Erebos, by Ursula Poznanski

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Author’s website
Publication date – January 19, 2012

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) An intelligent computer game with a disturbing agenda.

When 16-year-old Nick receives a package containing the mysterious computer game Erebos, he wonders if it will explain the behavior of his classmates, who have been secretive lately. Players of the game must obey strict rules: always play alone, never talk about the game, and never tell anyone your nickname.

Curious, Nick joins the game and quickly becomes addicted. But Erebos knows a lot about the players and begins to manipulate their lives. When it sends Nick on a deadly assignment, he refuses and is banished from the game.

Now unable to play, Nick turns to a friend for help in finding out who controls the game. The two set off on a dangerous mission in which the border between reality and the virtual world begins to blur. This utterly convincing and suspenseful thriller originated in Germany, where it has become a runaway bestseller.

Thoughts: I’m a sucker for books involving video games that are more than they first seem, I’ve discovered. Not sure why. But regardless, when I first read the description of Poznanski’s novel, I couldn’t resist giving it a read. It seemed made for someone like me.

The story follows Nick, a London teen who starts to notice his friends acting secretively, discussing issues they won’t let him hear. Or rather, not discussing, but hinting at them, making it clear that there’s something going on that Nick can’t be a part of. Eventually he’s let in on the secret – a video game. A video game with fantastic graphics, an amazing ability to react to player input, and a strange set of rules. Don’t mention your real name in the game. Don’t mention your game name in the real world. Don’t let anybody see you play. And by the way, want to go up levels and become stronger? Then do this favour for me, a favour which involves you doing something in the real world. Or checking that somebody else followed their orders. Or poison your teacher who has been making his disdain of the game known quite publically.

At first, Nick sees no problems with his orders. Little things here and there, they aren’t a big problem. But when the orders go to far, he backs out, and is expelled from the game, and starts instead dedicating his efforts to finding out why the game is asking for all of these things, and what it’s all leading up to. The answer is more sinister than he could have guessed.

At first, I wasn’t sure I’d actually end up enjoying this novel as much as I did. The storytelling was nothing special, except for the places where it seemed almost clumsy in its execution. I didn’t really care what buttons Nick was pushing to get his on-screen character to perform certain actions. But reading on, that clumsiness actually served a purpose, which was demonstrating the depths to which Nick gets invested in the game of Erebos. At first, he’s a guy sitting and pushing buttons at his computer, trying to figure things out. Then the game-time events start being described more from the point of view of his character, the descriptions get more detailed. In reflection, what first seemed like poor writing or translation actually ended up serving as a good contrast to what was to come. So my best advice if you’re interested in this book is to wait a little while before deciding it’s not worth it. It definitely does pick up.

Also interesting was the sheer level of addictive behaviour that the players experienced. Agressive reactions at having their secret uncovered, loss of sleep in order to play the game, social withdrawal, and begging to be let back in once they were no longer allowed to participate. The drug and addiction metaphor wasn’t exactly subtle, but it was effective, and it was interesting to see Nick change from a curious and fairly normal teenager to an agressive person who pushed away his friends in favour of the game. In spite of the transformation, he was still able to recognize when enough was enough, and felt remorse for his actions once he was no longer under the game’s influence.

Happily, this book wasn’t a diatribe against games and social gaming. Had it been, I probably would have been this down before reaching the end.

Ultimately, this was a well-told tale, one that was entertaining and fast-paced, able to bring out a sense of curiousity in the reader to keep them turning pages to see just what will happen next. It wasn’t without its flaws, as sometimes the writing seemed a little flat and distant from the characters and events (especially toward the beginning of the book, where it felt a lot like the author was struggling a little to get the feel of the characters she was writing), but as it went on, it improved tremendously, and was very enjoyable. Another fine piece of gamer fiction, one that I’m glad was translated for the English-speaking world to enjoy.

(received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

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