Review: The Leveller by Julia Durango

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Leveller by Julia DurangoThe Leveller by Julia Durango
Series: The Leveller #1
Published by HarperCollins on June 23, 2015
Pages: 256
Source: the publisher
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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’ve only read a small number of books that have virtual worlds and/or gaming. They were good, but they weren’t very engaging for one reason or another – usually because the virtual world felt under-developed or I didn’t connect with the characters. So I was hesitate to read The Leveller, but it really sounded amazing and I ended up really enjoying it.

I really liked Nixy as a whole – her character, her personality, her voice and especially the reasoning behind her avatar’s appearance. She could be a bit cocky, thinking she was the best at Levelling, but she also acknowledged her faults and weaknesses. When she went into the MEEP for Wyn, she had to conquer some epic fears and phobias. She didn’t always succeed on the first try but, through it all, she never gave up. She was determined to make it through and find Wyn and I really liked that about her. I also really liked her relationship with her parents. So many YA novels have the parents absent or they fight and don’t get along with their kids at all. While these things may be true for some families, it’s not true for all and it’s nice to see a great family dynamic for once.

Wyn was an interesting character. I liked him well enough and there wasn’t really anything I didn’t like about him.. He was usually nice to Nixy, though they had some heated moments – which is understandable, given their circumstances. He was pretty good at holding his own when he and Nixy had to fight their way out of a bad situation, too. But he didn’t really stand out among the sea of male YA love interests. He grew on me, though, and I liked him a lot more near the end.

My only thing with Wyn and Nixy was, while I really liked them together and don’t usually mind insta-love, it bugged me a bit this time. While I could sense the chemistry and the connection between them, I felt like they needed more time to get to know each other. This felt like the whole “bonding during a natural disaster” or crisis kind of situation – is it a real “I like/love you” thing or just the adrenaline from the situation and being forced to spend time together? I think, given more time, they’d make an adorable, epic couple. But not yet.

I have a LOT to say about Moose and Chang. They were hilarious and I really liked them in the beginning, but as the story went on, I started to feel like they knew more than they were letting on and I grew very suspicious of them. I won’t say more because I don’t want to risk spoilers but.. Ugh. On the flip side, I adored Nixy’s parents and Wyn’s Mama Beti! Wyn’s father, though.. He wasn’t always the nicest guy and his concern for the game felt like it took precedence over his concern for his son, which is wrong on so many levels.

The world-building in this book was epic! The MEEP – the virtual gaming world – was incredibly well-developed. I could visualize it so easily, I almost felt like I was there with Nixy. The world is really what pulled me into this story, more than anything else. At one point, Nixy is in this epic maze that made this book feel like gaming meets Labyrinth. Unlike the previous gaming/virtual reality books I’ve read, the MEEP felt like something that could actually exist. It also helped that, aside from the MEEP, it felt like the story was set in the present day. Most books with this level of technology are set in the future, making it feel like it could happen, but not for many years. The Leveller felt like it was happening right here, right now.

A little over half-way through the book, the pacing and action slowed down a bit, making the story drag. It didn’t last long, though. And overall, the story was pretty fast-paced and intriguing. Durango is a great writer, which helped keep me engaged during the slower parts.

There were a handful of crazy twists and character revelations. With one character, I didn’t expect what happened to happen at all and I was pretty shocked. But with another character, I saw the twist coming way before it happened. The ending was a bit of a let-down, though. I would have liked a little more closure, maybe at least an epilogue. But there’s apparently going to be a second book, so hopefully that will answer all my unanswered questions.

Overall, this book was a really fun read. I loved the MEEP, the characters and the writing. I’m very excited to see what happens in book two with Nixy and Wyn, Chang, Moose and LEGION. I definitely recommend this book if you’re a fan of virtual reality and/or gaming.


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