Let me start this review by saying that Cody Leet (author) and James Highfield (narrator) took me on a quite unexpected and enjoyable journey into a new and exciting world called “Spheria”. The book is a technology thriller containing all the expected mystery, intrigue, and suspense, but it also included a uniquely different and unusual virtual world simulation where creatures come together into a clan all having many of the same goals and desires we have. The world from the inside looks much like our own as creatures live, die, and breed. They all face trials and tribulations along with love and even some romance. Be warned that there are even a few places that are quite emotional. This virtual world has set laws and rules defined by its creators which the participants create their own lore around them and passing it down to future generations. Like with the virtual world, this book grows on you the deeper you go down the rabbit hole. Even though the book has its flaws, the story is engaging and enjoyable enough that they do not matter. I was entertained much of the way and that really is what a book like this is intended to do; goal accomplished.
For me, both the physical and virtual worlds were detailed and for the most part colorful. I felt the main characters in the physical world could have been a bit more three-dimensional, but the virtual characters (Polyans) often made up for it. I enjoyed the back story of Max and his desire of coding and gaming in what is today considered retro technology, and I want to thank the author for making me feel both nostalgic and old at the same time. We are given a brief understanding of quantum computing and the reasons this technology has been so evasive to harness. With a new way of thinking, our main character is able to come up with a way of controlling this powerful technology and it comes as no surprise that the military sees this new tool as the next best mean of winning at war. No longer is war about who has superior firepower as much as it is about who has superior processing power. The book does a decent job of switching between these two very different worlds, yet at the beginning I found things confusing until I realized this switching occurred during each new chapter. I also liked the author’s reference to the Game of Life and how Spheria has become that in our modern quantum time.
I thought the author did a good job of creating a very different world than ours along with quite different creatures inhabiting it. It was not your typical human-like creatures, but instead more like a blending of spiders and crabs having different leg counts. Those with more legs were seen as being the more powerful and respected ones. These creatures also face similar struggles as any explorer or founders of a new world would. They have to find food, shelter, and work together to survive. As I continued listening, the book reminded me of the movie “The 13th Floor” when it comes to virtual world simulations and their complexity. I could see an entire series written just about the world of Spheria and the creatures who live there. The author also threw in some references to things I enjoy like: Stuff You Should Know (Shoutout to Chuck and Josh), Gizmodo, and the Wow signal. Even though the hacking components of the story were a bit farfetched, they seemed to fit the rest of the book. If I had to call out a weakness, I would say the book at times was somewhat predictable and had many of the standard techno-thriller tropes such as the dark and mysterious military, the break between worlds often kept the book engaging and light-hearted. On a personal side note, I could have done without the introductory chapter quotes, but that is really a preference.
James Highfield did a very good job narrating the book. I will say that the virtual world characters took some getting used to and I would have preferred to have less sound effects added to their voices, but it grows on you over time. The books pacing, and inflection were decent for a relatively new narrator; as the time of this review. I do not recall any issues with the audio nor were there any audio inconstancies. The audiobook quality was professional, and the narrator’s voice was clear and rich.
For parents and younger readers. The book has some light romance and a few areas where profanity is used. The book additionally has a few areas were sexual humor is used along with a few negative religious overtones. There are some quite graphic and violent scenes along with a story thread around suicide which may not be appropriate for younger audiences.
In summary, I found the book enjoyable and predictable at times. The physical world seemed a little too flat for my liking, but again this was often offset by the fun virtual world. There were times when I thought things were going to go one direction and the author took me another, there were also a few twists and turns along the way. I liked that the book was self-contained, yet the author does leave a few open ends that could point to future books taking place in this world. As I stated earlier, it would be interesting to have a book devoted just to the backstory and lore involving the virtual colony world. I will have to keep my eyes and ears open.
Disclaimer: I was voluntarily provided this review copy audiobook at no charge by the author, publisher and/or narrator.