ARC Review: The Leveller

The Leveller
The Leveller by Julia Durango

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nixy Bauer is a self-made Leveller. Her job? Dragging kids out of virtual reality and back to their parents in the real world. It’s normally easy cash, but Nixy’s latest mission is fraught with real danger, intrigue, and romance.

Nixy Bauer is used to her classmates being very, very unhappy to see her. After all, she’s a bounty hunter in a virtual reality gaming world. Kids in the MEEP, as they call it, play entirely with their minds, while their bodies languish in a sleeplike state on the couch. Irritated parents, looking to wrench their kids back to reality, hire Nixy to jump into the game and retrieve them.

But when the game’s billionaire developer loses track of his own son in the MEEP, Nixy is in for the biggest challenge of her bounty-hunting career. Wyn Salvador isn’t some lazy kid looking to escape his homework: Wyn does not want to be found. And he’s left behind a suicide note. Nixy takes the job but quickly discovers that Wyn’s not hiding—he’s being held inside the game against his will. But who is holding him captive, and why?

Nixy and Wyn attempt to fight their way out of a mind game unlike any they’ve encountered, and the battle brings them closer than either could have imagined. But when the whole world is virtual, how can Nixy possibly know if her feelings are real?

If you always wanted Inception in a gaming setting, The Leveller is sort of like that – at least in the world-building (tee-hee). So, there’s this hot new game in the world called MeaParadisus, where you can have a virtual life of your choosing, and some creative gamers can even customize their own worlds. Phoenix, or as she prefers to be called, Nix, is the daughter of a concept art designer and scriptwriter for the game, and is also a beta tester, which means she has a lot of privilege inside the game, which she uses to become a bounty-hunter for parents who want their children to leave the virtual and come back to the real. Though not strictly legal, she chooses this to save up for college tuition. When the game developer’s son barricades himself in the game, she is sent to retrieve him.

Since the Leveller is game-centric, a lot of the plot relies on the action, and it is pretty well-written to make it feel real. Nix enters simulated worlds, but depending on the creator of the world, the experience can be pretty realistic. Like Wyn’s world – in which you can even smell things. So, the game itself is a big mind game – which means things in there can affect you deeply. When she has to go through the maze, she has to face her biggest fears – and the brave girl that she is, she actually does it. She doesn’t give up, first because of rage, then because of her feelings for Wyn. After they find out what really has trapped them in the game, the pace slows down a bit for the development of romance, but I didn’t mind it.

The climax, and the betrayal – well, I wouldn’t say I didn’t see it coming, since there was a bit of clever foreshadowing earlier on. Just one line, but it hinted at who was behind it. The motive was pretty cliche, though. The ending was a bit anti-climactic, and when I reached the acknowledgements, I was like – huh? It ended? It wasn’t cliffhanger-y but things were just hurried, you know. But since there is going to be a sequel, I’ll let that one slide.

Technical aspects – world-building was good, writing was good, pacing was good, character development was pretty much non-existent. Besides Nix, none of the other characters had much depth – even Wyn. He was just the gorgeous nice guy, that’s all. Nix’s friends also didn’t get any more storyline, but since the world was pushed into the game right from nearly the start, I see that it was difficult to see the other characters. I still would have loved more to see of the romance than it’s generality – it was nothing great, considering it does drive some of the plot. Overall, a good quick read.

Received a free ARC from HarperCollins via Edelweiss; this does not influence my opinions or review.

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