Welcome to the seventh installment of PuzzleNation Book Reviews!
All of the books discussed and/or reviewed in PNBR articles are either directly or indirectly related to the world of puzzling, and hopefully you’ll find something to tickle your literary fancy in this entry or the entries to come.
Let’s get started!
Our book review post this time around features Austin Grossman’s novel You.
It’s 1997 when Russell arrives at Black Arts, accepting an offer to help relaunch the successful video game franchise he and former friends started years ago. But with their enigmatic, socially challenged lead designer Simon dead, motivational juggernaut Darren jumping ship to start his own company, and Russell woefully unprepared for the job, that’s easier said than done.
As Russell brainstorms the relaunch, he decides to replay the entire Realms of Gold series from beginning to end, hoping to strike creative gold. Reminiscing about the long journey that brought him back to Black Arts, he discovers a programming bug that could have devastating consequences for the entire company.
I thoroughly enjoyed Grossman’s previous novel, the superhero-skewing Soon I Will Be Invincible, but I didn’t know what to expect from his follow-up novel.
You at its core is a book about misfits. Yes, there’s an epic quest for the heroes to conquer — an epic quest ABOUT an epic quest, in fact — which definitely appeals to readers of a puzzly nature. (Especially when you start unraveling clever references to earlier iterations of the Realms of Gold series.)
There’s also a charming time capsule aspect of the narrative — which cagily evokes the warm fuzzies of early gaming) — but the centerpiece of the novel is how these people came together and then splintered apart.
Occupying that nebulous disheartening space between creativity and economics, Black Arts proves to be a fertile setting for Russell’s slow-burn understanding of the industry, what became of his old friends, and how he’s changed. (Black Arts is a thinly veiled recreation of Looking Glass Studios, a video game company that employed Grossman years ago.)
While the book’s plot staggers a bit under the weight of Simon’s back door biography (presented through Russell’s replay through the RoG series), Grossman does an impressive job making the most of his multilayered narrative, creating a novel that’s far more than the sum of its parts.
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