I received a review copy of this book from the author through Booktasters, for which my thanks.
Magical After is the first part of the first of four books set in the fantasy worlds of Atsia Major and Atsia minor. This is a world of adventure and magic but also a virtual reality world, where our characters are part of what is one could describe as a multiplayer rpg game—but of course things are not quite as simple as that.
Starting off, we meet David Gosling who is a single dad to three kids, Peter, Jimmy and London, ever since his wife Hellen died a year earlier (we only learn later how). David has not been faring particularly well, though his sister-in-law Jammie and her husband Mark have moved closer to help. Now David has learnt that he is suffering a brain tumour and must undergo surgery, which means the kids will have to stay with their aunt and uncle while he recuperates or in case the worst happens.
His wife Hellen’s company has offered to meet all expenses of his treatment but when David goes to meet with them, he learns something surprising. Hellen had been involved with developing a virtual reality world (here I was a little confused as I got the impression she was a lawyer) where anyone could be written in—in fact she herself may be somewhere in this world. The owner of the company, Carl Mathews III, offers to send David into this world, where he will be able to spend time with his children while undergoing treatment and convalescing in the real one. David is excited by the idea, more so by the fact that he might find Hellen in there once more and accepts. But soon we find that Carl III has other motives, and David and Hellen are on his list of targets.
In the story we essentially follow three threads in the fantasy/game world. We of course have David who finds himself led by Hellen (who is there but does not reveal herself to him) in one part of this world where he begins his explorations, gets certain quests, and makes his way to Opal city where he soon begins to establish himself using his real world skills. Alongside we have two former soldiers, a Gurkha Tommy Cruise (I think the name could have been better), and another hardened vet, John Taney, sent in by Carl III, to do away with David and Hellen. Tommy and John are also introduced to this world where each of them faces their own set of quests and challenges and each must also face demons and shadows from their past; but amidst all this is also the mission they were sent out to accomplish. Meanwhile Hellen is also communicating from the game with a programmer/developer in the real world Lawrence, and trying to thwart Carl III’s plans.
This was a very different book to anything I’ve read before, for even in science-fiction/fantasy reads, I haven’t read anything set inside a rpg game before (or something like one—because this was the only thing I could compare it with but here players seem to play as themselves not as predefined characters). The author has created an elaborate fantasy world with different cities, natural features, challenges and quests, and of course plenty of dangers. In this first part, we begin to become familiar with some parts of Atsia Major—Opal City, Bay City, and the City of the Dead—there are maps to help one get one’s head around the layout. And we have only barely started to explore. This is certainly a very imaginative book, and the author’s creativity stands out in this.
I enjoyed following the adventures of the three characters—David, John, and Tommy—each lands in a separate part of Atsia and ends up with different quests and also benefits (level, xp, health points, and soul points and such—this is explained as well). As in a game quests and explanatory messages keep appearing to each. I found each of the threads interesting so going back and forth between was good fun. There is both the anticipation of what adventure will befall them next and how their quest will proceed as well as of how and when they will run into each other (and what will follow).
Other characters in the game include those that are part of the game world as also other players, and I loved that the author used names which gamers usually would—Ramenboy and WhoDadi50, etc. One can also guess at who is part of the game world and who is from the real world based on these.
The writing at the start conveyed David’s whirl of thoughts and confused state of mind really well. The dialogue however, I felt could be strengthened in places, and some of the character names too, could be better. But the latter at least is just a matter of opinion. Otherwise this was an easy to read and enjoyable book (the parts where they discuss aspects of creating the game, coding and such were of course lost on me).
I am looking forward to reading the next part of the book soon (I have this) and seeing where the characters’ adventures lead them to next and how they fare in the quests they have undertaken.
3.9 rounded off to 4