Review by C.J. Bunce

Words are power in Scotto Moore’s expansive, mind-bending first novel, Battle of the Linguist Mages.  “Power morphemes” are power itself, punctuation marks are aliens, and nothing is as it seems in an almost drug-induced frenzy about a young woman immersed in the real-life politics behind her favorite MMPORG virtual reality universe, Sparkle Dungeon 4.  Follow as the Queen of Sparkle Dungeon infiltrates the corporation behind the game in this new Tor release, arriving at bookstores this month, and available for pre-order here at Amazon.  How to break reality in three easy steps.  Mr. Robot meets Ready Player One and The Fifth Element?  Maybe, but the world building is more imaginative and detailed than in Ready Player One, and this story isn’t about nostalgia.  The granular level of the world building would feel like something concocted over decades if the subject matter wasn’t so modern.  Someone reading it in 1995 wouldn’t have a clue what it’s even about.  But it’s an extension of sci-fi storytelling dating back to The Last Starfighter and Ender’s Game.  A bit of Avatar--the James Cameron one–but more interesting.  It’s ambitious, but mostly a fun ride.

Sparkle Realm, Glowstick Guards, the Shimmer Lands.  Glittersteel goodies.  A nifty weapon called Blades Per Minute.  This is what readers are getting themselves into.  Isobel Bailie:  She plays.  She excels.  She perfects.  Then she tears a rift in it all.  There is no limit to where she might reach.

Direct communication with question marks.  A distributed alien consciousness.  Rogue punctuation resistance.  An out-of-control cult gains traction in California (but without the special sneakers).  Psychic teleportation.  For many readers, this type of crazy fantasy world will be all gibberish.  With some patience, it’s worth delving in.  It also offers one possible explanation for the how and why behind Professor Xavier’s massive mind communication abilities in the X-Men, here using aliens embedded in the very speech and speech patterns of humans.  Yes, that sounds crazy, but it works.

Some of the story will also be familiar to anyone who has ever worked in a cubicle, in an Office Space kind of way, especially if you worked in the information technology department of a dot-com tech company.  The story really kicks in around the halfway mark when an abandoned high school becomes the setting as a sort of headquarters for those who know about this other level of reality.  Then a Marvel-inspired snap occurs and the world has changed, like the second season gap in Battlestar Galactica.

Sparkle Dungeon 5 (the next version of the game) is coming.  Suddenly the reader is seeing the 21st century version of Tron or TimeCop (or both).  Who is an NPC and who is real?  Who is something else?  Is this story sci-fi or fantasy or horror?

This is a good first novel, but it has its issues.  Isobel starts out as an exciting, amiable lead–a character with a believable, modern voice straight out of a contemporary YA novel, but around the halfway point her dialogue shifts into that of a grizzled old Marine, complete with nonstop profanity.  Both of the lead women characters continue with so many expletives it renders their effect meaningless (real people swear when they need to, right?), and the language pulls the reader out of this fascinating, alternate future world.  What begins sounding like young women shifts to sound like a man writing dialogue for women and that’s unfortunate.  Also, Isobel exhibits an attraction to Maddy that could have been better developed.  It ultimately gets underplayed with no chemistry coming from Maddy’s side and lost in the final strategizing leading up to the story’s climax.  At 448 pages, the book could stand to have a finer edit, as it’s stuffed with repetitive scenes and unnecessary filler–the final 200 pages drags out, losing the momentum built earlier toward what could have been a more powerful ending (and dropping pronouns and sentence subject words at the beginning of sentences evidently to increase pace in a book this long makes for a clunky read).

Ultimately the ideas and young voice upfront make for a refreshing blend of fantasy, sci-fi, and video game culture–and a new writer with potential.  Check out Battle of the Linguist Mages, available now here at Amazon.