HEIR APPARENT by Vivian Vande Velde

Heir ApparentIn the virtual reality game Heir Apparent, there are way too many ways to get killed–and Giannine seems to be finding them all. Which is a darn shame, because unless she can get the magic ring, locate the stolen treasure, answer the dwarf’s dumb riddles, impress the head-chopping statue, charm the army of ghosts, fend off the barbarians, and defeat the man-eating dragon, she’ll never win.

And she has to, because losing means she’ll die–for real this time. (Add to Goodreads)

Review

First off, I’d like to take a moment of silence for the sheer awesomeness that is this author’s name. The best part is, according to her website, that’s actually her real name.

Okay. Moment over.

I was in middle school the first time I read this book. In fact, I ended up reading it a few times during middle school, because my library was small and the book was hilarious, so why the heck not.

I stumbled across it again recently, and I decided to give it another shot–see if it had stood the test of time. As it happens, I’m happy to report that this one held up just fine.

When Giannine’s estranged father sends her a gift card for her birthday–through his secretary, no less–Giannine isn’t expecting much. She ends up getting credit for a round of gameplay at the Rasmussem Corporation Gaming Center, which is basically a virtual reality arcade.

Unfortunately, a group of protesters break into the center and attack the equipment inside while she’s hooked up to it–effectively trapping her in the game. Now the only way out is to beat the game, and quickly: her brain will fry if she spends too long hooked up to the virtual reality machines.

She happens to have chosen the game Heir Apparent, in which she plays a peasant who finds out she’s the king’s illegitimate daughter–and the child he’s named, on his deathbed, as the heir to his throne.

Of course, he’s also left behind three legitimate sons and a real shrew of a wife, and none of them are exactly thrilled about old King Cynric’s (God rest his soul) choice of successor.

None of them are above sabotage, either, which makes things interesting for Giannine. Each time she’s killed in the game, she’s booted back to the starting point–which is one thing when you’re playing Pac-Man, but a whole nother issue when you’re on a life-or-crispy-death deadline. And if there’s one thing Giannine seems good at, it’s making the wrong choices that ultimately get her axed.

That’s the great thing about this book, though. Even though certain aspects of the plot repeat themselves again and again each time Giannine starts over, things never feel annoying or even stale.

This is mostly because of Giannine–she’s hilarious in pretty much everything she does, whether it’s action, dialogue, or her interior monologue. Between her wit, the sarcasm of her half-family and her advisor, and the broken English of the barbarian king threatening her kingdom, I laughed out loud more than once.

Really, that’s all I can ask for in a book–but Heir Apparent delivers more than that. It’s got an engaging plot with just enough twists to defy the formulaic nature of the repeated gameplay, and between the virtual reality premise and the fact that she’s in a medieval-fantasy game, it should appeal to sci-fi and fantasy fans alike.

This is one of those books you wish had a sequel–not because it doesn’t wrap up nicely, but because you want to spend more time with the narrator, more time getting to know the secondary characters. I give it 5/5 stars, and look forward to rereading it again in the future.

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