Although I love young adult and teen fiction, I must admit, it was a stretch for me to open the cover of Gamers’ Quest, a novel featuring computer-generated artwork on its cover. I ain’t a gamer and I certainly ain’t a teen, nor a be-pierced, sword-wielding maniac. What is this going to do for me? How will I possibly relate?
I guess, like any well-written and highly imaginative story, it doesn’t matter how old you are or if your game interests extend to how many grocery items you can fit in one plastic-free bag and… Sudoku. Gamers’ Quest entertained me. Not only that, I had the unique opportunity to enter a world I am increasingly edging out of, while my children increasingly edge in. Put it this way – I felt cool reading this book. And I also felt rather savvy – checking out the content of the very books my kids will soon read.
Tark and Zyra are two free-roaming and likeable teenage thieves in a real (or is it virtual?) post-apocalyptic world, riddled with crime and desperation. Like many of this world, these mohawked, pierced cyber pirates spend their days hunting for treasure, and seeking the elusive (and expensive) keys to Designers Paradise – a beautiful, ‘normal’ virtual world where teens can live secure lives, with a family, hot meals, a nice bed to sleep in – and God forbid – even the chance to gain an education.
Access to Designers Paradise is limited. Once the key is in hand, getting through to the portals of this utopia is a challenge in itself, but if anyone can do it, Tark and Zyra can. With excellent fighting skills, wit and speed, these young friends gather the resources they need to fight their way to Paradise, including the highly coveted and majestic sword o’ light.
After dragon-slaying, sewer rat-blasting and the relentless pursuit by a maniacal monstrous woman named Vera, Tark and Zyra finally make it to Designers Paradise, with limited hours to enjoy the spoils of this heartwarming virtual world. But very soon, the veil between the real and unreal begin to blur and this dynamic duo is once again thrown into the fray.
As atmospheric ‘holes’ begin to appear all around them, the real and the unreal merge into one – all under the control of the malevolent ‘Fat Man’ who seeks to control not only Designers Paradise, but the ‘real’ world beyond its cyber walls. As these walls begin to tumble and collapse in on themselves, can Tark and Zyra stop the Fat Man and finally return ‘home’?
Gamers’ Quest is a feat in intense imagination, but it is also a book that skillfully treads the line between entertainment and schlock. There is most certainly violence in this book, but nothing that would turn your teen into a knife-wielding, psychopathic maniac. The content is purely fantasy-driven, and the lines of gratuitous brutality are never blurred. As Zyra makes clear – ‘any old sewer rat could commit acts of violence’. Why not commit robbery with style and flair? Indeed.
Ivanoff has constructed main characters that are intensely likable – and a cast of monstrous types you’ll be glad to see the end of. His subplot Princeling character is priceless, and provides a tidy counterbalance to the irreverence of his thieving teen duo. Readers will find themselves cheering on all three of this unlikely trio.
The author also brings colour and highly effective characterization in the form of speech intonation – a tangle between Old English and decrepit Cockney. “Wot’s ya doin’ in ‘ere?” is a joy to the ears, while “Comes on,” and “I knows where to gets us anotha key” send us straight to a great galactic galleon, its two futuristic pirates swaggering its foredecks with a glint in their eyes (or is that piercings?).
Ivanoff manages to combine action with an extremely clever plotline that will have readers guessing ‘til the end. His story may be awash with rotting sewers and echoing and cavernous scenes of grunge and metal, but a nice meandering ribbon of romance brings unexpected emotion to the story, rounding things out into a well-crafted book both teens and adults will enjoy.