Gamer by Chris Bradford
Another dyslexia-friendly title today, this time from one of my favourite action-adventure authors Chris Bradford.
The year is 2030. A virus has wiped out huge swathes of adults, leaving their children behind. Now they swarm the streets, either as orphans or as victims of adults’ fears that kids were the ones that unwittingly spread the fatal virus. Enter Scott, one of many starving kids on the streets trying to stay out of trouble of the rival gangs whilst scraping together enough mouthfuls of food to keep body and soul together. The only escape for street urchins like him is through Virtual Kombat or VK, a global virtual reality game that the entire world obsesses over. Its benevolent benefactor Vince Power provides the only Orphan Home availabe, as well as a new life as a games tester for VK. When Scott beats rival kids to a place in the Orphan Home, he soon discovers that there’s catch to having a warm bed, food and education; he has to play VK continuously, to the point where VK quickly becomes addictive and starts to override anthing else in his and the other players’ lives. There’s more though, and when fellow Kombatant Kat-Ana disappears, Scott decides to do all he can to find her and discover the secret of VK itself.
I’ve got mixed feelings about this one, I have to be honest. I’m quite a fan of Bradford’s. I LOVED his 16th century-based Young Samurai series, and this guy can write action like few can. If you’ve read this blog before you’ll know sometimes I can have a problem following a scene when there’s lots of action involved (which let’s face it describes action and fight scenes to a tee). I can’t ‘see’ things happen as I would in any other scenes, I just can’t picture it and the whole scene just becomes a bit of a smudge to me so I end up knowing what happens at the beginning and the end, but the middle is lost to me. I NEVER have this problem with Bradford’s books and you can tell they’re written by a martial arts expert, they’re so clear and detailed without being too much so. That said though, I don’t have quite the same enthusiasm for this book as I do his Young Samurai series.
Let’s get the not-as-good out the way first then. Why didn’t I get on with it so much? I think the main issue I had with it is that it feels at times as if there’s bits missing. Nothing to hamper the story too much, but enough to leave me feeling a little bit disjointed in places. While this wouldn’t be a problem normally, for me the story just didn’t feel as well-rounded as I would have expected it to. At one point the jump between scenes downright confused me for a few paragraphs, it felt like I’d missed something, which is not an issue I’ve come across with Bradford’s other books. Perhaps that’s the problem – I’m reading this having read other books by him and in my head I can’t help but compare them, which obviously if I’m trying to review each book independantly is a bit of a downside
Without giving it away, the ending was also rather…abrupt. The book sort of snapped to a close and it left me feeling a bit disappointed to be honest. Of the two problems I had with this book, I think that was ultimately the bigger one; because I’ve read other books of Bradford’s, the issue I have with the book not feeling quite as well-rounded as it could do could be a problem perculiar only to me, but I’m fairly sure the ending couldn’t be interpreted as anything but abrupt, regardless of whether the reader has read Bradford’s other books or not. The fact that it wasn’t a great ending left me with a slightly sour note, I’m sad to say.
There is good though (of course, or I wouldn’t review it)! As I mentioned before, Bradford is absolutely brilliant at writing action scenes, especially for readers who like me have trouble following everything that’s happening at a busy moment. It was so clear following Scott as he whirled and spin-kicked and Mega-Punched his way defending himself in every VK fight. Terminally unsporty as I am, it was so clear in my head that even I wanted to pick up a martial art for a while after finishing it (as always happens when I read Bradford’s books!).
The other thing I liked is that although it is essentially a book about fighting to the death, there’s actually very little gore and it’s not as graphic as I think it easily could be. Perhaps this is more of a concern for parents than the kids who would be reading it, but still worth mentioning I feel. It really did surprise me and I think it takes some skill to involve a reader in a fight scene without their getting too caught up thinking about what actually happens when a katana sword gives you a haircut!
Finally, Gamer does manage to drag you in to this virtual reality world, despite my disjointed feelings earlier. The beginning especially struck me, when we follow Scott as he fends off a couple of bullies, all whilst his stomach’s growling and he’s desperate himself for the lump of bread the bullies stole from the two kids he’s defending. It’s great scene setting and it keeps going throughout the rest of the book.
So in short, whilst the book does feel a little less full than expected and has a perhaps disappointing ending, there’s a great deal to be said for Bradford’s skill at writing action scenes and for setting the scene in general. Gamer is a book that ultimately may not be my favourite of Bradford’s, but I’m not sad to have read it either.
Find it here.