Review: The Leveller by Julia Durango

The Leveller
Julia Durango

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

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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.