Fair warning: This is a review for a sequel. Now, while the book would work as a standalone, I think they still need to be read in order. You can find my initial review of Illusion (Book #1) here!
The Faction War in The Life ended with the digital world in flames. For Kitty, though, her *actual* world is in flames, too.
After blowing up her lab– and a small island off the coast– Dr. Catherine Hardage (aka Kitty) faces the US Senate to face the consequences of her experiment. The hearing goes awry, though, and suddenly Kitty is the pirate she’s always wanted to be– running from the US Navy in the middle of a hurricane. Meanwhile, Blacklight (the creators of The Life) approach her with an offer to beta test their new game Deadeye. Kitty agrees and is thrown into the fully-immersive, Western style game.
Nothing is as it seems, though, both in real life and in the game world. The game quickly turns into something nightmarish and twisted, and Blacklight’s hold on her real world life is questionable at best. Can Kitty evade and ultimately escape the two very different enemies that she faces?
Now, I want to start by pointing out that I didn’t do a long review of Phelps’ first book. It was a four star rated book for me. That essentially means it was good, but there was something I didn’t necessarily LOVE about it. When I first started this sequel, I knew I was going to enjoy it. A lot of the same things are true about this book, but when I tell you it HITS DIFFERENT. I mean, it hits different, okay? Let me explain.
Phelps has this intricate style of writing about him. His descriptions are rich and vivid; his action scenes are clear and easy to follow. While he does tend to be long-winded with his book (this one was 433 pages according to amazon, which I know it shooting low), there’s not really a second of wasted time. I love the raw talent that Joseph portrays in the stories that he tells. While it’ll take some time to read these books, you’ll be absolutely absorbed. I wasn’t that in with Book 1 because some of the parts seemed to drag. Maybe it was the game style, because I’ve never really been interested in GTA-style games. Either way, with this almost-too-real Western format, I loved it from the very first moment. Plus, there’s a very real sense of discovery as we follow along Kitty. She doesn’t know how the game works, and so we get to follow along as she learns. All this to say: I didn’t mind the length this time!
Last thing I have to say about style is this: This book gave me multiple goosebump moments. Books don’t often do that for me! It’s those moments that I live for, friends. They make me put the book down, say “woah” out loud, and tear up just a little bit. I’m jealous of authors that can do that for their readers. I don’t think I’m one! So let me tell you about the moments where I just was blown out of the water by this story.
- There’s a moment where a certain character (name redacted for spoiler purposes) who happens the be an NPC looks at another NPC and admits to knowing she’s a “plaything, meant to amuse beasts from another world.” Aka, she broke the virtual forth wall. When I tell you that I gasped, I mean it. This character had an absolutely heartbreaking past, and her growth and arc were just phenomenal. This was a real turning point, and it took my breath away.
- Closer to the end of the story, after the baddies have cornered them, everything’s taken a turn for the worse, and thing don’t seem to be looking up, Kitty corners one of the players and says she’s sorry. Now, I cannot and will not go into any detail for you, because that would be a HUGE SPOILER. But it’s important, because over the course of the story, Kitty admits that she tends to use and choose her friends for her own personal gain. They all have something she can benefit from. But in this scene, with this one character, she says she’s sorry for exactly that. For using this person when they needed her to not. And its just…. the character arc, you all. That did it for me.
Now, I’ve kind of already talked about the character development a little up there, but I do want to consider it just a little more. Because in this book, you see the return of several characters from book 1, and a lot of them have already changed and grown. But a few of them, I really got a deeper look at them. That needs to be discussed.
So as far as main characters go, you’ve got quite the cast: Kitty, Kurt, Jimmy, Gadot, Nels, Abraham, and Jacob. At least, those are the players. Then, there’s NPCs like Mitchel, Grace, Earl, Grandma Gore… and on and on and on. Now, I’m not going to talk about every single one of these. That would take me four years. Let’s hit on the highlights.
Kitty– Catherine Hardage is everything you want to see in a female lead. She’s intelligent, snarky, bold, ingenius, and definitely not afraid to get what she wants. I was a bit concerned about a female lead being written by a male, but there’s no issues here whatsoever. Plus, with Kitty, we get so see so much growth, as I already mentioned. Kitty goes on a bit of an emotional journey through this, and it’s heartbreaking and phenomenally written. Kurt– A return character but not one that is without change. Kurt’s always been a bit of an anomaly to me, because as the main character of the first book, I didn’t think he fit into the big shoes set for him. I understand the importance of his personality, strengths, and weaknesses. I feel Kurt and Kitty’s friendship building, if they can just understand each other. Poor Kurt’s inside Blacklight, though. Abraham– A new character! And a…. tricky one. I won’t go into deep detail, but do sum it up: the man’s a cannibal. And his backstory outside of Deadeye really builds upon that status. Abraham is by far one of the most intriguing characters in the story. I love it.
NOW Jacob– This is the villain. The baddie. The monster inside Deadeye. Except, he isn’t really your typical bad guy. Not in the traditional sense. It’s hard to explain. It’s just that, originally, his only crime in the game was to NPCs. And that’s a line that is difficult to justifiy crossing when the NPCs think, act, and speak, so much like people that you start to become confused who’s-who. I would like to have known more about Jacob outside of the game, because like unnamed-character-because-of-spoilers, it’s almost like it’s Kit’s morals that make him BECOME the baddie. Idk, okay? There’s a lot of LEVELS here.
WE MADE IT. Take a deep breath with me. Inhale. Exhale. We’re almost done.
So, Joseph Phelps is a master in what we call LitRPG, meaning that it’s a story within a story. I’ve read more GameLit than ever before since I started reviewing books, and I’m coming to really like this particular genre. What I enjoy is that there are two stories. You follow Kitty’s real life adventures escaping the US Navy, and then you follow Kit’s game life as she explores this horrible wild west with its monsters and cannibals and killer snakes. And this book is different in that Kit starts to forget what’s real and what’s a game. That was an interesting added touch.
I have no complaints about the way the plots (both real and game!) unfolded. Unlike book 1, there’s no unnecessary space. I didn’t even graze over all the specs for items, lol. It was well paced, kept my attention, and honestly, to sum it up, a breathtaking read. Well done, Joseph.
I’m giving it a bright and shiny 9/10!🙂