This is something I’ve had sitting on my Kindle for almost two years, it was dirt cheap and I had no expectations going in. I just decided to clear out some of the old stuff. And blow me down, it turned out to be the most entertaining read since... well, the last entertaining read. Which was quite a while back.
So here’s the premise. Thirteen year old kid wakes up with a head full of jumbled memories, possibly none of them his own. He’s on a tropical island with a bunch of other teenage boys, supervised by a bunch of rickety old men. The boys get to play games all day, if they want to, they’re well fed and looked after, the only snag (there has to be one, right?) is that every once in a while they go into a building where they are expected to insert a needle into their foreheads and enter an artificial reality where, once they get the hang of it, they can do anything – fly, shape-shift, create stuff, whatever their imaginations can invent.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that some very sinister things are happening in the background, and it takes most of the book for the various layers of mystery to be peeled away one by one. Some of them were obvious virtually from the start, some were complete surprises and a few things I was totally wrong about, which is always good. I hate it when I can guess all the twists ahead of time.
In a lot of ways this book isn’t anything special. But that’s exactly the point: this is what a genre book should be like. It has believable characters, a plot that makes sense, and it’s well written without any pretensions to literary greatness. OK, you could, if you wanted, derive some themes about consciousness and the nature of reality and so on, but it’s not compulsory. And it’s an absolute page turner. I couldn’t put it down, I had to know what was going on and why. Yes, there were places where things fell out rather too conveniently for our hero and his pals, and one or two moments I didn’t really understand at all. There were loose ends (like all the girls, for instance; where did they come from?), but there are more books in the series so maybe they get answered later. But for anyone who wants a fun read with plenty of what-the-hell’s-going-on-ness, I can highly recommend this. Four stars.