My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Length: 368 pages
Release date: 31 October 2017
The company says Otherworld is amazing—like nothing you’ve ever seen before. They say it’s addictive—that you’ll want to stay forever. They promise Otherworld will make all your dreams come true.
Simon thought Otherworld was a game. Turns out he knew nothing. Otherworld is the next phase of reality. It’s everything you’ve ever wanted.
And it’s about to change humanity forever.
Welcome to the Otherworld. No one could have seen it coming.
If all the teenagers of r/WritingPrompts got together and wrote a sci-fi opus, Otherworld is probably something along the lines of what they’d come up with. It’s entirely told from the perspective of an 18-year-old asocial nerd with mad gaming chops and an affinity for dick jokes. The totally casual tone (think Percy Jackson if Percy was an adult instead of a MG hero) makes Otherworld easy to read and alleviates much of the gloom-and-doom subject matter but also causes some of the heavier emotional moments to fall flat.
The blurb is intentionally minimalistic, hinting at a deadly conspiracy disguised as virtual reality but not really explaining what’s going on. As a result, the first quarter of the book ends up being rather muddied and confusing because the reader has no idea where it’s all headed. Once Simon actually gets into Otherworld, though, the plot goes a lot smoother and stays reasonably paced for most of the way. The story ultimately falls at the intersection of Warcross and The Maze Runner, but written by Redditors. So, a lot more lowbrow humour. I appreciate a good dirty joke when I see one, but in this book the gross-out comedy gets a bit grating at times, considering that it’s neither particularly clever nor creative.
World-building is iffy when 75% of the plot takes place in, well, another world. The bulk of it is a road-trip style quest filled with enemies that want to either eat our protagonists or hang, draw and quarter them in front of screaming mobs. Bloody stuff, but again, not that creative–nothing you haven’t seen before. Simon wanders through these death traps with a nonchalance that keeps things entertaining–come on, you know he’s surrounded by a hundred layers of plot armour, so he can do pretty much anything and still stay miraculously in one piece. Most of the time one giant humanoid monster-slash-god or another is chasing him for dinner and he’s just like
Then there’s Kat, his Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who’s like
And of course there’s Carole, who’s a no-nonsense Bible-quoting soccer mom who also happens to be the greatest of all time badass and closest thing we’ll come to Lara Croft. (Self-declared, too!)
The ending is quite meh after the book hypes up Otherworld so much. I expected a fair few questions to be resolved that weren’t, being left in the air to be addressed in the sequel, as is the case for a substantial number of YA novels these days. The climax is disappointingly anti-climactic and serves more to set up the next instalment than deliver the payoff of this one, and the cliffhanger in the “epilogue” (which isn’t really structured as an epilogue, why call it one?) is more confusing than intriguing.
That said, Otherworld is an enjoyable read short enough that you shouldn’t have to force yourself through. Call me cold-blooded, but it’s refreshing to read for once a protagonist that does the dirty business without hesitation and kills in self-defence without spending the next five chapters worrying about the consequences to his pristine moral character. After all, it’s just a game! Except it isn’t, of course, it’s way more sinister. We can’t let you just get away with running around going stabby-stab-stab at all the NPCs with impunity, can we? That, for those of you wondering, is essentially the crux/message of this book. Not half bad, in my opinion. You could do a lot worse as far as social commentary in your YA novel.
*Thanks to Oneworld Publications and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*