Review: The Leveller by Julia Durango

Series: The Leveller #1

the leveller -julia durangoNixy 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?


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


The Leveller is a nice combination of gaming fun that doesn’t get too tech-y to annoy non-gamers but also revels in an imaginative gamer’s world. Its well-paced action and unique gaming checkpoints to complete was most definitely entertaining.

I myself am not much of a huge gamer. I play some but I’m definitely not hardcore by any means. So to enter a genre of science fiction dealing with gaming technology would be a hit or miss for me. The Leveller surprisingly bypassed my expectations of mediocrity.

The most surprising element (and probably the most enjoyable) was the varying levels of horror that our fierce protagonist, Nixy, had to face in order to reach Wyn in his custom world within the game. From fighting off giant centipedes to sharks underwater and anacondas, the suspense of getting through each level without dying and restarting had me on the edge of my seat. The unknown challenges she had to face was just as entertaining, although I wish the overall maze component of the story took up a bigger portion of the plot.

The characters were mostly fresh and original. Nixy, otherwise known as Phoenix, was spunky. She didn’t let others get her down for being a leveller. Her two best buds, Chang and Moose, also had character (if the interesting names they go by don’t already suggest that). Together, it was like watching a gaming trio do its magic on a gaming world they knew so well.

However, what stuck out even more was the gaming world building. It’s uncertain how far in the future this is set, but I’m assuming it’s to be reminiscent of the potential NEAR future. Durango really developed and described this gaming platform, the MEEP, to the minute details. It must be due to her experience as a gamer to go to such fine workings of this program. It’s interesting whether or not the idea of a virtual reality gaming experience is completely original or not. I appreciated the details because it gave me the sense of what was truly going on for Wyn and Nixy in this complex trap they found themselves in.

What could be improved for me was the abrupt ending and the romance. The twist was nice, although not necessarily unpredictable. It brought about more questions than answers which even the characters voiced out. I’m glad to see there’s a second book, but for such a short and easy read, it could’ve maybe left it at a nicer point.

As for the romance, I just didn’t feel it with Wyn and Nixy. 6 days trapped in the MEEP together can cause a lot of stressful bonding, but there just didn’t seem to be a lot connecting them. They’re attractive people? They’re under high stress? That doesn’t make it any less strange to see them kissing all of a sudden. I hope it gets a little better in the next one, but at least romance isn’t truly a strong contender in this novel.

For a book that I picked randomly to read, The Leveller overall surprised me in a good way and I look forward to seeing what comes next for Nixy and Wyn.

Overall Recommendation:
The Leveller is full of action and smartly written challenges for Nixy Bauer, our protagonist, to face as she tries to rescue some millionaire’s son. With checkpoint levels to pass in a virtual world holding Wyn captive, this story is both exciting and suspenseful as we race to get to the bottom of this crazy scheme and escape the MEEP. There’s not too much gamer-talk or references to annoy, but I’d say it would still satisfy those who enjoy this genre. Overall, it was a surprisingly easy read albeit ending abruptly with the most hideous cliffhanger. Romance lovers, this story isn’t for you, although I think you may still find some enjoyment from other areas.

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