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I don't review books I don't like!

*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
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****Heir Apparent

by Vivian Vande Velde

Reviewed January 1, 2003.
A Sonderbooks' Best Book of 2002 (#4, Young Adult and Children's Fantasy and Science Fiction)
Harcourt, New York, 2002.  315 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (JF VAN)

I didn’t intend to check this book out, since I’m trying to turn in my library books before we move to a place closer to the base.  However, the dedication caught my eye, and I found I couldn’t resist.  It reads:  “This book is dedicated with affection for but no patience with those who would protect our children through humorless moralizing and paranoia about fantasy.”

Ever since computer games were invented, there have been stories about someone getting caught in a computer game.  From “Tron” on down, most of these stories are pretty hard to believe.  Mixing some kind of magic with technology generally seems a bit silly.  Vivian Vande Velde pulls it off in a funny and actually believable story of a girl caught in a computer game.

The book starts with 14-year-old Giannine Bellisario trying to get to a Gaming Center on an artificially intelligent bus.  This way, the author neatly tells us that we’re a few years in the future.  The bus doesn’t want to let her off because there are protestors from Citizens to Protect Our Children picketing the Gaming Center.

Giannine crosses the picket line and enters the Gaming Center to use a gift certificate from her father.  She chooses “Heir Apparent,” a total immersion computer game, one that directly stimulates your brain so that you experience the game as if you were actually there.  You see, hear, feel and smell everything your character would experience.  Unless, of course, you die, in which case the adventure starts over as long as you still have time left.

It’s no surprise to the reader when the protesters from CPOC attack the center so that Giannine is stuck in the game.  Her only way to get out is to win.  And (as we would expect in this sort of book) if she doesn’t win fast enough, her life is in danger.

So, it’s a book about playing a computer game.  Yet, believe it or not, it’s great fun.  She’s a believable, likeable character, and we enjoy watching her try to figure out how to survive and avoid mistakes that killed her in the past.  The scenario of the game makes an interesting puzzle, which it’s fun to try to figure out along with her.

This book will appeal to a wide age range.  I put it with children’s books, since the character is fourteen and in eighth grade, but older kids will enjoy the story as well.  There’s no sex or graphic violence (She only gets a fizzy feeling when she dies), and nothing objectionable for a child to read.  Unless, of course, you want to protect them from fantasy.

Reviews of other books by Vivian Vande Velde:
User Unfriendly
The Rumpelstiltskin Problem
Cloaked in Red
Three Good Deeds
Wizard at Work
A Hidden Magic
A Well-Timed Enchantment
Dragon's Bait
23 Minutes

Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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