Maze Cheat by B R Collins

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Maze Cheat by B R Collins

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: The Maze is a computer game so sophisticated it feels to the players as if they are really there. But once people get close to beating the computer, things really do become life or death. Unfortunately, the players don't realise that yet.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: August 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781408827604

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This fast-paced story, with its overtones of Greek tragedy, is set in a dystopian world where acid rain is so bad people must wear a mask just to go outside. People find distraction in role-play games, particularly the Maze, which is the creation of the immensely powerful conglomerate called Crater. The game taps directly into players' minds, making them feel as if they are really present in the virtual world, and is promoted as being unbeatable, but with the help of people like Ario who make their living by creating and selling cheat codes, it looks as if someone is about to reach the final level. And Crater isn't happy about that.

The book follows on from Gamerunner. It is, however, possible to read this story without referring back to the previous one as attention is now on Ario, not Rick. She is a highly gifted game programmer whose reputation is destroyed when a player she sold cheats to fails to complete the game. Now she works in Dion's secret tankshop, making minor cheats and bots in an effort to earn enough gilt to keep herself alive. Her life is spent in front of a computer screen, manipulating code with barely a pause to eat, wash or sleep.

This is definitely a book for teens rather than younger readers. The atmosphere is almost unremittingly dark and gloomy, as the citizens of Undone spend their lives and their money dancing and drinking in shady clubs. Dion, the man who offered Ario shelter and a place to work, spends most of the book high on drugs, and they are used several times throughout the book on other characters, not always therapeutically. Little is said about employment, homes or relationships outside the tankshop, and the mysterious threat of Crater hangs over the whole city. Dystopian novels have been popular with young adults for some time now, and the world-building here, albeit in a very restricted environment, is both detailed and compelling.

Real-life danger and violence explodes onto the page from the very first lines. Someone is out to get Ario, to make her reveal the whereabouts of the tankshop, and they are not afraid to kidnap, sedate or hurt her for the information. Other characters, even sympathetic ones, are injured or killed, and at one point Dion actually orders Ario to leave his shop. This is, to put it simply, a death sentence, because her suit cannot take much more of the acid and once it disintegrates completely her eyes and skin will be swiftly and irreparably damaged. Nonetheless, unlike many novels of its type there is, at the last, a ray of hope which leads the reader to see that humanity is not entirely lost in this less-than-brave new world.

The book is, like the game, an immersive experience, and one which will give readers pause for thought. It isn't an easy or relaxing read, but it is a satisfying one, and fans of B R Collins will greet it with pleasure.

Readers who enjoy this book will probably want to read Gamerunner too. The recent classic of the genre is, of course, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

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