Publisher: Ford Street
Date released: September 2011
Genre: Science fiction / Fantasy
Target Audience: 11+
A Bug in a Book review by Scott Chambers.
In his most recent novel Gamers’ Challenge, George Ivanoff artfully holds up a mirror to the teen life that many of his target audience are on the cusp of. After all, what is Life but a game when you’re young and (somewhat) irresponsible? And we’ve all been there, huh? A sole Essential Character in an egocentric world. Time seems irrelevant in the prime of your life. Everything you do seems so original when your vision is clouded by the youthful haze of ignorance. And why give a thought to mortality when you have the constitution of an ox? Rules, of course, are there to be broken, and consequences happen to other people, right?
As is often the case for the plethora of seemingly insurmountable teen problems, it all started with a kiss; but this time, there were consequences.
Initially, for Tark and Zyra Life was just a game, but after flaunting the Designers rules with a brazen show of affection, they fall from the carefree, secure cocoon of eternal life as Essential Characters in a Designers Paradise to the harsh reality of being “Outers” in a dog-eat-dog world on the fringes of the Gaming Environment. Here, the passage of time leaves its telltale scars, fatigue is tangible, fights hurt, and heroes get acne. In their newfound lives, consequences are far from academic; they can be complicated, smelly, messy, and even deadly. Tark and Zyra will need to draw upon all of their initiative and ingenuity, forge new friendships, learn to cooperate, and learn to trust – not to succeed, but just to stay alive.
Only when they become “Outers” do Tark and Zyra start to appreciate the limitations of their “world” – the Gaming Environment, where The Designers control your Destiny – and crave the freedom of Reality, where they can make the most of their now-finite lives, and get behind the wheel of their own Destinies. Their journey of awareness continues as they meet other Outers and come to the demoralizing realization that their achievements, hopes, dreams – even their physical beings – are not as unique as they had once believed.
Their only hope (apart from, well … Hope herself) of freedom lies in the words of an ancient prophesy that tells of an “Ultimate Gamer” who may know how to break out of the game environment and into the real world. But if they find him, will he divulge his secret? And at what price? Before the search for the Ultimate Gamer can even begin though, Tark and Zyra need to learn how to switch between Game Environments, which, as Outers, is only possible by deciphering a cheat code. As it turns out, the key to deciphering the cheat code lies in Zyra’s ability to get cooperation out of her teenage daughter who, just to throw a spanner in the works, is actually two years older than her! So that should be a doddle. Oh, and did I mention that while they’re busy trying to find the Ultimate Gamer, something – rather sinister – is busy trying to find them? No? Well that was a bit of a careless oversight on my part.
Their quest for the Ultimate Gamer, and their struggle for survival, is a fast paced, action packed ride that is well suited to the target audience and should hold the attention of even reluctant readers. With both male and female teen lead characters the myriad of emotions, parent/child conflicts and life dramas will no doubt resonate with either gender of reader. Set in a fantasy style Gaming Environment – on which many young readers are already fixated – the story will no doubt be easy to relate to (with a bit of something for everyone: zombies (boys); unicorns (girls) and dragons (nerds)).
The world within Gamers’ Challenge is no WYSIWYG environment. The more pensive reader will note that it also comes (free of additional charge), with a grab bag of take home messages, and questions to ponder, that aren’t rammed down ones throat. Is winning the same as success? What is normal? What is freedom? Good, Evil? Ultimately, how you see things, depends on where you stand. And while it is true that your environment can shape you, you are still free to make your own decisions and break the moulds.
Gamer’s Challenge is the sequel to the highly acclaimed Gamers’ Quest. Not only, but also, George Ivanoff has authored over 50 books for children and teens. For more information I would urge you to visit http://www.gamersquestbook.com. But, most importantly, read and enjoy!