Published by HarperTeen
Published on June 23rd 2015
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Nixy Bauer is a self-made Leveller. Her job? Dragging kids out of virtual reality and back to their parents in the real world. It’s normally easy cash, but Nixy’s latest mission is fraught with real danger, intrigue, and romance.
Nixy Bauer is used to her classmates being very, very unhappy to see her. After all, she’s a bounty hunter in a virtual reality gaming world. Kids in the MEEP, as they call it, play entirely with their minds, while their bodies languish in a sleeplike state on the couch. Irritated parents, looking to wrench their kids back to reality, hire Nixy to jump into the game and retrieve them.
But when the game’s billionaire developer loses track of his own son in the MEEP, Nixy is in for the biggest challenge of her bounty-hunting career. Wyn Salvador isn’t some lazy kid looking to escape his homework: Wyn does not want to be found. And he’s left behind a suicide note. Nixy takes the job but quickly discovers that Wyn’s not hiding—he’s being held inside the game against his will. But who is holding him captive, and why?
Nixy and Wyn attempt to fight their way out of a mind game unlike any they’ve encountered, and the battle brings them closer than either could have imagined. But when the whole world is virtual, how can Nixy possibly know if her feelings are real?
Gamers and action fans of all types will dive straight into the MEEP, thanks to Julia Durango’s cinematic storytelling. A touch of romance adds some heart to Nixy’s vivid, multidimensional journey through Wyn’s tricked-out virtual city, and constant twists keep readers flying through to the breathtaking end.
I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
The world is obsessed with a virtual simulation called MeaParadisus, or MEEP. It’s strictly a solo game where people can live out their fantasies. Nixy can (illegally) enter other people’s games courtesy of her beta code (courtesy of her parents, who both work with the MEEP) and extract them if they’re illegally staying too long. When the creator of the MEEP’s son goes missing and is presumed suicidal, Nixy is pulled in to level him. But she’s not the only person in Wyn’s MEEP, and the bad guys don’t want either of them to escape.
I loved the worldbuilding in The Leveller. I could clearly imagine the virtual worlds and it felt like a kind of paradise. My only issue is the word ‘leveller’: instead of using a word like ‘extractor’, Durango chose to use a word with strictly different connotations in the gaming world. Levelling is where you game to specifically increase your character’s level. If you paid someone to be a leveller, you’d be paying them to raise the level of your gaming character. In this world, it means someone who illegally enters someone’s private game world to confront them and shame them into leaving the MEEP if they’ve (illegally) spent longer then 4 hours there (as you can’t force someone to leave if they don’t want to). Nixy calling herself an extractor or something similar would be a better word, especially considering this whole book revolves around gaming.
CHARACTERS + RELATIONSHIPS
Nixy was a really interesting character. She was totally confident of everything she did, a total badass babe. I think most of that confidence came from the fact that the MEEP can’t actually hurt you, and because of her parents’ privileged positions as a game developer and script writer she had access to betas before anyone else, which is what allowed her to become a leveller in the first place. On the flip side, her utter confidence and capability as a badass babe made me feel like she was never really put in much danger and I never really feared for her.
She had a completely platonic relationship with her two male best friends but instantly felt a pull of attraction for Wyn, her new target. Honestly their romance felt a little lacklustre to me. I liked that Nixy was attracted to Wyn, but I didn’t feel the same from him, and I didn’t totally buy the romance aspect – especially the contrived memory lapse that caused Nixy to forget their first kiss, and Wyn’s reluctance to remind her.
Nixy’s parents were another matter. She didn’t have much respect for her mother (being the ‘boring writer’ rather than the ‘artistic developer’ her dad was), and she would switch between calling them by their first name or ‘Mom and Dad’. She was much closer to her dad, who spoiled her by giving her all sorts of early access, while the poor hard-done-by mother coddled both of them and didn’t really have as much respect.
WHAT WORKED/DIDN’T WORK
The biggest issue I have with The Leveller is a worldbuilding rule Durango made and then consistently broke. There’s no multi-player in the MEEP, not remote or even LAN. Yet because Nixy has a beta code, she’s able to complete her illegal levelling. Her friends Moose and Chang are both hackers who can also enter other peoples’ games, yet when the three of them decide to have a competition, they can’t all enter one game and have to basically do solo missions and compare stats and data. What’s the point of making this ‘no multiplayer’ if the whole plot revolves around the fact that hackers have tampered with someone’s world and enter it as easily yet illegally as Nixy enters?
Also, I was beginning to think that maybe the whole ‘entering someone else’s MEEP’ was because Nixy was in close proximity, like a LAN rather than remote, but the bad guys don’t need to be near their clients like Nixy seems to have to be.
I feel like the book left some elements open, perhaps in the hope that it would develop into a series. I certainly feel that it needs a sequel – not only to wrap up what happens to some characters whose fates were left unknown, but also to know what happened next with the MEEP – is it really a force for good or evil?
I often have something here to say about the relevance of the title of the book, but I’ve already talked about the use of the word ‘leveller’ in a book about a video game/simulation, but I want to address the tag used on the cover: “There is no reset button.” Obviously it was tagged by someone who’s not read the book because the whole point of Nixy going in to rescue Wyn is that there IS a reset button… SIGH.
I really enjoyed reading The Leveller despite the issues I had with it. I loved being in the MEEP with Nixy and experiencing all those exotic locations and fantasies, and the plot moved along quickly enough that I never grew bored. I wouldn’t mind reading the sequel
Oh, and for those who care, Nixy is a white girl and her love interest is a Hispanic boy, so bonus points for diversity?