The Leveller by Julia Durango

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levellerThe Leveller by Julia Durango
HarperTeen, 2015

Set in the near future, this entertaining and fun YA scifi  thriller will appeal to gamers and dystopia fans. Nixy Bauer is a Leveller – she’s commissioned by parents to go into a virtual reality game world called the MEEP to haul their kids back into the real world: “I’m fast and I never fail to deliver.” Now she’s being asked by Diego Salvador, “zillionaire founder” of MeaParadisus Inc. aka MEEP to level his son, Wyn, who has apparently blockaded himself in his custom created virtual world behind a maze of obstacles, and isn’t planning to come back.

MEEP is nicely set up – teens can create their own worlds and their own avatars, all while in a trance in their own room. They can battle skeleton armies, tote laser guns and add physical enhancements to themselves, and be as brave, popular and attractive as they desire. But while a few questions are raised about the ethics of virtual reality versus its potential benefits, the emphasis is really on the action and a perfunctory romance.

Nixy’s narration is a combination of teen snark and hardboiled bounty hunter, quirkily laced with a couple of Norwegian curse words, and she is as confident and competent in the real world as she is in the virtual one. However, other characters including her game developer parents, her long time friends and her new lurve are thinly sketched, and the villain of the piece (or is s/he?) seems a little too convenient to be credible. Though some of the characters have possibly Hispanic and Asian names, there is little in their physical descriptions to confirm their ethnicity.

Much like the timer hacks that the gamers use to prolong their stay in the MEEP, Ms Durango has tacked on a few unanswered questions and a couple of loose ends to extend the book to a sequel. Please don’t do it. The Leveller is a fine read as a standalone but almost certainly won’t take the weight of a second book.

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