What if the world you play in at your DnD table could be made real, and you could go on vacation and hang out there? Shut up and take my money, eccentric billionaire!
Plot: Harris Lang, eccentric billionaire, has a problem. He has invested untold sums in a Jurassic Park-esque private island that would allow visitors to live out their fantasies riding unicorns and fighting dragons. Which makes sense, because who WOULDN’T pay to go there? Only problem is that the employees on site have gone a tiny bit rogue and have locked him out (with a fucking forcefield that full on killed some dudes no less). Fortunately, the ex of one of the suspected leaders of the mutiny is giant nerd and literature professor Dr. Addie Cox, and for the low price of a $20k grant for her department, she agrees to join a mercenary strike force to get on the island, help navigate it, and hopefully talk the leader of the mutineers down. Shenanigans ensue.
If you, like Addie, is a big ole nerd who loves fantasy, this is the book for you. It is a celebration of all aspects of the genre, chock full of references but not in a way that feels contrived. The references are not there so you can point and say “ha! I recognise!” (mostly – there are a couple Monty Python references that are clearly just there for the pleasure of it) but rather to help enrich this world. It also, like much of media these days, tries to explore the moral gray area of discovering something precious to you and learning that its creation and creator are pretty awful.
This is clearly meant to be the start of a series, and so does suffer to an extent from a lack of depth possibly meant to be left to future books to explore. Addie is the survivor of a school shooting, but except for a fear of guns and feelings of survivor’s guilt, this isn’t really explored. You could have the exact same character be dealing with surviving any violent crime, but school shootings are such a unique thing and feels underserved by the narrative thus far. Especially given how many guns (mostly held by the Good Guys) there are in this book. The other members of the party are even more superficial, which isn’t to say that there isn’t enough meat to build off of for future stories, just that they never exactly jump off the page in this one.
The real star of this story is, of course, the Island of Insula Mirabilis itself. Everything about the island is described in great detail from the surreal landscape to the fantastical animals and even the minute-in-the-future technology that creates the fantasy. It is a fantastical world, and there is immense tension through Addie of both wanting to see behind the curtain and desperately wanting to believe the fantasy. Don’t read this book for the characters or the plot, read it to immerse yourself in the possibility of a place like Mirabilis existing one day, and hoping you can afford a ticket.
Final note – Bards rule and I am deeply offended by the suggestion that they have no useful skills.