A Little Clunky, But It’s All Right
Feyland: The Dark Realm by Anthea Sharp intrigued me right off the bat with its premise. It’s about a girl named Jennet Carter, a skilled gamer and daughter of a virtual reality gaming company head. Part of her soul (“essence”) gets trapped in what she thinks to be a video game, which then results in a bunch of other weird things happening in the real world. She then reaches out for help in fellow gamer (and potential love interest) Tam Linn to help her save her soul and the world.
There were, however, a few problems I had with it, and I’m not sure if it’s because I have an old edition of the book and that there might have been possible changes made to it that I didn’t get. I know that there are a few editions out there, but I’ll review this one since I read this one.
What I Thought Worked Well
Characters of the Major Variety and Thematic Resonance
I thought Jennet Carter and Tam Linn, the main protagonist, had good development overall. I especially like that their worlds contrasted a lot — Jennet’s being a world of luxury and Tam Linn’s being a world of poverty and responsibility at an early age. Having their worlds and their personalities clash made for an interesting read not just on the page, but also off the page in the way of theme as well. They both use gaming to escape, which unites theme, but in a weird way, it’s the escape that’s the most binding part of the adventure.
Setting and Style on the Macro Level
As I was reading, I could definitely picture The Dark Realm as some Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network-style live action movie for tweens or even teens. The dialogue and narration were on point in terms of depicting young teenagers: “Tam shoved his hands into his pockets and kept going. He had long-since perfected the art of walking away.” That kind of narration, along with some of the instances of free indirect discourse throughout the book, has just the right amount of ‘tude in the voice to really make the story pop and crackle. I really enjoyed that aspect, and I think it’s definitely one of the book’s main strengths.
Now, onto some of the weaknesses.
What I Thought Didn’t Work Well
Characters of the Minor Variety
The first issue I had with The Dark Realm was how some characters fell by the wayside in terms of personality even though they appeared to have a lot at stake in the plot. The best example I can give is the minor character Marny, best friend of Tam Linn. She is rightfully suspicious of the Jennet in the beginning of the book, but other than baby sitting Tam Linn’s younger brother while he goes off to the virtual reality sim with Jennet, I don’t know what Marny wants. I don’t know who she is as a character.
Of course, minor characters are minor characters for a reason. They’re not in the spotlight. But given her prominence in the male protagonist’s life and how Jennet keeps asking Marny where Tam Linn is all the time during school, I was expecting more tension and conflict coming from her. But I didn’t get that. Otherwise, she was referred to as “the big girl” a lot and not given much time to shine when she clearly could have. She’s even a gamer, too.
But none of that was really capitalized on, and that disappointed me. Maybe she gets some time in the sequels. I’m not sure. But that definitely bugged me.
Another issue that I had involved a plot inconsistency.
In the prologue, Jennet faces the Dark Queen for what I thought to be the very first time. The narration seems to imply this as well:”Jennet couldn’t see any weapons on her opponent, and that dress was no substitute for armor. Safe bet that this was going to be a magical duel, spell-caster against spell-caster.” Although this is in the past tense, Jennet appears to making assessments about the Dark Queen right then and there in the story. If Jennet knew ahead of time what the Dark Queen was like as a final boss, she would already know this and be prepared. When the Dark Queen changes the rules even further and makes Jennet solve a riddle instead, even the narration says that Jnnet was “so not prepared for this.”
So you can imagine how confused I am after reading that prologue and then finding Jennet talking to Tam Linn about an encounter never happened on any of the pages I’ve read:
“The queen smiled at me, a terrible, beautiful smile. She beckoned to a figure in the shadows, and there was the pathetic hob-creature. Show your true form, my handmaiden, the queen said, and the creature shuffled forward. She transformed, right in front of me, into a beautiful faerie maid.” Jennet shivered. “She laughed at me. Laughed and said that my own arrogance and blindness had cost me dearly. If I had helped her, she would have helped me in turn to solve the queen’s riddle. But I had not. And so I lost.”
There was no hobgoblin in the prologue. There was no faerie maiden in the prologue. There was no mention of arrogance and blindness costing her dearly in the prologue. None of that. While part of me wonders if this reveal is intentional and surprising for both me and Tam Linn, the other part of me wants to see evidence of that happening on the page. But I never got that evidence. The prologue happens exactly how Jennet describes to Tam in that later scene, but at the very end, it does not match.
Style on the Micro Level
Even on the sentence level, I sometimes I have problems with The Dark Realm. There are times where I’m just plain confused at the language, like this fragment at the end of this passage (emphasis mine): “She had to find a gamer here – someone who was even more skilled than herself. Someone adept at wielding a virtual sword. Someone who could help her win free of Feyland.”
“Win free of” something?
Nah. I’m not sure what that means.
I don’t want to spoil the ending, so I’ll just say that the build-up and the payoff kept me interested until the final page. There were moments when I was ready to put the book down and call it quits, but in spite of those moments, I continued reading, and that says a lot about a book to me. Despite the issues I had with it, which I admit are nitpicks, there’s a pretty solid story behind it.
2.5 – 3 Stars