We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Flashback post!

Bibliographic Information

Audiobook $19.60
Paperback $6.43
Hardback $120.00
Kindle $12.99
Associated ISBNs 9780140071078
9780143039976 — Paperback
9780143129547 — Paperback
9780606039505 — DEMCO Turtleback
9780141191454 — Paperback
9781101530658
9780891906230 — Hardcover
9780899685328 — Hardcover
9781448719518 — Glued Binding
9781435262225 — Glued Binding
9780822212263 — Paperback
9780445083219 — Paperback

Readers Annotation

A family tragedy has isolated two girls from the village that hates them.

Rating (VOYA)

3P, 5Q

This is an older novel, and it is a Gothic novel. While Gothic is more approachable than Horror, this still isn’t something some people are going to want to read.

This is a beautifully written novel full of feels.

Summary

Here we go. This isn’t really a spoiler, considering it’s been out since the ’60s, so I’m not trying to hide the summary today.

So the set-up is thus: Merricat, her sister Constance, and their Uncle Julian live in Blackwood manor. The rest of their family was tragically killed via arsenic poisoning.

The booke opens with Merricat needing to go to the village to get library books, groceries and stop to get a coffee (because routines are good). The whole time she’s running her errands she is thinking about how much the villagers hate her (and her family) and how much she would like to kill them all. Merricat stops for her coffee in the diner and gets cornered by one of the villagers who starts talking about how horrible the Blackwoods were, and how no one likes them, and how Constance murdered them all. When Merricat is finally able to escape she dashes home.

Constance never leaves the manor. Uncle Julian is half-infirmed due to the poisoning. Merricat keeps promising to be nicer to him. Constance gets two visitors. The second visitor asks about the poisoning. Uncle Julian starts telling her all about that fateful day. How everyone was sitting for breakfast except for Merricat (who was sent to her room with no food). The arsenic was in the sugar. Constance had washed the bowl because she had said there was a spider in it. The police could never convict her of the crime. The women visitors leave.

Merricat runs wild through the manor’s grounds, checking on her tailsmans which ward away the villagers and the bad things, in Merricat’s mind.

Soon, their cousin Charles comes to the manor. He insinuates himself into their lives. He starts to monopolise Constance’s time, starts wearing the girls’ father’s things, starts talking about money and more. He starts saying that Uncle Julian should be in a home. And he starts to try and punich Merricat for her behavior. He suggests she go to a bording school.

Somewhere between Charles arriving and the end of the book Constance brings up Merricat murdering the rest of the family.

Merricat gets so mad that she goes up to their father’s (now Charles’) room and knocks his cigarette (still smoking) in the trash, setting a fire. Soon the whole second floor of the manor is on fire. Charles keeps trying to get the safe out of the house (only concerned with the money). Constance and Merricat get out. The girls run from the manor. The villagers have come and have started wishing the manor would burn down. Eventually they convince themselves to put out the fire. They start pulling things from the manor and destroying things inside. The chase the girls and find Uncle Julian dead. They then realise they should leave.

The girls never leave the manor again. They don’t fix the manor. People start leaving them appology food on their doorsteps and time passes. The girls are happy in their home.

Evaluation

Ok people, here it is: We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I was on a old school horror kick when I got into Shirley Jackson, and here we are. I listened to The Haunting of Hill House while on vacation, and wanted to try another of the Gothic Queen’s books, and so enter We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

I don’t think I ever really read Gothic fiction before Shirley Jackson. I don’t know what I expected from Gothic fiction, but it wasn’t this. I think I had a more horror mind-set then Gothic, and they’re not necessarily the same thing. Gothic is this disquieting mood… it can be scary but its more about that feeling of quiet horror, of something not quiet right. This whole book is disquieting. Its not necessarily about the twists and turns (in fact they are pretty predictable in some ways) but it is about the characters and their feelings and the feeling that the story itself provokes.

Our characters are very fleshy. Merricat is a disquieting sociopathic-ish girl, who wants all the villagers to die and loves her sister. Her sister Cathy is a recluse (not by choice) and longs to be part of society but has embraced this secluded life they lead now. Uncle Julian is addled from arsenic poisoning, and Cousin Charles has come to prey upon their naivety and seclusion to get to their money. Some villagers have individual personalities, but for the most part they’re all lumped into the “they hate the Blackwoods” camp.

The mood of the book is visceral. You can feel Merricat’s dislike of the villagers and you can feel the villager’s hate for the Blackwoods.

The Blackwood home is a character in of itself. Its old, majestic and depressing. Home to the girls, memories and terrible tragedy.

Really, Jackson’s prose is on point here. This is some well crafted fiction. Its dripping with creepy vibes. This is a more accessible read than The Haunting… was, at least for me. I didn’t get lost in this story (though maybe that was the point with The Haunting…). I was absorbed in every word and every moment. I knew what was going on, I knew where it was going, but I was still riveted to see what was going to happen.

This isn’t a story of twists and turns. This is a story of feeling. And those feelings are exquisite.

Genre

Gothic

Horror

Readalikes

Tresspass by Rose Tremain

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

(Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier)

Significance

Shirley Jackson’s last novel, and her only non-paranormal novel. (Arguably her best novel)

Book Discussion Questions and Ideas

Discuss the villagers and their feelings about the Blackwoods.

Talk about Cousin Charles.

Discuss how the girls/villagers reacted to the fire.

Author’s website

Shirley Jackson

Awards

none (Won Time’s best novels of 1962)

YALSA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults: Unreliable Narrators: Don’t Believe a Word (2016)

Reviews

PW

Kirkus (if working)

Why I Chose It

I had listened to The Haunting of Hill House and found it intriguing (and entirely unexpected) and wanted to try this one (toted as Jackson’s other great work).

Other Information

Coming to a theater near you! (2017 release date?)

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Cry Wolf

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Bibliographic Information

Audiobook $12.99
Paperback $6.00
Hardback $3.98
Kindle $2.99
Associated ISBNs 9780441016150
9780441018482 — Hardcover
9780425261323 — Hardcover
9781841497945 — Paperback
9781440630811

Readers Annotation

They may have mated, but there’s still trials ahead.

Rating (VOYA)

4Q, 4P

Pretty well written with no glaring plot holes, though the feel can get wonky with all the different POVs.

It’s a paranormal romance! People love those!

Summary

Here we go!

Okay, so this book picks up immediately where the novella Alpha & Omega leaves off. Bran and Anna are going to Anna’s apartment to pack up her stuff to take to Oregon, and Charles is locked up with the Chicago pack’s doctor in a werewolf proof cell in the pack HQ. Anna and Bran are being escorted by some of Anna’s old pack. Anna’s apartment is sparsely furnish (what with her being poor and all). Anna and Bran manage to pack up like 2 meager boxes before they get a call to go to Charles because he’s being a surly injured werewolf.

Anna and Bran get over to Charles at Chicago pack HQ and Bran warns Anna that hurt!Charles in wolf form is pretty vicious. Anna goes in and Charles gets all defensive of her but is otherwise fine. Bran decides that they all need to fly home that night (to get to a funeral). Charles stays in wolf form the entire flight as Bran (literally) flies them home to Aspen Creek.

Bran, Anna and Charles go to Charles’ home. Anna feels like she doesn’t belong in such a nice place with Charles, and Charles senses her anxiety and changes back even though it will slow his healing. Anna freaks out a little and eventually they calm down and go to bed.

The funeral is awkward. The man was a werewolf gone wrong and Bran had had to kill him. The town was angry that Bran had killed him. So there were glances and a general mood of discontent as Bran and his family showed up. Sam, Charles’ brother, gives a soliloquy and the family does a song. Anna, sitting in the pew watching, gets confronted by Asil, a semi-mad werewolf sitting behind her. Charles gets defensive. Asil says Bran should have killed him when he asked him to.

Bran tells Sam to look at Charles’ wounds (from before) and discovers there was still some silver in there, which is why it was taking him so long to heal. Bran tells Charles there might be a thing that he will need Charles to look into when he’s better (and more settled with Anna).

That night Bran summons Charles because a ranger has been attacked by a were. The situation cannot be left alone while Charles heals. Bran tells him he needs to go investigate. Anna tells Charles she’s going with him. Charles tries to protest, but Bran says it might be good for them, and a good way to bond.

So they pack up all the winter gear and head up the mountain to find the lone wolf. They camp in the snow and eat a lot of food. They eventually get attacked by a large werewolf. Charles chases after the were. Anna meets Mary, a “ranger.” Then gets attacked by a were. Charles comes back and acts all lovey and backs up Anna’s story. Charles and Anna get caught up in a witches spell (the witch is Mary, formerly Mariposa). Anna manages to free them and Charles drives the witch away. 

They meet up with Walter in the woods that night when they try to stay warm despite losing all their gear. Walter instantly latches onto Anna, and Anna to him. Charles and Walter do their wolf thing to keep Anna warm that night.

Asil realizes that the witch up on the mountain is the witch that’s been stalking him nearly all his life. So he heads up the mountain to help Charles and Anna.

In the morning Walter takes Charles and Anna to the cabin he knows of that he used to stay in, figuring that was where the witch had holed up. Asil gets tricked into helping Mariposa (because her wolf guardian is his former mate’s soul, sort of). Charles sets the cabin on fire and the three start down the mountain. 

Bran realizes what’s going on and heads up to help Charles. He gets caught by the witch and cuts off his pack ties so that she can’t get to his pack through him. Charles, Anna and Walter find Asil’s car and head back up the mountain following his tracks.

Bran worries that if Mariposa tries to make him kill Charles that he’ll go beserker again (like he did when his evil mother tried to make him kill Sam once upon a time). Asil lures away his wife. Charles takes on the witch. Anna tries to help. Charles has to fight Bran. Walter takes a hit from the witch to save Anna, killing him. Anna kills the witch. She worries Bran has killed Charles, but he’s still alive. She’s able to use her omega abilities to calm Bran and Charles. Asil’s mate disappears. Everyone’s ok. And Bran buries Walter as part of the clan.

Everything basically works out.

Evaluation

So, like a lot of other people (apparently) I made the mistake of thinking this was the first book in the series. Technically it is, and we didn’t have too much figuring out what was going on, but really the first story in this series is a short story titled: Alpha and Omega.

This may be a controversial opinion, but I may like this series just a bit more than Mercy Thompson’s series. I think that mainly boils down to Charles. Charles is a badass (but a total puppy when it comes to Anna), but he’s also pretty quiet and can keep things close to the vest. I also love the aspect of Brother Wolf. Plus, Charles just has this way of just deadpan saying things…. I just really like Charles you guys.

Anna is sweet, if a little beaten up. Its clear she’s had a rough time of it (boy does her last 5 years or so suck). So naturally she’s pretty meek and her life feels a bit out of control. She did just meet Charles and their already mated. The poor girl is struggling to re-find herself. So, she’s sympathetic character. I think the way Patricia Briggs handles Anna’s past is pretty good. There are some moments where I found myself wondering how Anna isn’t worse off with all the past brutalizing and all, but it all seems to work out mostly.

I almost forgot our favorite Vietnam Vet Walter! And that would’ve been bad. Walter is the tragic hero we deserve. I don’t know what it is about Walter, the ‘Nam vet with serious PTSD, but we loved him (even though Vietnam Vet with PTSD is a huge cliche and we’d always sigh and say “‘Nam” every time). There’s something about Walter.

There’s Bran (Mr. Mysterious aka Charles’ dad aka leader of all the North American werewolves) and Asil (the half mad seer running pretty literally from his past). Plus all the side characters and the big bad witch.  All of whom had their own flavor and personality.

Setting= pretty darn good. Though really you only get a feel for Charles’ home and the side of the mountain.

Plot? Not bad. Semi-mystery, action-y, romance-y tale. I can’t say it was unbelievable (because paranormal romance), but it didn’t have super gaping plot holes (which is always nice). Didn’t super appreciate the random chapters in other characters heads always, but it was interesting to get their side of the story at times.

I liked it a lot, and we really enjoyed the narrator for the audiobook (even though he changes the way he voices people in the second book).

Genre

Urban Fantasy

Paranormal Romance

Readalikes

The Undead Pool by Kim Harrison

Full Blooded by Amanda Carlson

Significance

… Half native american werewolf?

Book Discussion Questions and Ideas

What do you think of the way the author handled Anna’s past?

What do you think about the way Bran runs his pack?

Discuss Charles and his abilities.

Author’s website

Patricia Briggs

Awards

Reviews

Amazon

Goodreads

Why I Chose It

Wanted a Paranormal Romance for a trip.

Other Information

 

Bird Box

Bibliographic Information 

Audiobook $28.88
Paperback $10.83
Hardback $25.99
Kindle $7.99
Associated ISBNs 9780062259653
9780062259660
9780062259677
9780062326928 — Paperback

 

Readers Annotation

Don’t open your eyes.

Rating (VOYA)

5Q, 4P

This book is superbly written. Its detailed in the right places and vague in the right places. It really makes you feel the situation.

I want so bad to give this book all the high marks, but its a 4P because not everyone enjoys a horror novel (even one as great as this one).

Summary

All of the Spoilers ahead (in chronological order)!

In the beginning, it started with one incident in Russia. Malorie is living with her sister Shannon. Malorie finds out that she’s pregnant. There are more incidents, and they’re spreading. Shannon gets more paranoid as they cross the ocean and occur in Alaska. People start blocking their eyes and covering their windows. Malorie doesn’t believe yet. 

An incident occurs in Michigan by Malorie and Shannon’s parents home. The sisters call their parents. Soon the incidents are widespread. Malorie and Shannon have holed up in their apartment and covered all the windows. They don’t hear from their parents anymore. Malorie hears something upstairs one day and goes up to check on Shannon. Part of a window has been uncovered. Malorie finds Shannon dead in the bathroom.

Malorie remembers seeing an ad in the newspaper that said there was a house offering shelter. No longer able to stay where her sister has died, she somehow drives to the town and home. At the home they let her in and pat her down. 

The roommates tell Malorie about the creatures and of their situation. The cellar is packed with canned food. There’s a well in the backyard. Everyone takes turns doing chores (like emptying the wastebuckets). Tom is the outgoing guy. Don is the paranoid guy. Jules has the dog (Victor). There’s Cheryl and the other guy. Tom has ideas. He wants to explore other houses for stuff, he wants to do things. The group calls random numbers hoping to contact anyone.

There’s another knock on the door and Olympia joins the group. She too is pregnant. She had been living next door. She heard them one night and made her way over to them blind.

Tom wants to find dogs (and use them as seeing eye dogs). He and Jules explore the block blind. They find a tent in the road and note that that is weird. They come back 2 days later with two huskies.

Then Gary shows up. Gary tells the group about his former group. They were not military but became militant, except for Frank. Frank wrote in journals and thought there was no harm to the creatures. He escaped one day after taking down all of the window coverings. Gary left after that.

Malorie is suspicious of Gary. She nicks his suitcase one night and rifles through it, finding “Franks’s” journal. She wants to tell the group. Don has grown close to Gary and she doesn’t trust him.

When Tom eventually comes back, she blurts out what she’s found out about Gary. The roommates kick Gary out.

Don holes up in the basement. Eventually the roommates get Don out of the basement and both Malorie and Olympia go into labor. There’s a storm raging, and they take the two women to the attic to give birth. There’s a fight on downstairs which sounds like it turns violent. Then Gary appears in the attic. Don has uncovered all the windows, and Gary is crazy. 

Malorie gives birth first as a creature comes up to the attic. Olympia gives birth and sees the creature. Malorie pulls Olympia’s baby towards her and covers both of their eyes. Olympia jumps out the window and hangs herself with her umbilical cord. Gary and the creature leave.

The phone rings. Malorie traverses the house with her eyes closed, stepping unknowingly around the bodies of the roommates as she goes in order to answer the phone. Its a man and he says there’s a safe place down the river and tells her how to get there.

4 YEARS LATER

Malorie has decided that she and the children are leaving. She recalls that they have not had much of a childhood and that she may have been cruel to them.

She has trained them to awaken with their eyes closed. She has trained them to hear everything. 

She knows that it is foggy outside and decides that today they will take the river. She grabs the children and some food and they head to the little rowboat in the river. 

Malorie puts the boy in front and the girl in back and sits in the middle to row, blindfolded down the river.

They get stuck on a bank, run into a crazy man on a boat, and get attacked by some wolves (who injury Malorie). Malorie wishes she had Victor, but he went mad after seeing a creature when she went to get microphones and amplifiers.

A creature stands in front of them and tries to take off Malorie’s blinfold as they approach the split in the river, but she tells it not to take it off her and it listens and walks away. Malorie needs to take the middle right arm of the river, which means she needs to open her eyes. She does and marvels at the brightness of the world before putting on her blindfold again. They take the split and are hauled ashore at the compound and welcomed warmly. They see that some people have been blinded and are afraid, but the man in charge explains that they don’t do that anymore.

Evaluation

Straight up: This was a great book.

Its creepy. There’s a real emphasis on different feelings and senses. It evokes different feelings from other horror novels. Its atmospheric.

This book is not going to jump scare you, this book isn’t a slasher flick. This is a creeping horror that sets right into your bones and seeps. This sits with you. It leaves you feeling creeped out and gross.

Its amazing.

I went in with zero expectations (though high hopes). And it was amazing. At one point I picked it up, knew I couldn’t finish it in one sitting and knew that I had to do it in one go and so put it back down.

The setting is creepy. Its not super described, but you get the feeling of it. And really, that’s what the book is all about.

Our characters are well thought out and shown (and boy did it drive me up a wall not to know why Boy and Girl didn’t have names). Malorie is an interesting character, and the choices she makes are hard. The roommates are different archetypes that work well for the story, without being one dimensional or stereotypical. Gary freaked me right out, and he wasn’t even that big of a role! …..Gary…..

I loved that we got NOTHING about the creatures (and really that’s the crux of the story: to know is to go mad), except that there are creatures and you will go crazy if you see them.

The plot unfolded beautifully. Jumping between two periods of time really kept the reader in the dark about certain parts of the book and led to a dramatic climax.

This isn’t my new obsession, but it is a stupendous book.

A great creepy read.

Genre

Apocalyptic

Horror

Readalikes

The Silence by Tim Lebbon

World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters

Significance

Creepy and sensory, with minimal other-worldly aspects

Book Discussion Questions and Ideas

Why do you suppose Malorie didn’t name the children?

Would you have trained the children like Malorie did?

How would you have reacted to the news in the beginning of the story?

Author’s website

Josh Malerman

Awards

LibraryReads Favorites: 2014

YALSA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults: Horror: Better Dead than Unread (2017)

Reviews

Kirkus

PW

Why I Chose It

I heard about Malerman’s newest book on a podcast and they also talked about how great this one was, so I decided to try this one first.

Other Information

I’m very excited to say that this is my first book that I’ll actually be leading a discussion on! Can’t wait!

A Darker Shade of Magic

 

Bibliographic Information 

Audiobook $25.96
Paperback $16
Hardback $15.46
Kindle $9.99
Associated ISBNs 9780765376459
9780765376466
9781466851375

Rating (VOYA)

5Q, 4P

This book is so good. It deserves that 5Q its so well done, and the only reason that its a 4P is because I know there are people out there who don’t like Fantasy.

Readers Annotation

The balance between Londons is out of whack and only one man can save them all.

Summary

I don’t know if I can do this book any justice, and I really want to avoid the SPOILERS, so this will probably be a less detailed summary than usual. But for funzies here’s what V.E. Schwab had to say about her own book on Goodreads (which is super accurate tbh):

“–Magic

–Cross-dressing thieves

–(Aspiring) pirates

–Londons (plural)

–Sadistic kings (and queens)

–A royal who is equal parts Prince Harry and Jack Harkness

–More magic (blood magic, elemental magic, bad magic, etc. etc.)

–Epic magicky fights scenes

–Angst!

–And coats with more than two sides”

So Kell is one of the only Antari left (magician, two different eyes, able to travel between worlds). He works for the Red throne (obvs in Red London). He bops between Red, White and Grey London giving messages from monarchs to other monarchs.

SPOILERS?!?!

So, Kell has this habit of bringing things from other worlds back to Red London (which he’s not supposed to do). Rhy finds out and yells at him. Kell lives in the Red castle with the royal family and is a “family member”…. but Kell knows he’s not really family (except to Rhy, who loves Kell to death and whom Kell would do anything). 

So Kell goes to White London, which is ruled by these creepy tyrants (the Dane twins) and their pet Antari Holland. They’re clearly up to something and after drugging Kell they convince him to take something with him to Red London.

This something turns out to be something from Black London (the London that went magic mad and tried to take over all the Londons… its supposed to be dead and gone).

Kell ends up in in Grey London, Lila steals the rock from Black London. Hijinks ensue, and assassins come for Lila and Kell. The two team up and Kell ends up taking Lila with him back to Red London. They split up, as Kell needs to talk to the royals about what the Danes are up to.

Turns out, the Danes have taken over Rhy’s body, Lila infiltrates a party and Kell tries to rescue his brother. Rhy dies, Kell freaks out and uses the Black rock to bind their lives together, giving life back to Rhy. The catch is that whatever happens to one of them will happen to the other. Kell doesn’t care, he needs his brother.

Kell and Lila go to White London to take on the Danes (and Holland).

Evaluation

Look guys, this is my new favorite book.

I heart this book with a passion. So much so that I bought the whole series in hard cover after I got through with this one.

This is the best.

I feel like I’ve said that before (coughtReadyPlayerOnecough), but this is my JAM!

Fantasy, Urban Fantasy (any Fantasy) is right in my wheelhouse. After finishing the (admittedly awesome) Readers Advisory class that started this blog, I knew I wanted to read something I KNEW I was going to love. This was on my list. It took forever to get to it (what with the whole graduating/final portfolio thing that was the first half of this year), but when I did… Whoo boy!

… Insert all the Fangirling here.

It is so hard for me to look at this book objectively. I just love it so much.

The characters are great. Kell is such a compelling lead. He is trying to maneuver through all this political drama, he has issues with his family, and then he picks up this thief. Speaking of the thief in question: Delilah Bard. Lila is my new favorite heroine. Her personal motto: you can’t have too many knives (after all, who knows how many bitches you may need to stab?). She’s a badass teenager with trust issues (from living on the streets) but she is such a witty girl. These two are a winning pair. Look, most of the focus is on them (character development-wise), at least in this book. But V.E. Schwab really gives you a feel for every other character in these two’s orbit. He wasn’t in it much, but I found myself echoing Kell in the feeling of: protect Rhy at all costs (oh my precious little bi baby… you’re too good for this world).

The three main worlds are completely different, and V.E. Schwab does a great job differentiating them. Grey London is so drab and magic-less and boring. Red London is bright and vibrant and full of magic. White London has that feeling of of the life draining from it (literally) and the people are just starting to go off the rails.

I don’t even remember what else I’m supposed to analyze, I’ll have to come back to this some day with a clearer head.

Point is this: if haven’t already, READ THIS BOOK!!!!!

Genre

Fantasy

Historical Fantasy

Readalikes

We Will All Go Down Together by Gemma Files

The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Significance

Book Discussion Questions and Ideas

Author’s website

V.E. Schwab

Awards

Library Journal Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books

LibraryReads Favorites: 2015

Reviews

Kirkus

Publishers Weekly

Booklist

Why I Chose It

This sounded like a really neat book with a premise right up my alley (plus it had a pretty sweet cover).

Other Information

Ready Player One

Bibliographic Information 

Audiobook $22.74
Paperback $16
Hardback $19.07
Kindle $9.99
Associated ISBNs 9780307887436
9780307887443 — Paperback
9781524755614 — Paperback
9780307887450
9781451752335 — Glued Binding
9780606264129 — Glued Binding
9788466421140

Rating (VOYA)

5Q, 5P

Readers Annotation

Whoever wins the game will change the world

Summary

Welcome to the Dystopian Future (again)! This time its because people used up the fossil fuels (and are idiots) and corporations suck. The internet/web/Oasis is where people escape/work/go to school. There’s corporate slavery (indentured), and tons of espionage.

At the beginning of our story, the Oasis is free for everyone to access. When the creator (Haliday) dies, he sets up an “egg hunt” in order to find the successor to his empire. The game is simple: find the three keys, open the three gates, pass the tests and get the egg. There are individuals trying for the egg (“gunters”), groups of gunters (clans) and IOI (an evil corporation trying to win and charge people for access).

SPOILERS AHEAD!!! Highlight to read.

Our main character is on Wade Watts is a teenager living in the stacks, a ghetto where trailers are literally stacked on top of each other. He lives with his aunt and her boyfriend and several other tenants. Wade is a “gunter,” and spends all of his free time looking for the egg. Wade goes to school online. Wade sneaks out of his trailer and climbs down the stacks daily to hide away in a broken down car in a junkyard to go to school. He heats his space with a bike powered heater. Wade has one friend: Aech. Aech is a professional gamer and travels, and is a high ranking avatar.

Wade has an epiphany one day in Latin that gives him an idea on where the first key is. He gets a pass from the school to travel to the area on the school planet where he’s sure the key will be. It’s a skull shaped grove and he goes through the cave of traps (insert all the 80s things here that I can’t remember) until he reaches the end. It turns out that the game he needs to play is the game Joust (80s game). He wins eventually and gets the copper key. The copper key has the hint for the copper door. 

Just after he finishes, Art3mis shows up. Wade has a crush on her (she’s a geeky gunter blogger). She asks if he’s failed the Joust. He says he has. They chat for a while, Wade hiding the fact that he’s beaten the gate until Art3mis checks the scoreboard to find his avatar name (Parzival). She gets pissed and keeps him in the cave until all the traps have reset. Once free of the cave, Wade gives a hint to his friend Aech on where to find the Copper Key.

Wade continues on to where he knows the copper key to be: on a planet full of recreations of Haliday’s hometown. He goes to Haliday’s childhood home and knows he needs to play Dungeons of Daggerath. Once he completes it, he finds that a poster of War Games has turned into the Copper Gate. In order to pass the Gate, he needs to recite the words to the movie and do the actions correctly. He does everything and passes the first test.

Wade checks the scoreboard and finds that Art3mis has also made it through the Copper Gate and so has Aech, and two Japanese characters: Daito and Shoto. IOI has taken over the cave where the Copper Key is, and has sealed it off so that no one else can get a key and is churning out keys for their own players. Eventually the gunter clans come together and take out the IOI barracade.

Wade agrees to do corporate sponsorships in order to make money. He also gets an email from IOI. IOI wants to recruit Wade to work for them. Wade goes to the meeting with the head IOI seeker Sorrento. IOI offers him everything he could ask for, but Wade shuts them down. Then IOI reveals that they know who he is and where he lives. They threaten to blow him up. Wade believes they’re bluffing and still tells them no. He leaves the Oasis and then sees his trailer blow up.

Wade goes on the run. He assumes a different identity, and moves to Columbus, Ohio. He gets all the latest gear and devotes himself to finding the next key. He steadily gets more involved with Art3mis, and falls out with Aech. He’s never really officially dating Art3mis, and it all comes to a head at Og’s (Haliday’s best friend) birthday party. Wade tells Art3mis he loves her, she says he doesn’t really know her so he can’t love her and IOI attacks. 

After, Wade falls into a bit of a funk. He eventually gets out of it by forcing himself to become physically active. He re-focuses on finding the keys. Art3mis finds the Jade key and Wade plays a perfect game of Pac-Man. He earns a coin he cannot get rid of. Aech gets the Jade key and then sends Wade a hint in order to pay him back. Wade goes to Frobozz and plays Zork to get the Jade key. Then IOI takes over and starts farming Jade keys. They find the Jade Gate, and start getting Crystal Keys. 

Shoto finds Wade and tells him that IOI found Daito in real-life and threw him off a building.

Wade unlocks the Jade Gate (via Blade Runner) and plays Black Tiger to complete it. He then plays a riff from Rush on a guitar which gives him a clue that Sorrento overlooked. IOI makes public the knowledge of where the Crystal Gate is, and locks the place down with a special item.

Wade sends a message to Art3mis, Shoto and Aech and goes offline. He sets up a fake scenario to get captured by IOI in order to become an indentured employee in order to infiltrate IOI. He is captured and destroys his rig. He’s taken to IOI headquarters and placed in customer service. He backdoors his way into the surveillance system and then hacks into the servers. He plants a program to disrupt IOI’s force field. He learns that IOI knows who Art3mis and Shoto really are and are planning on kidnapping them. Wade makes a hasty escape and goes to a public Oasis station in order to contact his friends.

Wade lets them know that IOI is watching them and that they need to run. This is when Og appears. He offers them sanctuary at his home on the coast in order for them to safely attempt to complete the Crystal Gate. Og sends a plane for Shoto and Art3mis and tells Aech to pick Wade up and that they can catch a plane together. 

When Aech comes to pick Wade up he discovers that his best friend isn’t the dude he thought he was but a black lesbian. Aech tells Wade that she learned from her mother that it was better to have a male avatar because people would take a man seriously but not a woman. She also says that she left when her mother wouldn’t accept that she was a lesbian, so she drives around the country in an RV. Wade accepts her and the two reconnect on the way to Og’s house.

Wade sends a message to all the users of the Oasis telling them that everyone should team up to take down IOI and to meet them the next day in order to do so. When the four friends log in and travel to Anarak’s castle, they are surprised to find hundreds of thousands of avatars ready to take on IOI. Wade’s backdoor is a reprogrammed bot that self-destructs next to the item keeping the force-field around the castle. Once the barrier is down, its an all out brawl.

The friends turn into mechs, as does Sorrento (who turns into Mecha Godzilla) and some IOI cronies who have Crystal Keys. Shoto’s avatar gets killed by Sorrento, and Wade uses a special item to transform and take out Sorrento. The friends open the Crystal Gate and IOI sets off a bomb. Every avatar by the castle is destroyed. Wade only survives thanks to a second life (the coin from the perfect game of Pac-Man). Wade enters the gate. With his friends cheering him on, he completes Tempest and goes through Monty Python and the Holy Grail. 

Wade gets through the movie and encounters Haliday himself who explains the situation. Wade brings back his friends avatars with his new powers and they all log out.

Wade and Og talk about Haliday and then Wade goes out to talk with Art3mis. 

Evaluation

This is, frankly, one of the highlights of my reading adventure this year (so far). This had everything: likable characters with realistic problems, great plot, interesting mystery, engaging world (both of them), and a great take on dystopia. What a world Ernest Cline created.

This book was full of things that I knew, or could relate to (despite being born in the late ’80s). I got the references, and I loved the little jabs. The fact that the audio book was narrated by Will Wheaton was the cherry on top of this cake.

Really though, Wade was a likable lead. He had real problems, and he had to address them. His character was relatable. Art3mis was great as well. Aech was top notch. I loved Wade and Aech’s bro-ship.  Sorrento was a hate-able villain, and IOI was the perfect evil corporation.

Wade’s real world was disturbingly real, and seemed like it could fall in the realm of possibility. His online world was a lot like modern MMOs. Both worlds were well drawn and completely believable.

I completely loved this book. I don’t want to live in it (what a horrible future!), but I want to re-read it and have the feeling I will many times.

Genre

Science Fiction

Dystopia

Readalikes

Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde

For the Win by Cory Doctorow

Significance

An award winning SciFi, that isn’t too far away from our reality. Realistic future, and future tech.

Book Discussion Questions and Ideas

What do you think about the big reveal?

Do you think IOI was a accurate portrayal of a corporation?

Talk about living in reality vs. virtual reality and the consequences of both.

Author’s website

Ernest Cline

Awards

Alex Award: 2012

Booklist Editors’ Choice – Adult Fiction for Young Adults: 2011

Nutmeg Children’s Book Award (Connecticut): High School

School Library Journal’s Adult Books 4 Teens: 2011

Reviews

Kirkus

Publishers Weekly

Booklist

Why I Chose It

This sounded like a really interesting take on society, culture and dystopia. Plus, a friend said it was a really good read.

Other Information