Review: Strange Exit
The concept of virtual worlds has always intrigued me. In some ways, we’re rapidly approaching the condition where such things could become a reality. And in others, I think we’re light years away. When I’ve seen them used in stories, one of the big themes that invariably comes into play is the ability to determine whether you’re in the virtual world or the real world. Inception, anyone? There are lots of other ideas to play with in that realm as well, but this one is of particular importance because it comes into play in this book. In Inception, there was a very simple, very direct way of determining which world the character found themselves. Made it easy for the audience to stay grounded. But without such a device? Well, let me not spoil the message of this review.
STRANGE EXIT (Amazon) is a standalone novel by Parker Peevyhouse. It’s a relatively short YA book about two teenagers: Lake and Taren. Lake has been awake and aware of the VR world for some time now. Everyone is the ship used to be asleep. Those that are awake are trying to find ways to wake the others up because they know that the ship won’t open up until everyone is awake. Their supplies are beginning to dwindle, and there are no adults around to take charge. The might-makes-right group has decided that no one else is supposed to go back into the VR world because once you’re in there, it’s too easy to forget that it’s a VR world and not the real world. And then the group is one person further away from the goal of waking everyone up. Trouble is, Lake doesn’t agree with them. She’s woken up several people by sneaking back into the simulation and bringing them out. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it sounds. But in the opening chapter, Lake finds a way to wake up Taren.
There’s a sparseness to the prose of this story that makes the pages just fly by. This was both a help and a hindrance at times. Lakes is nominally the main character of the story, as essentially everything that happens, even through the POV of Taren and the handful of others peppered throughout the book, revolves around her. Lake’s character comes across as… well, as sparse. There’s not much to her that we get. She wants to wake everyone up; survivalism, I get that. She had a little sister, Willow, that she loved, and she projects a version of the younger girl within the construct of the VR world; older sibling, yup, I get that too. She constantly comes back to another NPC in the VR world that she has a semi-romantic relationship with; hard to pass by love. But most of the interactive pieces of life are missing from that characterization, and that just made her feel… sparse.
Descriptions were pretty good, lending to a good sense of place. Even near the end where there are fairly large jumps in the plot and story, it was clear where Lake was and what she was trying to do. Where the water tended to get a little murky was when the story starts to play with the idea of what was real and what was VR. Lake had a couple things that she thought helped her to differentiate between the two, but when she starts to get confused, then I started to get confused. This led to me not understanding fully what exactly was going on, and that’s never a good thing.
Lake lives in a VR world where none of the real people want to leave, but if they don't, everyone in the real world will die. Needed more focus on the MC.
By the time the story was all said and done, I could see that the author had crafted a well-built tale. There were a sufficient number of ideas and revelations to have me feel satisfied with where it ended. But the execution of the story, especially during the last fourth or so of the book, left me wondering why everything was happening the way it was instead of being pulled along by the tightening swirl of a vortex. I’d lost some of my connection to Lake and that spoiled the story for me. Even the over-arching story had some holes in it that bothered me a little, which led to the whole setup feeling somewhat contrived to cause issues in the first place.
Some of this confusion, I think could have been helped by putting more focus on the main character and her story. Taren’s story really didn’t engage me at all. His was really just a story surrounding Lake’s, and even when he makes a major decision late in the book, I didn’t understand at all why he’d decided to make that choice. His character was decidedly less fleshed out, and that not only makes his sections less engaging, but also takes away from where the focus should be: on Lake.
Despite a great premise, interesting ideas, and decent characterization, this one had enough issues with execution and clarity that it ended up pulling down my overall impression. In the end, it was a quick read that will likely please those looking for a little escapism but not necessarily well-constructed series of discoveries and revelations.
- Recommended Age: 14+ for some violence and technology
- Language: Very little, if any, and mild at that
- Violence: Some fisticuffs and blood, threat of violence and death
- Sex: Some kissing and romantic gestures