Escape Room by Christopher Edge

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Escape Room by Christopher Edge

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: In recorded music, to 'brickwall' is to turn everything up to eleventy-stupid, lose much subtlety, but carry on all guns blazing. This then brickwalls the story of five disparate kids in an escape room scenario.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 208 Date: February 2022
Publisher: Nosy Crow Ltd
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1788007962

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I've seen junior variants of the 'Choose Your Own Adventure' format cover escape rooms – the process by which a character or characters start by being trapped in a specific location, and have to solve problems in order to get their way out. What I've not done (alongside experience one for myself – for that would require actual friends) is seen a prose book describing people in such an adventure, with the regular second person narrative replaced by the first. Here, Ami and four other tweenagers, all new to each other and booked into the game without any of their friends, are a team – starting out at the game's main offices, where they're told they and their quest for The Answer are a world-changer. But could watching people engage with such a pastime, despite the ramped-up threat levels, change much in the world of literature?

Things didn't, it has to be said, start off too promisingly. First the narration had to drip into our perception what an escape room involves, just in case. It had to do the same with the first active part of the players' process, which proved to be playing chess with a robot – that too has to be defined at every stage. At least it got in the way of the characters, including some instantly unlikeable ones, with their unlikeable bickering, as all disparate strangers have to do when plot is lacking.

Plot generally isn't lacking from then on, even if the bickering types are allowed to continue. The book does engage with that increased scale where writing about an escape game easily bests trying to build one. That said, it actually proves to be a ridiculous simulacrum of an escape game – impossible scenes, impossible locations, impossibly knowledgable players... Many a time, indeed, I can imagine an adult coming to a new scene, or to a new event within a scene, and, scoffing at the whole thing, put it down. Luckily, or not, I had a niggle that told me not to do that (plus, you know, a reviewer's obligation...).

This book ultimately is one that is very hard to critique. I think if you're still interested in my response you'll have to settle with the opinion that it's an interesting, peculiar read that ultimately isn't a complete success, where things take their intended path in just too clumsy a fashion for this to be loved. But there is still a big BUT to come, so spoiler-phobic readers can skip the rest of the write-up.

The thing is – reminding you that I'm going to do what reviewers never should and give things away – is that this isn't a book about an escape room. We find out very late in the game, mind – and that's where I call this book clumsy. I think too much of the previous is too ridiculous – things indeed get quite risible at times – and the way through the story for the characters is too OTT for us to like it when the rug is pulled from under us. There were questions for me (as an adult reader, at least) about its success when the first solution was terribly easy, and yet the countdown to failure was allowed to get ridiculously close to zero. After that things escalated too greatly (including the characters' knowledge) for anything to remain realistic, hence my niggle. But I do wonder if the book could not have stuck to the reality of an escape room game, and still have reached a similar conclusion.

That alternative path to the end of this book still might not have been feasible, however – as I say, we start watching Ami play chess while telling us in her narration what it is to play chess. Would a book portraying an escape game ever really have been a success? Would it not have been better, with an important moral in mind, to have teased us with ways to know things weren't as they seemed – to have us be less passive observers of the patently unreal? The jury is out, but it's clear that big questions remain, hence my calling this an interesting, intriguing indeed, failure. But as the great minds always tell us, it is better to have tried and failed than never to have tried. There's some most vivid and evocative scene-setting here – it's just not the scene of any plausible game. And there is a solution as to why that is, but I did think it an ungainly way for us to get to it.

I must still thank the publishers for my review copy.

The Longest Night of Charlie Noon really floated our boat from this author. For a superlative, high-concept adventure for this age-range, The Day the Screens Went Blank by Danny Wallace and Gemma Correll remains thoroughly distinctive. Grow up a couple of years, and I'd see the Escape Room audience enjoying the series starting with Furnace: Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith.

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