An ambitious, enjoyable romp whose briskness makes its few stumbles forgivable.

Prisoners of the Game

Gamers must survive a glitch-y virtual-reality realm that’s rendering its players comatose in Allen’s (Apocalypse Orphan, 2016) sci-fi actioner.

In a world that’s been ravaged by nuclear bombs and the effects of the Cyber Wars, in which self-aware robots turned against humans, it seems that salvation lies in a game. A woman named Alice Mason proposes that countries settle disputes by warring in a virtual realm, which leads to the creation of the World Gaming Association with her as director. She’s stolen the technology from professor Raymond Brady, who’s in a maximum security prison after federal agents raided his home, grabbed his servers, and left his daughter to die in a fire that they started. But now Mason needs Brady to fix a glitch in the game, in which gaming soldiers, or “irus,” are inexplicably hemorrhaging in their bio-beds. The professor generates a new scenario and gathers six irus to play it, including currently undefeated American Andre Kingston. When the peaceful simulation inexplicably pits the players against zombies, Brady determines that the problem is outside interference. Then Kingston and the others lose their communication link with the WGA. As the scenario changes, the irus face aliens, an ancient Roman army, and energy-draining “cyberstalkers.” Although Mason can’t explain the glitches, it’s clear that she’s harboring a secret and doesn’t want anyone, players or programmers, digging too deeply. Allen’s steadily paced story offers numerous battles with conventional creatures but proudly acknowledges its inspirations. The zombies, for example, are sometimes called “the walking dead,” but only after Kingston references the popular TV series of the same name; the author also notes similarities and differences between the game’s aliens and the xenomorphs from the 1979 film Alien. Clipped sentences with essential details sustain the momentum: “She took two steps forward and stomped on his neck.…She then fenced with a trooper, using her war axe with good effect.” Even the final act, while predictable, doesn’t slow down until the very end. However, the tale is hampered by a few inconsistencies: “cyborg” and “android” are used synonymously, for instance, as are “Captain” and “Commander.”

An ambitious, enjoyable romp whose briskness makes its few stumbles forgivable.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-988236-32-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Spectrum Ink

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2016

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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