Disclaimer: this book is the first in a trilogy where all book have been released.
Result: 4.5 stars. Excellent book but there were some issues with it. Overall I would recommend this book to people that like to read fantasy and SciFi.
A little bit of back story to explain how I found out about this book. I recently read Ready Player One by Ernst Cline (when I should have been studying for my Master’s defence…) and while I thought this book had many, many problems it started me thirsting for books with a RPG component (role-playing game). I read the book Gamer Girl by Mari Mancusi for this reason. This lead GoodReads to recommend a list of books with RPG components, which is how I found Epic.
This book is about Erik, a 14 year old living on New Earth. New Earth was created when a group of people left Earth to colonize a new planet, one without violence which they felt was destroying the planet. But since conflict is a part of all human communities, they use the game Epic to solve conflict. Epic was developed as a game to amuse the colonists as they travelled through space but in the century since landing on New Earth Epic has become the way the Central Allegations run the economy as the money earned in the game is used to pay for real world resources like solar panels. If you don’t have enough money to pay for something you can try petitioning the CA which results in a duel: if you win you get what you petitioned for, if you lose you die in the game meaning you have to start over with nothing. However the CA is made up of the best players in the world.
Erik is a farmer, one of the many people on New Earth that has to work very hard in order to supply the world with the required resources. When his family does not produce the required amount due to bad luck they are faced with the prospect of being forced to reallocate to a new town and a new, harder job unless one member of the family wins against the CA. But since as farmers they have no time to devote to the game, they have lesser quality of armour and cannot hold up against the CA in a fight.
This book is about the fight between the rich and the poor and how Erik and his family and friends fight back against the CA.
I loved this book. It was interesting and unique. To start with, Conor Kostick had a fantastic writing style, one that is my ideal writing style which made reading this book easier and more enjoyable. Few things irritate me more then an amazing book with a writing style I cannot stand. Another thing Conor Kostick does really well with in this book is the world building and the set up of the novel. For the world building it just makes sense. You can picture the circumstances that lead to a group of colonists fleeing Earth and forming New Earth and doing so because of violence. The formation of a community of people that try to stamp out violence makes sense as we devote much time and money to doing the same thing. Using the alternative of Epic as a way to fight the battles that need to be fought is an interesting way to deal with in inevitable conflict that will arise. Kostick provides us all the needed background knowledge in a way that is not too much at a time but is also not withholding, a balance that is hard to achieve. In addition to this balance, the pacing of the book felt right to me: never too slow or too fast. This book didn’t have a plot twist that seemed to come out of left field but at the same time it also wasn’t a predictable book.
Going deeper in, I liked that when Erik lost his character in a battle he decided to make a female character as his next character, defying convention which is to make a character that is similar to yourself as it’s one of the way you meet your future partner. It’s an interesting choice as I would have expected a female novel character would be more likely to take on a male character in the game then the way it was done. There are slight undertones of ‘I’m not like them’, a trope that in female lead characters has the issue of putting down all other females that are not like the lead. However, it is done in an act of rebellion rather that putting down other people.
Overall I liked Erik as a character: he’s smart and a risk taker. He is a leader of his group of friends. There is a little bit of one-sideness to him in that after an initial outburst of anger to show he is not perfect he is more or less perfect. Kostick does a good job in making the side characters more interesting with more depth to them. So much so that I would have preferred if the booth took place in the viewpoint of Injeborg, his best friend, however as I said, I did like Erik’s character. Another I liked about the book is that Kostick didn’t use generic ‘white people’ names or strange fantasy names for the characters instead opting for Nordic names. I causes me to wonder more about the original colonist in the novel. I do think that Erik and Injeborg were on the young side to be leading the fight, but at the same time, I can see how being younger lead to things occurring as they do. Finally I liked how the book ended: it can stand on its own but you can see how a second book could easily be written.
This book was not perfect, though, and there are a number of issues that I had. Most concerning was the lack of female characters in the book. Of the main characters, ones that show up in multiple chapters and have speaking roles (the peoples of the CA, Erik’s friends and family) about a quarter or a third of the characters are female. It gets worse when you look at the secondary and background characters, most of whom are gendered even if they didn’t need to be, where less that one in five are female. In a world where roughly 50% of the population is female and everyone plays Epic and has stakes in the game, having about a third of the character being female is unacceptable. Just as many females would be good at the game as men. Having Erik’s Epic character be a female seemed to be a way to get out of having to put work into making more female characters. This is not an justification or an excuse to have fewer female characters.
Another issue I had was just the mechanics of how the game works. There are a few things that just don’t really make sense: how does one smell in the video game? Scents were mentioned in the game environment but it was explicitly stated that Erik could not feel the hot or cold of his character. Somehow most of the characters in the game were ‘grey hexagon heads’ yet Erik managed to identify his friend based on sight. Finally I can’t quite understand how the magic that influenced Erik and his friends through their characters worked. One player even managed to get a headache as a result of an game piece character. It would imply that the game had some sort of brain altering capabilities, yet that was never mentioned. These things did not take away from the book and are minor in the scale of things, but are inconsistencies that are not explained.
I mentioned that I could see where the book could go in the second novel of the series, which I am excited to pick up, however having read the synopses of that book it’s clear my prediction is completely wrong. This has be both intrigued and wary to start the next one.
A guide to my rating system can be found under the ‘Five Golden Stars?’ tab.