Saving Thanehaven, by Catherine Jinks (Egmont, 20130, is a fun one tailor-made for the fantasy game loving ten to eleven year old.
When we first meet the hero of the story, Nobel, he is whacking his through a morass of stereotypical fantasy challenges, with no thoughts in his head beyond a. staying alive b. saving Princess Lorellina, and the realm of Thanehaven c. more staying alive. But then he meets a boy named Rufus, a boy that's not part of this normal pattern, who challenges him to think about what else he might want in life. Sure, staying alive is good, but what if Lorellina doesn't want to be rescued? What if there were Choices outside of the script that seems to have been written for him?
So Nobel casts aside his nasty-piece-of-work weapon (when there's no slaying happening, it chews on Nobel instead), and instead of sneaking up to the castle where the princess is, goes to its front gate...and subverts the story. But Rufus isn't stopping with changing Nobel's life....ever character he meets gets a passionate plea to challenge expectations (including the flock of guard gargoyles. I liked them lots). And everyone is much happier not to be fighting each other.
But then the white van comes, disgorging the keepers of what is Right, determined to restore order to the chaos Rufus has caused. For Rufus is no character in a fantasy game--he is Malware!!!!
A desperate race is on, as Rufus leads the somewhat confused, but undaunted (mostly) Nobel and Lorellina deeper into the computer, into other games, gathering other comrades, and finally to the heart of the operating system, where desperate messages must be sent to the computer's owner, a boy named Mikey, and to the real Rufus, the genius behind the hack....Is malware Rufus hero or villain? And will the computer characters retain their free will, or will they be deleted forever???
It is a wild and giddy ride of computer game fun. The pace is fast, even dizzying at times, but kids who know the basics of computer operating systems will have a pretty good roadmap of what's happening, and enjoy seeing the internal workings of a laptop brought to life in a three-dimensional maze populated by strange personified programs.
It's quite possibly a bit too one note for most adult readers, but one that I'm pretty sure will keep many kids entertained just fine. The reader realizes Rufus is a virus long before the characters within the games, and it's fun to see them struggle to grasp just how different, and strange, their world really is. And in the process, the reader gets a nice little message about challenging assumptions, as the characters are forced to ask if they are doing what they want, and what might be best, or if they are blindly following predetermined paths.
The cover of this one does a good job appealing to the audience I think would enjoy it most--the fantasy-game loving boy still on the younger edge of tweendom. Lorellina, though brave and important to the story, comes nowhere near to challenging Nobel's position as primary hero, and I don't think she was ever quite enough Present in a non-supporting character way to be someone to whom a reader can truly relate. That being said, if you are looking for a book for a girl who enjoys a good computer-generated smite, this would be a fine choice. And it reads comfortably young--building bonds of trust between friends is the important relationship here.
Recommended for those who enjoyed Vivien Vande Velde's computer game fantasy series, and especially for those who refused to read Deadly Pink because it was pink, because then you can maybe offer them that after they read this.
Here's the detail I liked most--seeing one of Catherine Jinks' earlier books, Living Hell, in which a space ship comes alive and tries to digest its passengers, presented as a computer game.
Review copy gratefully received from the publisher for Cybils Award Consideration.