I'm a librarian who loves anime, manga, and reading a wide variety of genres.
I came across this while looking for read-alikes for Maki Murakami's Gamerz Heaven. Although I decided it wasn't a good read-alike, the manga and gaming aspects of the book appealed to me. Also, I was blinded by the cover art. If I ever hear that Elise Trinh, the cover artist, has illustrated a graphic novel, I'll be sure to give it a try. Unfortunately, Gamer Girl's cover turned out to be way better than the actual book (despite Allora's wonky right arm, which I just noticed – she's the elf on the bottom half of the cover).
I disliked Maddy, the main character, by the time I reached the book's third page. She was one of the most self-centered protagonists I've encountered in recent memory. If she had intentionally been painted as a difficult-to-like character, that would have been one thing, but I really do think readers were supposed to like and sympathize with her, and I just couldn't.
Maddy's parents had recently split up. Due to the sudden financial strain, her mother could not longer afford to send her to the school (private school, if I remember correctly) she had attended in Boston. Maddy, her younger sister, and her mother had to move in with Maddy's grandmother. Here's a passage from the book, after Maddy has learned that her mother has not gotten her the iPod or car she was hoping to get on her birthday:
“Don't get me wrong. I wasn't one of those spoiled My Super Sweet 16 kids you saw on MTV. I knew money was tight and the last thing I wanted to do was make Mom feel bad for not being able to provide for us. The woman worked two jobs, just to keep us in clothes and shoes. But at the same time I couldn't help but be a little resentful. After all, if she hadn't ditched Dad, there'd be plenty of money for high-end electronics. Not to mention a house we didn't have to share with Grandma. Back in my hometown. With my friends.” (30)
This is how things generally went. Maddy had occasional flashes of “understanding” for her family's situation, but those flashes were drowned out by her annoyance and self-pity over the damage others, primarily her mother, had done to her life. She had absolutely no clue why her parents divorced, but I got the impression she assumed her mother was refusing to get along with her father purely because of some sort of selfish tantrum. I could understand Maddy having a blind spot where her parents were concerned, but you'd think she'd have paid attention to what her parents fought about prior to their divorce.
Just about everything about Maddy annoyed me. Her relationships with her friends back in Boston were so fragile that they fell apart almost immediately – her former friends made excuses not to come to her birthday party because they wanted to go to some other party a hot guy was going to be at instead. Maddy was a bit hurt, but she also decided she couldn't blame them, because she'd have done the same thing had she been in their position. Maddy sounds like she was a miserable friend.
Okay, enough about Maddy – on to the gaming aspects and story. The book was written back in 2008. I can't remember what MMORPGs were out at the time, but MMORPGs in general weren't brand new. I know Maddy was supposed to be a Fields of Fantasy (a generic MMORPG) newbie, but I'm pretty sure there was a bit in the book where Maddy mentioned having watched her dad play. You'd think she'd have picked up even just the most basic aspects of gameplay, but that wasn't the case. I got the impression that Mancusi herself wasn't much of a gamer, and Fields of Fantasy's gameplay seemed to confirm that – specifically, how respawning worked.
In my experience, in games where a player's avatar can die, avatars don't usually respawn in the exact same location where they died – they reappear in the player's assigned “home” or at some other relatively safe location. When Maddy first began Fields of Fantasy, she tried to tackle opponents that were too strong for her. Because she kept respawning in the same spot, she kept dying. Had she not been rescued by another player, Sir Leo, she would never have been able to leave that spot. I can't see a game with such a horrifically bad setup ever attracting new players, and so I had a tough time believing in the existence of Fields of Fantasy.
Because of Sir Leo's insistence that he and Maddy/Allora play “in character,” the gaming aspects of the book were sometimes cringe-worthy. It was a relief whenever they switched over to chatting as themselves – no more not-always-consistently-used “thee,” “thou,” and “m'lady.”
In addition to gaming, manga also came up quite a bit in the book. Unfortunately, that didn't appeal to me any more than the gaming aspects did. Maddy was, naturally, a fantastic manga artist – this was stressed so much that it became kind of annoying. Maddy didn't need any help improving her art, because it was (in the words of her teacher) already better than some of the stuff currently being published. Yes, I rolled my eyes a lot.
Lots and lots of manga titles were mentioned, although you could have changed those titles to something else and it wouldn't have made a difference. All those titles were probably listed with the intention of making the manga aspects feel more authentic, but it just amounted to a bunch of name-dropping.
The ending wrapped everything up nice and tidy, even when it wasn't warranted. Everything just came together so that Maddy could have a 100% happy ending. I didn't really feel that Maddy had grown, so much as her world had shifted and molded around her to make her life more pleasant. All in all, this wasn't a good book. I can't even say the romance aspect interested me all that much.
(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)