Review: The Leveller by Julia Durango

The Leveller
Julia Durango

Releases June 23, 2015
I received a copy via the Around the World ARC tour to review
256 pages
YA / Sci-Fi / Gaming

Find it on Goodreads

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indie Bound

Nixy Bauer is a self-made Leveller. Her job? Dragging kids out of virtual reality and back to their parents in the real world. It’s normally easy cash, but Nixy’s latest mission is fraught with real danger, intrigue, and romance.

Nixy Bauer is used to her classmates being very, very unhappy to see her. After all, she’s a bounty hunter in a virtual reality gaming world. Kids in the MEEP, as they call it, play entirely with their minds, while their bodies languish in a sleeplike state on the couch. Irritated parents, looking to wrench their kids back to reality, hire Nixy to jump into the game and retrieve them.

But when the game’s billionaire developer loses track of his own son in the MEEP, Nixy is in for the biggest challenge of her bounty-hunting career. Wyn Salvador isn’t some lazy kid looking to escape his homework: Wyn does not want to be found. And he’s left behind a suicide note. Nixy takes the job but quickly discovers that Wyn’s not hiding—he’s being held inside the game against his will. But who is holding him captive, and why?

Nixy and Wyn attempt to fight their way out of a mind game unlike any they’ve encountered, and the battle brings them closer than either could have imagined. But when the whole world is virtual, how can Nixy possibly know if her feelings are real?

Gamers and action fans of all types will dive straight into the MEEP, thanks to Julia Durango’s cinematic storytelling. A touch of romance adds some heart to Nixy’s vivid, multidimensional journey through Wyn’s tricked-out virtual city, and constant twists keep readers flying through to the breathtaking end.

The concept of The Leveller should have won me over from the start. It’s an action adventure plot that takes place in a virtual reality simulator. There’s a bit of intrigue and a lot of interesting world building ideas, but something about the characters and the execution kept me from fully embracing this techno-thriller.

Nixy is a leveller. She has special skills that she can use in the MEEP, a virtual realty universe that her parents helped create and gave her beta access to special programs, so that parents pay her to go in after their wayward children who have stayed in the fantasy world for too long. She’s so good at what she does that the creator of the MEEP hires her to find his son, whose been hiding in the MEEP for days after leaving behind a suicide note. She dives into the fantasy world created by Wyn to find him, only to learn that perhaps the MEEP is a more sinister place than it once seemed.

The MEEP is a cool idea, though the science is far from sound. I don’t usually care if my sci-fi is accurate, and The Leveller is no different. In this version of virtual reality, it’s like you go to sleep while your brain is hooked up to a computer that helps you experience any sort of world you want. It’s just like a really elaborate computer-assisted dream. It sounds like the perfect recipe for creating addictions and personality disorders, but that’s not what The Leveller is about.

Instead we have a pretty straight forward techno-thriller that speeds past as Nixy jumps from one thing to another in the 250 page book. Nothing is really lingered on and the plot jumps from one cut scene to another after the initial description of the MEEP is set. Even still, it felt like the book took a good 100 pages to get going before cramming the rest of the story into the remaining pages.

Nixy’s internal monologue grated on me. It was full of witty remarks made in her head and sarcasm that didn’t seem to have much point other than to make her sound clever. As a narrator she left me cold and so overall the story seemed a bit lacking to me. Durango tries to steer away from Mary Sue levels of perfect at all things while still making her heroine the best at what she does. She has irrational fears even within the false realty of the MEEP, but she lacks the emotional depth to make her character truly three dimensional. Perhaps if the book was longer and her internal monologue wasn’t so shallow, Nixy would have been a much more fun character to follow around on adventures. Instead I was incapable of fully immersing myself in the story.

There’s a forced romance that’s pretty close to insta-love between Nixy and Wyn that makes little to no sense with Nixy’s standoff-ish personality. Then again, Wyn is the best part of the book, so I suppose I can forgive Nixy for falling for him if only the falling had been a little better described instead of suddenly, hey look, they’re making out. Wyn is a charismatic character that might have been a better choice at carrying the bulk of the story. Just the glimpses of his back story, personality and emotional depth from things he says and the MEEP world he’s build made him way more likeable and interesting than Nixy.

I was generally pretty meh about The Leveller. It just felt lacking, perhaps due to being so short and feeling rushed after a protracted set up. Or maybe the “too cool for everyone” Nixy leaving me cold kept me from embracing the better parts of the story enough to truly enjoy it. The quick wrap up made it feel like this could be the beginning of a larger story, though it really should have been just a bit longer and filled in. I don’t think this is one gamer story I will be continuing.


I received a copy of this book through the Around the World ARC tour and will be passing it on to the next person in line. All thoughts are my own.


Blog Tour & Contest: What's Your Winner's Curse?

Welcome to the Working for the Mandroid stop on Marie Rutkoski’s blog tour for The Winner’s Crime, the second book in her fantasy series. I reviewed the book last week, but as part of the tour, Marie and Mac Teen are asking book bloggers a question related to the series:

The ‘Winner’s Curse’ is an economics term that means you’ve gotten what you wanted – but at too high a price.  What would you pay too much for?

So what would I spend too much money to obtain? At this moment, I would have to say a bionic arm. I think I would pay all the money I have in this world to chop off my current flesh and blood arm to replace it with a fully functional robot arm so that I could continue living day to day life without the obnoxious pain that comes from my malfunctioning nerves. I might also consider bionic eyes and/or robot ankles.

Perhaps I just want to become a robot at this point? I’d rob, beg and steal to upload my consciousness to a body that didn’t feel regularly obnoxious pain.

On a more materialistic level, I would also pay too much to meet Benedict Cumberbatch and have him read books to me for an afternoon. That would be the most lovely afternoon in all of history. I would also jump at the chance to spend a day with the Supernatural cast or hang out with the film version of the Avengers.

So what would you be willing to spend way too much to get what you wanted? Would it be an experience or an actual material possession? What do you want most in the whole wide world?


You can see all the other awesome bloggers that participated in the blog tour over here.

If you’d like to learn more about Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse series, visit the series’ site here. You can also play Bite & Sting online here, the game Kestrel and Arin plays inside the book series.


Enter to win a copy of The Winner's Crime! Open to people with mailing addresses in the US. The prize is generously being supplied by the publisher at the end of the contest.

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Trailer Park Friday: Two Short Films, Inside Out, The Con Man & More

This week we don't have just trailers here at the Trailer Park. Thanks to so lurking around io9, there are a couple of short films along with a trailer for an upcoming web series and of course some movies.

First up is Sequence, a 20 minute short film that gets on the violent side of things. It's about that weird day when your girlfriend tells you she had a really messed up dream about you and then someone else you know says they dreamed about you too, and things just get a whole lot worse from there. It's by Carles Torrens and might have given me the hebbie jebbies.

The next one is this adorable claymation animated short about a man who search brought up a roommate a little different than expected. It's by Laerke Kromann and David Crisp, and it's called Roommate Wanted - Dead or Alive. It's only about 8 minutes long.

If you're a Firefly fan, you've probably already heard about Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion's Indiegogo campaign for The Con Man, a new web series they're creating that has a premise a little too close to comfort. After starring on a short-lived, but cult loved sci-fi series, Alan's character can't seem to get his career off the ground, making his living from attending sci-fi conventions while his former co-star is now a hot movie star. You can support their campaign here. Here's the trailer they just released earlier today.

Pixar has released a new trailer for their upcoming release Inside Out, which is all about the feelings living inside your head. Something tells me that it will be difficult to not get the feels with this one. It comes out June 19.

I don't really know much about Torrowland, other than that it's a place at Disney World with old school future tech and robots (or it was when I was a kid). There is also someone named Myles that has a cartoon about him that my niece and nephew love. As for the up coming George Clooney movie, I don't know much about it. It comes out May 22.

And finally the newest trailer for a videogame that will stress me out too much to play it probably. Batman: Arkham Knight is the newest in ht eBatman game series and it looks vicious. It comes out on June 2.

What videos have caught your eye on the internet lately? Share the links in the comments and have a great weekend.


Review: The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner’s Crime
Marie Rutkoski

Farrar Straus Giroux
I received an ARC from the publisher
Released March 3, 2015
417 pages

Find it on Goodreads

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indie Bound

Book two of the dazzling Winner's Trilogy is a fight to the death as Kestrel risks betrayal of country for love.

The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement…if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret.

As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.

Last year’s The Winner’s Curse was one of my favorite reads. It was the perfect balance of world building, engaging characters that I wanted to hang out with, and dramatic stakes that left the plot firing on all cylinders throughout most of the book. I was eagerly anticipating the second book in this series, The Winner’s Crime, and while I enjoyed it as well, it did suffer from what a lot of second books in trilogies suffer.


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Random Tuesday: Meet The Local Strangers (And Some Other Stuff, But Mostly The Local Strangers)

It's been a dreary, rainy, foggy, Cloud City like day here, except without any visits from cool people like Han Solo or Lando Calrissian. I'm really not in a blogging mood, but I did want to share with you guys that today is a special day.

Today is the release date for Take What You Can Carry, the newest album by The Local Strangers. It's a 2 disc album where one disc is with a full band and the other is a stripped down acoustic version of all the same songs. I've first met Matt years and years ago when he was in a different band, and I met Aubrey the last time the pair were in Austin. These guys are the real amazing deal and you really should listen to some of there songs.

Here's a video for their song "Gasoline".

And you can learn more about Take What You Can Carry over at their Bandcamp page here.


How's that for random? We don't dive too much into music around here, though it's long been a passion right along with books and food. Here's a few more random things to peruse.

io9 has a great recap of all the Easter Eggs in Agent Carter now that the season is over. Hopefully we'll be getting a season 2 next year.

It's pilot season and I'm obsessed. EW has a list of all the currrent pilots in development at the usual network stations. Could your next favorite television show be on this list?

And if your TBR pile can take it, here's a list of many science fiction and fantasy titles coming out in March. My bookshelves are trembling in fear.


Now to curl back up on the couch and be a lump of unproductivity while listening to The Local Strangers.