Blind Gambit: A GameLit novel
Print Length: 275 pages
Publisher: No World Press (May 5, 2018)
Publication Date: May 5, 2018
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
Reviewed by Dr. Wesley Britton
On one hand, Jon Cronshaw is a younger author than I am and he's far more familiar with the world of gaming than I will ever be. So if you too are into video games and "game lit," than you're a prime target reader for Blind Gambit.
From a different perspective, I too carry the retinitis pigmentosa gene that results in blindness just like the main character of Brian in Cronshaw's novel. So does the author himself. While I was older and no longer living at home when the onset kicked in for me, from the very beginning of the story, I recognized many events in Brian's personal life as well as many of his reactions to what is happening to him as his sight erodes in the physical world. I remember so many events and conversations in my life that mirrors what Brian goes through as he tries to maintain independence, downplay his disability as much as he can, and find the ways to interact with friends and family as his personal identity changes during the process of going blind. As he admits in his afterword, much of the book can be called a fictionalized memoir.
In fact, we have two themes traveling on parallel lines through the book. One is in virtual reality where Brian can see what's going on in the game of Gambit because he has a chip that allows his avatar, Neuro, to watch what his three teammates, FragQueen, Harley, and Socko are doing on the battlefields against zombies while he proves to be the worst sniper in game world. At the same time, a hacker is going through Gambit destroying every team and game he, she, or it can for unknown reasons. Brian, however, is immune to the hacker's weapons due to that chip. So, on the outside, he's being trained in independent living and how to have a relationship with a girl. A real one. In VR, he is trained in how to combat the hacker by learning strategy, create unique weapons out of ordinary items, and learn how to uncover the hacker's true identity.
I admit, for a long time I wondered why I should care about the destruction of virtual avatars. Not exactly the sort of carnage living beings should worry about. So are there any consequences of the hacker's killing spree in the real world beyond headaches players suffer after leaving the game? At the same time, when Brian isn't hooked up to VR, his often over protective mother talks him into working with blind support groups so he can learn how to live with his disability. Stubborn and resisting most such efforts, Brian isn't a quick study in any of his quests. In the real world, he ends up being bruised and wounded as he tries out a number of activities other blind folks can do. Along the way,
Without question, the primary readership for Blind Gambit will be YA readers who are into gaming. But I really hope a wider audience will include those who might gain some sensitivity and insight not just regarding the disability of blindness, but some understanding of the emotional turmoils the disabled go through as, in this case, we lose the sense of sight.
As with pretty much every e-book published these days, readers can find out more about Jon Cronshaw's worlds by reading his afterword and signing up for his newsletter. The adventures don't have to end when you finish Blind Gambit.
This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on July 1, 2019:
Thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collins for providing me an early ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.
Jeffery Deaver does not need an introduction. He has been writing and publishing crime and mystery novels and thrillers for a very long time, and he has been collecting awards and accolades for almost as long. Despite my interest in those genres, I hadn’t read any of his books yet, partly because I always hesitate to start reading a series halfway through (yes, and I had many other books to get on with). When I saw this novel, the first in a new series, I thought this was a good chance to remedy that.
This novel has all the required elements for those who love the genre: an enticing opening (in fact, we are given a glimpse of an extremely tense scene that will come much later in the book), a hero with pretty amazing abilities, a complex past, and a few secrets (and a curious name too, Colter Shaw), a twisted case that gets more and more complicated as we go along (red herrings, false endings, action scenes, bizarre clues, plenty of suspects), useless and useful members of law enforcement (LaDonna Standish is my favourite character in the whole book, and she ticks all the boxes: African-American, lesbian, married with a child, a woman from the wrong side of the tracks, intelligent, a good professional, dismissed and bullied by her co-workers), some sort of love-interest (I didn’t care too much for that aspect of the story), an intriguing backdrop to the story (Silicon Valley and the gaming industry), another case he is working on as well that is pretty personal for the hero, and a twist/hook at the end.
If you like the description and are seeking for those elements in a story, do not hesitate. I can’t fault Deaver’s writing. He knows his stuff and he delivers in all aspects. He knows how to bait the reader’s interest, and his mastery of plot is evident. He drops hints, and when you think you have worked out who is the guilty party, or what is going on, he pulls the rug from under your feet. He is good at combining a fairly modern writing style, including plenty of action and the latest technologies, with well-tried classical elements; including the final explanation of how he worked out who the guilty party was (it is not quite a Sherlock Holmes or Poirot moment, but not that far from it). Although most of the story is told in the third-person from Shaw’s point of view, we don’t get all the information he does, for very good narrative reasons.
Any negatives? I cannot compare this book to his previous novels, and although I’ve checked the reviews, it seems that some people see this as the beginning of another winning series (it seems that the character of Colter Shaw had already been introduced in one of his short-stories), and others feel that is far from his best work. For me, one of the issues was the main character. If you had told me about this man, who was home-schooled and grew up raised in a survivalist household in the mountains of California, whose parents were both brilliant professors, but whose father (Ash) suffered from paranoia and insisted in educating his children (two boys and a girl) in the art of survival, totally isolated from the world and who ended up dead in somewhat unclear circumstances; whose mother was her husband’s psychiatrist and chose to follow his radical lifestyle and indulge (?) his paranoia, whose brother disappeared, and who now lives by working on a variety of criminal cases and collecting rewards (but seems to have other financial means) while at the same time pursues his own investigation, I would have said we were onto a winner. He is skilled, he seems to be attractive, he has commitment issues (unsurprisingly), he is somewhat obsessive and does things his own way (he loves to keep notebooks and writes his observations by hand), he is clever and witty, calm and collected under pressure, and no danger or risk faces him. Although he is not that bothered about rules and regulations, he has a sense of morality and of right and wrong (and he chooses to do the right thing). Despite all those characteristics and his back story, which should have made the character irresistible and compelling, I didn’t feel a particular connection to him. I wonder if it was the third-person narration (we also get flashbacks of episodes of his childhood, as a way to flesh out the character’s background and to build up interest and offer more clues) or something else, but although he was interesting, I felt as if I was observing the action rather than getting really engaged and worried about what might happen to him (or most of the other characters). Perhaps it read too much like a movie, and I can take or leave action flicks (I enjoy them, but they don’t engage my mind for long). Some reviewers have compared the character (negatively) to Jack Reacher, and I guess other characters will come to mind for those who love the genre. The character himself goes to pains to explain he is neither a private investigator nor a bounty hunter, but I’m not sure that makes him unique or distinctive enough. As I said, most readers love the character, and I am convinced he’ll be further developed in future novels in the series, so this should not put anybody off if the rest interests you.
I saw some readers complaining about the fact that the book was centred around the world of computer games, some because they didn’t enjoy it and found that slowed the novel down, and others because they felt there were inaccuracies (I can’t comment on that), but although I’m not a gamer, I found the descriptions interesting (not too detailed) and enjoyed the main plot line and the mystery behind the kidnappings (it is not unique but it works well). I made some general comments about the ending earlier, and I’m trying to avoid spoilers, so I won’t go into it in more detail, but I agree that there seems to be a sudden and surprising change of direction at one point (some readers have complained of a “rushed” ending), although everything is explained and I guess that is the name of the game.
In sum, personally I enjoyed the story and the plot, but at this point I am not sure I’m interested enough to keep reading the series. On the other hand, I am convinced Deaver’s reputation is well deserved, and I intend to read more of his novels in the future. (I read a very early ARC copy of the novel, so it might well be that not all I say applies to the finished product).
This book is 430 pages long. The story contained therein could have been told in half as many pages. There were so many repetitive passages that it made for one of the most frustrating reads I've had in awhile. Barry and the Weather Wizard fought, Barry lost, Barry's strength was being sapped, no one knew why and everyone fretted about it. Then we'd repeat the whole sequence a few pages later. It was tedious.
An even bigger sin, in my opinion, were the characters. They either read wildly out of character (Iris) or had no characterization to speak of at all (pretty much everyone else). The things that make them the characters I love so much on the tv show were completely absent.
I'm having trouble placing this book in the show's timeline. It has to be set either during or just after season 3. They talk about defeating Savitar (s3's big bad), but the manner in which he was defeated is different. Plus, a character whose death was instrumental in Savitar's defeat is still alive in this book, so I'm confused.
This was okay for what it was: A guide of the show aimed at younger readers. It offers an overview of the show, brief descriptions of the major characters, and an episode guide for seasons 1-4.
However, the organization was haphazard at best, AND they kept mixing up the various Harrison Wells doppelgangers. For example: Using a picture of Earth 2's Harrison "Harry" Wells on the character profile of Earth 19's Harrison "H.R." Wells. I know they all look alike, and I know they're all played by Tom Cavanagh, but they are not interchangeable. That kind of mix-up should not happen in an official book.
Also, if you already didn't know, Harrison Wells (in pretty much all flavors) is my favorite character, so that really didn't sit well with me.