Hello Humans! Today I’m adding another book to the ‘VR’ shelf that seems to be growing every few months or so, especially after the Ready Player One success. I’ve previously reviewed Lucky Ghost, We are Such Stuff, and the original book in today’s series Otherworld. I have also reviewed Ready Player One but that was…not such a hit for me. I did enjoy Otherworld, in fact, I gave it four out of five stars. But how did the next book fare?
Simon saved his best friend, Kat, from the clutches of the Company and their high-tech VR gaming experience, Otherworld. But it was at a steep price. Now he, Kat, and their friend Busara are on the run. They know too much. About the Company’s dark secrets. About the real-life consequences of playing Otherworld. And about Kat’s stepfather’s involvement in everything. The group is headed to New Mexico to find Simon’s old roommate, who is a tech genius and possibly the only person who can help them reveal the truth about the Company before it’s too late and the line between what’s real and what’s fantasy is erased . . . forever.
Imagine a future in which you can leave reality behind and give in to your greatest desires. That future is now. And the future is terrifying
I had a bit of a hard time getting into this book. I want to preface what I’m about to talk about by saying that I am not averse to a male protagonist. Truthfully, I do prefer to read female protagonists (or non-binary protagonists, while we’re talking about it), but I have read some amazing books with teenage boy protagonists. I’ve talked recently about Soulbinder and how I’ve grown to love the male protagonist Kellen where I didn’t like him before. But perhaps I am less willing to forgive a…less well written male protagonist than I am a female protagonist. We all have our biases.
But man alive did Simon annoy me in this book.
I don’t remember being frustrated by him in Otherworld. In fact, to quote me:
“I actually wasn’t that annoyed by Simon as a main character, though it was one of those books where the majority of the plot is motivated by a romance plot which is sometimes a dealbreaker for some people.”
But this time around, I was annoyed. Simon isn’t the worst YA teenage boy protagonist I’ve ever read, but it did feel like any time he was describing Kat it was always focussed on her boobs or her ass or something equally irritating. Before anyone makes the argument, I don’t care if it’s meant to be a reflection of an actual teenage boy – we shouldn’t be encouraging those attitudes.
I wouldn’t have minded so much had the female characters had more of a part to play in the story, but it felt a lot like they just got shelved in the story, almost all of the heavy action sequences take place in a simulated world, where for plot reasons the female characters don’t go very often in this story. So not only do you have the irritating teen boy but you also don’t have an offset of great female characters. Which is so odd, because I had remembered Otherworld as being quite a balanced book despite Simon taking the lead.
So it was character based reasoning that meant that I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I might have done, but what about the plot? I thought this was a pretty standard YA sci-fi/dystopian sequel narrative, you’ve escaped from the situation of book one, now what do you do next? The characters are on the run and they need more information and a way to beat the big bad. I don’t think this book does anything particularly new but it is nonetheless an exciting plot to follow. The pacing feels right, the new characters introduced are interesting, it’s perfectly fine but would probably suit those who haven’t read a lot of similar books.
There are a few moments where the plot feels very engineered, you sort of get the feeling that the opposition that the characters encounter is designed to fix a plot hole, as opposed to being a natural plot point. It’s not terrible, but it did bother me a little.
Overall, I would probably read another book in this world, I’ve complained about the main characters but one of the great things about teenage boy characters is that they do have the potential to grow and to change as the story progresses, and if it wasn’t terrible in Otherworld then it can be not-terrible again.
And it’s still infinitely better than Ready Player One.
My rating: 3/5 stars
I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
What say you? Are there some teenage boy protagonists that you enjoy? Let me know in the comments below!