Four students, elite video gamers, are drawn into an all-too-real war of the worlds in this debut YA sci-fi novel.
In Britain, four 12-year-old friends sit very near the top of the worldwide leaderboard for Distant Dawn, a popular video game that pits robotic fighters—WarMechs—equipped with exotic weaponry against the villainous Krogans, insectoid aliens out to destroy human space colonies. The group, which calls itself Raid Mob, includes two white boys, Jack Delaney (tHeScOuRgE), who lives in shabby council housing, and Cameron Yates (ForgeFire666), a chubby, clumsy tween with a stutter. The other members are a girl with “hazel-coloured” skin, Megan Joyce (Zuul), whose hero is Pvt. Vasquez from Aliens, and brainy Ayomikun “Ayo” Osikoya-Arinola (Hephaestus), a boy of African origin. The four are outsiders at school, and their virtual world can seem more real than their daily lives. They’re uber-excited when Hailstorm Games, the company behind Distant Dawn, announces that its top 10 players will receive new control packs for “an Elite Mission, the likes of which you have never experienced.” The new equipment allows thrillingly immersive, addictive gaming—but it’s not just a game, as the players discover when they’re kidnapped, put into authentic WarMechs, and forced to fight agonizingly real battles. They’ll need to use teamwork and all of their well-honed skills to save Earth and themselves. The gamers-being-trained-as-fighters theme isn’t new, but Sullivan makes it especially entertaining for fans of Transformers-style military robots, providing a feast of lengthy, cinematic, richly detailed descriptions of weapons, maneuvers, tactics, and moment-by-moment clashes. (Nonfans might wish for more streamlining.) The author also captures the slangy, energetic, pop-culture fun of online competition. This classic ragtag band of misfits is nicely balanced, all with their own assets and challenges. There’s a good dose of humor to balance the fighting, and the tale doesn’t lack tenderness; Jack’s love for his baby brother, for example, helps define him and his choices. The story’s satisfying climax becomes somewhat dulled by a lengthy epilogue exploring the implications of new technology.
For those who appreciate robotic combat, an immersive, humorous, and principled tale.