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Book Review: Edda by Conor Kostick

By / December 23, 2015 / no comments

Firebird (2011), Cover by Tony Sahara

 

Reading Edda requires familiarity with both Epic and Saga, and this write-up will contain plot details from the preceding volumes of the Avatar Chronicles trilogy. Reviews for Epic and Saga, however, can be read without fear of spoilers.

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Conor Kostick started an extremely entertaining trilogy for juveniles with Epic, his opener in the Avatar Chronicles that dealt with dystopian themes in an MMORPG context. It was a solid, virtual quest-adventure and contained an ambitious seed for concepts that he expanded upon with Saga, but by taking it into unexpected territory that seemed only partially related to its predecessor. In this worthy conclusion to the trilogy, Edda (2011), Kostick not only amps up the ante yet again in the concepts explored, but also unites the stories from his previous volumes to give us more adventure, action, philosophical quandaries, and his most sympathetic character yet.

The previous instalments featured certain, limited facets of a larger picture that Kostick was examining. He first presented an isolated scenario as an introduction to some elementary themes against a sword-and-sorcery backdrop. He then took that rudimentary spark, unexpectedly played with it in a more high-tech environment, and partly touched upon the current and wider status quo of humanity. Now, Kostick finally presents the overview, not just of the various virtual realities and how they’re connected, but also the full consequences such worlds have had for their creators and the implications they might hold for the future. Not just satisfied with embedded realities, he now explores parallel universes.

Like the environments of Epic and Saga, Edda was designed as a sophisticated game for humans, both on Earth and for settlers on other worlds. Epic saw the genesis of sapience, where the game as a whole was growing self-aware and contemplating the in-built cognitive dissonance its awareness was presented with. Saga was altogether different, where the discrete packets of information making up ‘individuals’ in the virtual world came to awareness independently, where all inhabitants of the ‘game’ were sapient. Edda seems to straddle an interesting middle ground. Exactly how it does so you’ll discover in the reading.

In this final instalment, Kostick creates a new, extremely sympathetic heroine in Penelope, who spends the majority of her life in virtual reality as an avatar under the ‘guardianship’ of Lord Scanthax. Lord Scanthax rules Edda, having vanquished his enemies with no little help from his ‘ward’. When Penelope discovers a gateway to other worlds, it ignites Lord Scanthax’s hard-wired purpose for war and domination. At the same time, it tips over Penelope’s curiosity over the mystery surrounding her origin, as well as her need for human companionship and growing desire to escape the influence of her ‘guardian’. Lord Scanthax’s war effort is eventually brought to the notice of Erik and Ghost. Recognising the potentially catastrophic danger this force presents, they resolve to band together and quest through universes and light-years in search of the source of this threat.

Edda, then, presents two plot threads. One falls back to the quest format of Epic, where protagonists from previous instalments journey through multiple worlds and attempt to discover answers to many mysteries. The second concerns the concentrated and suspenseful efforts of a young girl covertly striving for freedom from both physical and virtual incarceration.

While both story lines are interesting in their own right, one is far more compelling than the other. This creates an imbalance in reader investment, making you look forward to one thread at the slight expense of the other. The adventures of Erik, Ghost & co. with their spirited battles and covert infiltration through multiple enemy fronts are entertaining and hold interest. But it’s Penelope’s emotional journey, as she carefully navigates through the watchful suspicion of her ‘guardian’ and tests the limits of her tightening quarantine, that grabs interest instantly and completely. Some readers could find that this imbalance leads to a perception of inconsistent pacing.

Also of note is that a few deficiencies seen in Saga are agreeably corrected. An approximate measure of information pertaining to stellar distances is finally provided from which the status of FTL/non-FTL travel can be inferred. And most important of all, the climactic, final confrontation is thoroughly played out. This time, it satisfies with full participation from all relevant characters. It also fleshes out the ethical dilemmas that spring when considering differences between electronic and ‘real’ intelligences by posing the question: is one more valid than the other?

In the Avatar Chronicles, Conor Kostick has created a wonderful, intelligent science fiction trilogy for children of the electronic generation. Not only will eight- to twelve-year olds identify with the gaming aspects of these novels, but through entertaining stories and characters they can empathise with, they’ll be presented with some truly mind-bending concepts that are increasingly relevant to their computer-enhanced experience of the world. Kostick has consistently surprised with the direction each new instalment has taken and, with Edda, has produced a satisfying conclusion to a very entertaining trilogy that comes full circle and again presents magical, fantasy tropes against a high-tech setting. Luckily, despite the close of this trilogy, Kostick seems to have left plenty of scope for further exploration of the universe(s) he’s created, and it’s a potential I definitely look forward to.

© 2015 Nirvan Jain

Conor Kostick

 

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