NOTE: I received a publisher’s ARC of Erebos via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
One Sentence Summary: Erebos has a cool central idea, but...moreNOTE: I received a publisher’s ARC of Erebos via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
One Sentence Summary: Erebos has a cool central idea, but it’s weighed down by numerous instances of poor execution.
London high school student and All-Around Average Guy Nick Dunmore doesn’t really notice that some of his schoolmates are behaving oddly until his friend Colin changes overnight from a frequent companion to a hostile acquaintance bent on ditching him. Eventually Nick finds the source of the changes: an odd, intense, and apparently omniscient MMORPG called Erebos. Those of you who know your Greek legends are probably guessing from the name that Erebos the game is bad news, and of course you’re right. The game is first intriguing, then enthralling, and finally an overwhelming addiction. Players get little sleep, try to avoid meals and bathroom breaks, and eventually miss school to stay in the game. The short list of rules is spelled out at the beginning of the game, à la Fight Club. Break the game’s rules and you’re out, with no second chances. Most disturbing of all, the game is asking players to handle tasks in the real world – and it knows without fail if you’ve completed them....
Put all that together and you have an intriguing story on your hands – and for the most part, Erebos is an entertaining read. The plot is lively, interesting, and close enough to realistic at the beginning that by the time you realize it’s strayed from the path of possible, you’re having too good a time to care. Author Ursula Poznanski believably portrays the different forms of social ostracism the game’s players mete out to those who aren’t yet in versus those who have been kicked out of Erebos. It was nice to read a book involving gamer culture that didn’t trip all over itself trying to make sure everyone reading it could easily understand it.
However, the frequent moments of clunky writing kept interrupting my fun. For instance, who calls someone “sister” in the 21st century? Not when they’re referring to a sibling or a nun, but as a supposedly everyday piece of slang, i.e., “Forget it, sister”? There are times when it feels as though the author’s throwing in random expressions out of the 1930s. I was waiting for one character to say to another, “Now you’re on the trolley!” (10 points if you get this Simpsons reference). To be fair, this book was originally published in German, so I don’t know if the odd expressions and slang are just a translation issue or if they’re a decision of the author, but they’re out of place in Erebos.
Even more off-putting are the harsh transitions: one minute Nick’s at school, and then, boom, he’s suddenly at home eating dinner or playing the game, with no information as to how or why the setting changed. I was constantly backtracking and trying to find the part I’d skipped, until I realized that’s just the way the book is. The transitions are irritating enough that my resulting frustration kept knocking me out of the story. I had much less of a problem with the constant changes in tenses (while Nick is playing the game, the story is told in present tense from the perspective of his character, whereas Nick’s life in the “real world” is written in past tense). Yes, it was odd to keep switching, but I liked the distinction the change made between the game world/Sarius and the real world/Nick.
The plot becomes less and less believable until about the last fifth of the book or so, when it goes off the rails entirely. The climax of the story is oddly small-time in scope, the ending is unsatisfying, and don’t even get me started on exactly how insane the explanations about the game’s designer and all the things he supposedly invented to make the game work are. I was also very frustrated by the fact that no main characters and only two secondary characters face any long-term negative consequences. If you wanted to consider what happens to Nick’s best friend a long-term negative consequence for them both, I suppose you could, but by the end of the story everything’s all hunky-dory. Judging by the last 10% of the book, I can easily imagine the kids brushing off everything that happened during the game and forgetting about it after a few months. On the other hand, I wasn’t invested in what most of the characters thought anyway, because the vast majority of them were throwaway, paper-doll stock stereotypes – the “depressed mom”, “bully dad”, “bitter fat chick”, “angry nerd”, etc.
Erebos has quite a few defects, but its compelling central idea is enough to keep those who start it reading until the end. The book is at its best when offering us a story of a school taken over by a maliciously addictive new trend and the choices the characters face in dealing with it. My thanks to the people at Annick Press and NetGalley for the ARC! (less)