The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 6, 2008

Book review: Memorable characters populater 'Heir Apparent'

‘Heir Apparent’

By Vivian Vande Velde

Rasmussen Enterprises has developed the ultimate RPGs (role-playing games) — total immersion gaming, or virtual reality.

When Giannine Belisario signs up to play “Heir Apparent,” her brain is hooked up to the gaming console so that she is her character, Janine de St. Jehan, a sheepherder who turns out to be half royal. As the game begins, her brain is filled with the memories of Janine so that Giannine knows what she needs to in order to navigate the game and its characters successfully.

Giannine, through the virtual-reality technology, is also able to feel the things that Janine touches, hear the things that she hears, feel hunger when Janine would be hungry, taste the food that she eats, and smell the things that she smells. (Of course, the smelling factor isn’t quite so desirable when your character smells like sheep dung.)

Giannine’s goal in “Heir Apparent” and the key to winning the game is to be crowned king of her kingdom. She must make allies with characters, figure out who isn’t to be trusted, and avoid getting herself in one of the infinite number of messes that will get her character killed and sent back to the very beginning of the game. Things are going smoothly for Giannine until a freak lightning storm in the game that only she can see throws off her concentration and one of the other characters vying for the throne kills her.

Shortly after the strange lightning storm, Giannine’s character begins to hear a voice and sees a godlike figure descend from above. This person is not, as Giannine figured, God, but is Dr. Rasmussen himself. He has broken into her game to inform her that the gaming console was damaged during a raid by a local group called Citizens to Protect Our Children (CPOC).

The CPOC vandals believe that Rasmussen Enterprises compromises children through fantasy game-play and have damaged the offending game while Giannine was well into “Heir Apparent.” Rasmussen explains that if they unhook her brain from the console too quickly, the chances of her sustaining brain damage or even death are great. The only safe way to unhook her brain from the console is for her to play to the logical end and win the game.

Simple enough … only, it’s not that simple. Giannine has a very limited amount of time to play before her body shuts down with the console. Now, Giannine must quickly navigate through the game with only a few cryptic hints from Dr. Rasmussen and be crowned king before her time — and her life — runs out.

Vivian Vande Velde has written many books for teens and has a knack for keeping the pages turning. She handles the transitions from Giannine to Janine and back well so that readers do not get confused. She also has a real talent for developing memorable and fun characters. Giannine is a savvy girl with a wonderful, sarcastic wit and the story’s secondary characters — including a wizard who munches on centipedes, a prince with more muscle than brains, and a barbarian king well versed in flattery — are sure to tickle readers’ funny bones.

This book is appropriate for all teens and adults.

Cari Boatright is the teen librarian at Joplin Public Library.