Epic by Conor Kostick

In Erik's world, everything from resource allocation to conflict resolution is determined and decided by how successful and how skilled you are in the game of Epic.  Everyone participates in this online role-playing game (think World of Warcraft type MMORPG game) so that the society and Central Allocations (CA, the governing body) can enforce the one fundamental rule on this New Earth: absolutely no violence allowed.

Erik, his family and his whole village is not doing well, and many are in danger of being relocated to work in the salt mines. He is frustrated and he is beginning to see the pattern: a family needs something, they go challenge CA in a battle, they lose. No one ever beats CA in the game. They're rich and they can adorn their characters with the most powerful weapons and potions and strengths. Not only that, he is about to graduate but his character keeps dying and he is not gathering enough wealth and resources to move ahead. But worst of all is the fact that his dad refuses to fight and won't tell him why. The only way to catapult to instant success is to find a way to slay the dragon and take his treasure, so Erik spends his time studying the game, and he just might have figured a glitch and a way to defeat the dragon.  Can Erik succeed? And what is CA going to think about all this?

I wasn't 100% sure if I liked the book or not when I was reading it, but it's a pretty well constructed novel. It's got a great conflict, a great diverse cast of characters, both on the good and the "evil" side, and the ending is surprisingly satisfying and provides a genuine resolution, despite the fact that this is book one in a series. No cliffhanger, thank goodness!

I'd like to see the writing tightened up a bit, 'cause it took a bit too long for the catalyst to set off the chain of events that forces Erik and his friends to challenge the Central Allocations, and there are a few things mentioned that could be exploited a bit more (like the Executioner, who is supposed to be this invincible secret weapon of CA, but it doesn't do that much, or that the game itself becomes sentient and aware that it is a game).

The one thing I can't figure out is the vampire.  Yes, there's a vampire, the traditional scary seductive "I'll suck your blood" kind.  I love him as a character and he  became a great villain in the book, and there is this one dramatic scene with him that I felt like I was holding my breath the whole time, but I felt like he took over as a villain and CA kind of faded to the back.

Anyway, it's a good ride. Sequel: Saga and Edda
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