Levi Jensen is, by all accounts, a loser. He failed sixth-form, never got to university, and works at a no-future fast-food restaurant. The only thing he’s good at is gaming. When his father starts dying of a new type of cancer, only treatable privately and at impossible expense, Levi’s one hope of saving him becomes the million-dollar cash-prize for winning the dark-fantasy video-game Fate of Ellaria. But Levi isn’t the only one with motivations beyond money for winning. And the price of success in Fate of Ellaria might mean the destruction of what little he has left in the real world. Save Game is a heart-breaking story of an underdog against all odds, as well as a love-letter to the beauty of video-games. Inspired by the amazing and eclectic everyday people who inhabit the gaming world, and the pain of their real-world lives, Save Game aims to show the courage of those who feel they’ve got no place in reality.
Joseph Sale writes dark fantasy and epic poetry. His first novel, The Darkest Touch, was published by Dark Hall Press in 2014. He currently writes and is published with The Writing Collective. He has authored more than ten novels, including his epic series The Book of Thrice Dead and his dark fantasy trilogy The Illuminad He grew up in the Lovecraftian seaside town of Bournemouth.
He edits non-fiction and fiction, helping fledgling authors to realise their potential. He has edited some of the best new voices in speculative fiction including Ross Jeffery, Emily Harrison, Christa Wojciechowski, and more. His short fiction has appeared in Tales from the Shadow Booth, edited by Dan Coxon, as well as in Idle Ink, Silver Blade, Fiction Vortex, Nonbinary Review, Edgar Allan Poet and Storgy Magazine. His stories have also appeared in anthologies such as Lost Voices (The Writing Collective), Technological Horror (Dark Hall Press), Burnt Fur (Blood Bound Books) and Exit Earth (Storgy). In 2017 he was nominated for The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker’ prize.
He is obsessed with Attack on Titan and Community.
3.5 Stars If you like nerdy science fiction about virtual reality and gaming as much as I do, then you should definitely check out Save Game. It’s clear from the start that the author has a deep love of all things geeky. Not surprisingly, the author has a podcast where he gets to talk about nerdy topics on a regular basis.
Given the premise for this book, people should only pick this up if they have a love (or at least an appreciation) for gaming culture. Readers who look down on those that play video games should just steer clear of this one. It won’t be for you.
This book is filled with tons of gaming and nerd references that fit the tone of the story well. There was a lot of gamer talk (“hey bro”) that was fairly authentic to the culture, even if it was a bit annoying to read. The fantasy game itself was great and actually felt like something that could exist. I really enjoyed reading the chapters that took place inside the virtual reality. Those scenes were so immersive.
The book itself was quite short and self contained in terms of plot. The reader was immediately thrust into the story with very little setup or preamble. Personally, I would have liked more time spent on development of the characters in order to flesh them out into more fully realized people. The plot was not the most original and I found most of the twists and turns to be predictable, if not a bit cliche. Still, I appreciated the backstory of the sick father, which grounded the story by giving it more emotional weight.
Overall, I enjoyed getting lost in this fun adventure story full of action and emotion. I would recommend Save Game to fellow gaming nerds looking for a new geeky story to read.
Disclaimer: I requested a copy of this book from the author for review.
If you’ve followed any of my reviews or writing stuff, you’ll know that I connected with Joseph last year and had the pleasure of beta reading his release ‘Beyond the Black Gate.’
Now, Sale returns – and what a return this is. ‘Save Game’ is a complex, layered story of the desperation and lengths you’ll go to save your loved ones. The book follows, Levi. A dedicated gamer who is struggling to wrap his head around the idea that his father is seriously ill and if they don’t come up with the money for the potentially life-saving surgery – he’ll die.
What follows is a stunning narrative that weaves nostalgia together to create a sweeping landscape.
At times I felt like I was reading a mash-up of Labyrinth with A Monster Calls with The Wizard. We get a challenge – Levi must save his father – then we get the majestic scope that is the game. Every time that Levi logged in to play, Sale transports us back into an ever-changing and ever-expanding world. Level after level, more and more depth is introduced, keeping us engaged but also wanting us to believe in our main character – as well as the secondary characters that get introduced along the way. I loved the little interludes, the moments when Levi would log off and check back into the real world.
Finding his mother growing more despondent and angry as his father’s condition worsened. Levi’s escape was to re-enter the game, a game that would reward him handsomely if he successfully defeated it.
Interestingly – I’ve never been a big gamer. I had a Nintendo when it first came out and have great memories of playing the original games, but as time went on, I mainly played NHL or MLB games before stopping altogether. It’s just not something I enjoy. Saying that – don’t let any personal issues/negative connotations regarding video games deter you or affect your reading enjoyment here.
Sale makes the gameplay portions feel very cinematic and even the in-game chat features, he utilizes effectively as a communication device.
‘Save Game’ is another stunning entry into Sale’s ever-growing bibliography. There are simply no limits to his imagination and you can be certain that whatever topic or world he’s tackling – the depth and detail that will be brought to it will be hands down the best out there. I’m a bit speechless after having read this book and hope that there is a second project with Levi set up in the future.
Contender for book of the year and very well maybe my favourite thing I’ve read from Sale.
Author Joseph Sale is at it again, a master of creating worlds and putting his readers slap bang in the middle of them – one would say that Sale’s signature is a deranged mix of Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, infused with the cinematic brilliance of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, garnished with the rich tapestry of George RR Martin’s brilliant epic that is Game of Thrones. But having mentioned these titans and drawing comparisons with them, it is also doing a disservice to Sale; as his work is always fresh, always breathtaking and always uniquely original.
If the world he created in Gods of the Black Gate and Beyond The Black Gate are his best to date (and trust me they are) then – Save Game is his magnum opus.
Save Game follows the life of Levi Jensen, a protagonist, if we’re all honest with ourselves we can all identify with, not just because he is written superbly by Sale, but because he’s a loser, he failed sixth-form and never got off to university (okay some of us may have achieved this but what a difficult time it was… that late teenage angst). Levi works in a dead end job with no prospects, the only thing he’s good at, is gaming, and that doesn’t pay, well not at the moment anyway.
Sale delivers a story that is bang on with popular culture, only last week I was reading about children going nuts over Fortnite crashing and parents threatening to sue the games makers for allowing this to happen, and the subsequent disruption of this causing adverse affects on their child’s emotional well-being (here’s a little tip – why don’t you limit the amount of time your kid plays on the computer, maybe even engage them in a conversation or turn the bloody thing off once in a while, or better yet give them a book to read) – but anyway, it’s the immersive world of gaming that Sale focuses on, and now with fully immersive Virtual Reality Games (to quote my Nana ‘Where will it all end?’) – Sale is painting a picture of a very dark and a very relevant future, you can honestly see what he’s writing coming to pass in a few years time. Like the great Philip K Dick – Sale has his finger on the pulse of technological advancements and paints a future we can literally see, if we take the VR headset off or look up from our phones once in a while!
As the story continues under the masterful stewardship of Sale we soon discover that Levi’s father has been struck with an affliction, a new type of cancer, that is only treatable privately and at an impossible expense for someone that’s working a dead end job. Levi’s only hope of saving his father is by winning the million-dollar cash-prize of the dark-fantasy video-game ‘Fate of Ellaria’. A fully immersive game that has swept the globe and broiled competitors up into a frenzy of determined gamer’s each one with their own reasons for winning the cash prize, and each one willing to do anything they can to win, even selling their own soul.
Again Sale has brought the real life into this most beguiling of reads, and has quite possibly predicted a near future – I first read this book a good year or so ago, and Sale’s writing, his predictions seem to be coming to the fore – again I cite the recent world cup of Fortnite, a global competition which offered a winning prize fund of $3 million – that’s crazy money, but gives an added edge to the things Sale writes coming to pass – and grounds the story in the here and now.
The key to Save Game is the fully realised and rich cast of characters that Sale has painstakingly given life to, not only the real life characters (outside of the game) that we grow to love and follow with a deep yearning, but also their online avatars – each are so deftly created that they become almost one with their hosts bodies. It’s a bit like the way we portray to the world a different us via social media profiles, or online gaming profiles – heaven forbid we show we are fallible, or weak, or not as pretty as the rest.
But it’s these deep characters, their relatability and the connections that the reader makes with them that make Save Game that much more enjoyable, the scope and the mastery that Sale has breathtakingly administered gives the book a quite epic scope – things will never be the same again.
Sale also moves at ease from science fiction to fantasy, and really showcases his writing chops – offering us breathtaking imagery, insanely rich set pieces and a stunning line up of characters (the breathtaking visuals that Sale weaves reminded me at times of the film The Fall with it’s beautifully constructed set-pieces and epic / iconic feel) – from the love interest, to the sacrificial pawn, to the evil son-of-a-bitch that is destroying everyone and everything in their pursuit for the cash prize – but all of this is wrapped up in a stunning visual masterclass of cinematic proportions!
Save Game is triumph! One of the most richly woven pieces of fantasy that I’ve ever read. Sale’s mastery of the genre in Save Game is startling, his characters both fresh and unique, his plot sharply woven, intricate and beguiling in equal measure. All of these things contribute to making Save Game an arrestingly earth shattering experience – true unadulterated brilliance on every page!
Joseph Sale spins a great yarn here, altering between video game addict Levi’s mundane and often depressing real life, and his thrilling VR adventures in a sprawling fantasy world. The home chapters are involving and grounding, and it’s in these parts that most of the heart hammers fall. The game chapters, meanwhile, are to the reader just what they are to Levi – escapism. The world of the game has a deep lore, frantic battles, and interactions with NPCs and fellow gamers which keep the quest interesting.
One of the intriguing aspects of Save Game is that the reader is never entirely sure what’s best for the relatable main character; should he quit the game and spend precious time with his dying father, distant girlfriend, and concerned mother, or should he follow his passion and lose himself in the game completely, the only place he truly belongs?
This is the knife edge along which Levi – and the reader – treads throughout, and it’s this that gives Save Game its true depth. This simple story is darker than it first appears (although Sale fans shouldn’t be surprised by this); the lines between reality and fantasy are blurred, motivations are questioned, and the role of technology in our lives is put very much under the microscope. Dangerously addictive or a blissful and necessary escape? Is the character’s journey about winning the game and saving his father, or is it an internal battle – can he see beyond the game and realise what’s truly important before his relationships suffer?
After finishing Save Game, I’m no closer to an answer than I was before. I won’t go into details of the ending, only to say that it is not necessarily as simple as it first appears, and will leave you thinking.
This is a quick and engaging read, and it’s very enjoyable for it. However, I would have liked more time in Levi’s home life and his interactions with friends and family. I also would have liked more of the game’s fantasy world. It’s all very well described and suitably atmospheric, but it has such an epic feel and I felt I was only scratching the surface. At one point the character muses over how he prefers games with full world maps to explore over games with ‘click and teleport’ explorations (and I heartily agree, having grown up on the classic Final Fantasy games), and it sometimes feels like Levi is jumping from one location to the next without the necessary sense of scale. The novel works perfectly well as it is, but it also has the sense that it could have been much more immersive and epic.
None of that takes anything away from Save Game, however. This is a thrilling and touching story, with far more depth than initially appears. Highly recommended.
Levi is about to lose his father but he has hopes of saving him by winning a contest in the VR world. The author pulls you willingly into Levi's life both in real world and virtual, making you care about both. I struggled with the story in the first few chapters but soon fell into the cadence the author set and I couldn't wait to read more. I loved the ending and enjoyed the wrap up of characters involved.
This is the story of Levi; Brummie, drop out, son of a dying father and gamer. It’s also the story of Levi, vampire monk who battles to win the Fate of Ellaria, a game with a million in prize money for the first to defeat it. Levi wants the money to pay for an operation for his dad, but the game is so detailed, so real that playing it becomes important in itself. Both the game and real life stories are compelling. The characters are likable. The game is magnificent. I couldn’t put this down. It’s a love story to gamers and people if all walks of life. I highly recommend.
I entered 'Save Game' by Joseph Sale already a fan of his fantasy and horror writing, though I knew I was about to engage in something entirely new. Once again, I'm in awe of Sale's shifting writing identities—here, he's mastered the gaming/virtual reality genre (if that's a thing). Yet there's one thing that remains in all his writing, which is his heart.
'Save Game' is the type of book that could be a quick one-day read or something to savor. Personally, I had to take my time with it. I'm not a gamer, and it took a bit to get myself centered in this Universe. I was hoping for more of a 50/50 split between Levi's real life and his virtual one, though it's clear where Sale's intentions and love was. His writing is strongest in the battle scenes—every detail was vivid, something I admire in a writer. Action scenes are very, very hard!
There was a time when I could get lost in video game adventures (Final Fantasy VIII being my jam) and by the end, I could remember that fond connection I had with the characters. After such an investment, they begin to feel like real family & friends, and Sale really brings that concept home.
I do think because of the little time spent on Levi's actual life, we don't get that same amount of love & connection with the actual family, which is what Levi's playing for in the first place. But then again, this could also be seen as a story of Levi's personal progression as he plays the game. He starts off feeling like he's "flunked" everything. The game represents one thing he can be good at, which is the kind of hope & promise I think we all look for when most of our life feels like one failed test after another.
In the end, it's a book with definite re-read qualities, and I look forward to time spent in this universe again—whether it's with another run at 'Save Game' or the next chapter in Levi's life!