Back in October, I reviewed Anthea Sharp’s Feyland trilogy. I’d gotten the first two Feyland books as part of Story Bundle’s young adult bundle, and enjoyed them so much that I got the third one from Amazon. This month, Ms. Sharp offered to send me an advance review copy of Spark, the first book in her new spin-off series, Feyguard. I tore through it in three days, loved it, and now as per my word, I am reviewing it.
Superstar gamer Spark Jaxley’s life might look easy, but she’s part of an elite few who guard a shocking secret; the Realm of Faerie exists, and its dark magic is desperate for a foothold in the mortal world.
Aran Cole hacks code and sells his gaming cheats on the black market. It’s barely a living, and one he’s not proud of. But when he turns his skills to unlocking the secrets behind Feyland—the most exciting and immersive game on the market—he discovers power and magic beyond his wildest dreams.
Spark’s mission is clear; pull Aran from the clutches of the fey folk and restore the balance between the worlds. But can she risk her life for someone who refuses to be rescued?
The elements I loved from the Feyland trilogy continue in Feyguard. Even at the professional level, Spark’s gender is never made an issue in regard to her gaming ability. Sure, Spark is every male (and many a female) gamer’s celebrity crush, but the fact that she’s a pro gamer girl isn’t treated as unique or unusual. She’s one of four top gamers, two male and two female, backed by her corporate sponsor. I thought it was particularly smart of Sharp to make Spark’s main human antagonists a team of boy/girl twins. Roc Terabin by himself would’ve made the rivalry seem like a battle of the sexes. Cora Terabin by herself would’ve come across as stereotypical catty girl-hate. Together, they’re just plain horrible people. We want to see Spark come out on top not because Roc is a boy or Cora is a Mean Girl, but because Spark is good and the Terabins suck.
Femmephobia continues to be absent, too. Spark’s trademark is her bright magenta hair. Her personality is more assertive and tomboyish than Jennet’s, but this isn’t portrayed as meaning Spark is stronger. Although Spark is more of a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl on her own time, she sucks it up and wears garish spandex costumes and theatrical makeup for public appearances because it’s part of her job. I really like the way Spark’s attitude toward her rockstar life as a pro gamer is handled. She sometimes acknowledges feeling fatigued, overwhelmed, lonely, and rootless , but it doesn’t come across as whining. She takes these feelings in stride as part of a very rewarding package deal that she willingly signed up for.
Like Jennet and Tam, part of Spark and Aran’s attraction to each other is their mutual love of gaming. But unlike Tam, the noble knight in shining armor, black hat hacker Aran falls for Spark while trying to hack the game she was hired to promote. They meet again after he opens the breach she fought to close in the last book. Their inevitable conflict still avoids Battle of the Sexes and Strong Female Character Who Doesn’t Need A Man’s Help territory. While Spark and Aran’s goals start out at odds, their personalities are a perfect match. When they can fight for a common goal, they’re a perfect team. Made up of believably imperfect gamers.
Feyland itself, both the game and the faerie land it borders, remains as engaging and well-developed as in the first trilogy. Which brings me to the only real weakness I’ve noticed in these books: the human world in this fictional future universe isn’t nearly as well-developed. It’s more noticeable in this book than in the first three since Spark is actually traveling this world as part of her corporate sponsorship gig. Aran’s descriptions of his home city are about as generic as possible. Overall, though, this isn’t too distracting since the human world isn’t the focus here. This story is about characters who live for escaping into a computer-generated fantasy world. In other words, the kind of people who devour urban fantasy novels, faerie folklore, and RPGs like Feyland. And as I mentioned in my review of the first trilogy, I like that this future is neither a utopia nor a dystopia. It’s basically the present, but with better cars and gaming systems.
Spark is due for release on December 15th, 2013. If you like fantasy, video games, and YA novels with characters who aren’t a carbon copy of every other YA cast, add this one to your Christmas list!