast majority of the time she spends in the virtual realm.
Note: In this reader’s mind, the author earns bonus EXP (i.e. experience points) for the spare-yet-explained gamer slang, and the creative cussing substitutions. The content (not to mention the limited, uncomplicated tech concepts) are such that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to most ages and sensitivity levels.
All in all The Leveller is a quick and truly fun read—high-ish stakes, yet not as heavy in the doom-and-gloom department as much of the more recent YA with a speculative bent. Therein lays both its advantage and disadvantage. While the entertainment value is high, I do wish the emotional intensity could have been pushed a bit deeper and the ethical implications of the MEEP explored with more profundity.
The ending feels complete but boarders on abrupt, leaving a number of unanswered questions that may or may not compel a sequel. (Not that I wouldn’t be pleased to see a sequel come out of this, mind you…)