After hitting a legendary high score, 14-year-old video game fiend Reggie King is contacted by the creators of his favorite game to participate in a focus group.
So goes Sean Austin's new young adult novel "Echo's Revenge," a satisfying slice of fiction for today's teen gamer.
Echo's Revenge is a mass multiplayer online game where the gamers work together to prevent Echo, a futuristic machine, from taking over the world. At Reality Games, Reggie meets a volatile group of skilled gamers his age, the only others who have also defeated the game. They are all being asked about their deepest, darkest fears. The only person in the room who seems to have a handle on themselves is the only girl, the beautiful Claire. After all the gamers unload their secrets to the Reality Games designer, Reggie returns to his dysfunctional family home. Reggie hasn't seen his father in years, is routinely abused by his step-father and is abandoned by his mother. After an escalated encounter, he takes his 11-year-old brother, Jeremy, and they decide to run away to their father's house in California.
Soon after they leave, the other gamers Reggie met at the focus group begin disappearing. Reggie and Jeremy wonder if they are being followed by the kidnapper, only to have help arrive from strange characters at awfully convenient times.
Before Reggie can bring himself to risk exposing their location by warning Claire and the other gamers, he and Jeremy are kidnapped by a real-life version of Echo and taken to an underground cave. There, along with all the other gamers - including Claire - they are forced to dig minerals to sustain Echo as he continues his quest for world domination. Will they be able to defeat Echo and escape before they go insane or succumb to the elements? Will the other gamers turn on Reggie for not warning them they were in danger? Will the outside world realize Echo is working to destroy them before it's too late?
"Echo's Revenge," the first installment in a new series, does a fine job of setting up a larger narrative while still resolving enough storylines to keep the reader from feeling cheated. Many of the elements involving Reggie's gaming identity feel true to life, although oversimplified enough to still make it accessible to non-gamers.
It takes a few chapters for the sci-fi elements of the book to really develop, so when they do manifest, it is slightly jarring. Once established, they are fully-realized. There is a brief reference towards the end of the book that the government and/or military would be involved. I look forward to this idea being explored in later installments.
As standard in the YA genre, there was no profanity or scenes of an explicit nature. The mystery and suspense are appropriate for young minds but still compelling for adults. Reading this YA novel at night, several times I found myself feeling like I was being watched by a stealthy death machine, just like Reggie and Jeremy. Some of the teenaged boys do get a little annoying, but they are balanced out by Reggie, Jeremy and Claire as more emotionally stable characters.
I can see this series as compelling reading for the tween male gamer demographic, and I would feel comfortable knowing the gamers in my life (of which there are many) would be reading this story about a young boy who finds adventure, courage and teamwork away from the computer screen.