Jonah Delacroix can't stand the real world - so he lives most of his life inside a global computer-based virtual world called the Metasphere, where everyone is represented by an avatar. When he discovers the avatar of his dead father, and assumes his online identity, a series of events are unleashed that compel Jonah to race across the real world with a secret society to protect the freedom of all mankind...
You would have to be some kind of hermit living in a shack on a remote Pacific island not to have noticed the glut of YA dystopian novels that have flooded the market of the past couple of years. If I'm brutally honest, I'm getting more than a little bored of them, but there is still one sub-genre of this that still excites me - tech. Over the past year or so I have had the pleasure of reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (written for the adult market but potentially just as exciting for older teen boys); Bzrk by Michael Grant; Insignia by S.J. Kincaid; and now Metawars: Fight for the Future by Jeff Norton. Every one of these books has the potential to turn a certain type of reluctant reader boy (or girl) on to reading, as they all have huge appeal for gamers.
Metawars starts off with protagonist Jonah Delacroix racing through the night time streets of London on his trusty rollerblades, desperate to win the sizeable meta-dollar prize that will keep him and his mother in food foe the next few months. Unfortunately for Jonah, as he is in spitting distance of the finish line he is thrown off his feet by an huge explosion - the terrorist Guardians that he hates so much have struck again. Meanwhile, across the other side of the Atlantic the US government has fallen, and Matthew Granger, creator of the Metasphere and long incarcerated leader of the Millennials is released from his prison by his armed supporters. Jonah does not yet know it, but both of these events are about to change his life immeasurably.
The world in which Jonah lives is not hugely different to ours in many ways. Millions live in poverty and can't help but see their future as being particularly bleak. To escape the day-to-day depression of their lives they spend increasingly more hours plugged into the Metasphere, a virtual world where people have jobs, socialise with each other, and in Jonah's case, attend school. Every person who enters the Metasphere has their very own avatar, constructed for them by the software, based upon the owner's own sub-consciousness. There are unicorns, dragons, robots, animals, and some even more bizarre avatars, but Jonah is stuck with a humatar, i.e. his avatar looks just like his real world self.
In discussions at school Jonah is always the first to defend the Millennials (his father used to be Granger's personal pilot) and just as quick to damn the Guardians, who he believes murdered his father in a terrorist attack some years ago. However, very soon Jonah's world is going to be rocked as everything he believes is challenged, and the lines between good and evil become increasingly blurred. As events begin to unfold he finds himself on the run with the people he previously hated, not really knowing who to trust as he crosses both the virtual and real worlds, fleeing for his life.
Metawars is a super fast-paced and well plotted story that sucks readers in from the very first chapter, and I would have finished it in a single sitting if I hadn't already made plans to go out with friends. As it was, we were late arriving as I kept on telling my wife I wanted to read one more chapter. And then another. And another.
Jeff Norton has filled his story with a great number of cracking concepts and ideas that will fire up the imaginations of young people, and I think it would make a really good class reader for English lessons as there are so many elements that make great points for discussion. Both the Millennials and the Guardians feel that they are morally right, and every action they make is justified, whatever the collateral damage, and readers will find themselves challenged just as much as Jonah does. Although it is science fiction, many of the concepts are only a few jumps on from web and gaming technology that so many people, young and old, enjoy today and this makes the story all that more credible as a possible future world that may be experienced by today's teens.
If you have boys or girls that prefer sitting in front of a screen with a game controller in their hand to reading then this might be the book that gets them turning their console off, even if just for thirty minutes at a time. It is the first in a series, and although Jeff Norton brings this instalment to a satisfying end, it leaves enough questions to make kids hungry for more. The good news is, we don't have long to wait as the sequel, Metawars: The Dead Are Rising is scheduled for a November release. There is also a cool website that ties nicely into the book at www.metawarsbooks.com where you can enter a competition to win an ipad.
My thanks go to the lovely people at Orchard Books for sending me a copy to review.