“When fifteen-year-old nerd and gamer Max Anderson thinks he’s sneaking a preview of an unpublished video game, he doesn’t realize that 1) He’s been chosen as a beta, an experimental test player. 2) He’s playing the ultimate history game, transporting him into the actual past: anywhere and anytime. And 3) Survival is optional: to return home he must decipher the game’s rules and complete its missions if he lives long enough. To fail means to stay in the past forever. Now Max is trapped in medieval Germany, unprepared and clueless. It is 1471 and he quickly learns that being an outcast may cost him his head. Especially after rescuing a beautiful peasant girl from a deadly infection and thus provoking sinister wannabe Duke Ott. Overnight he is dragged into a hornets’ nest of feuding lords who will stop at nothing to bring down the conjuring stranger in their midst.”
Now, I’m not a big gamer and I always play the few games I do on the easy or beginner mode. Having said that, if I chose the master level on a historical adventure computer game and found myself actually transported to the past, I do not think I would have coped as well as Max does. Yes he freaks out for a decent portion of the book, and yes he draws attention to himself for being weird (aka knowing about hygiene and other modern ideas!) but generally he does alright. At first. He finds food and shelter and a friend. And a girl. Then it goes…. less well. To say more would be ruining things.
It took me a while to get into this book and at first I put it down quite a lot. I can’t really pinpoint the reason why now that I’ve finished it because it is an exciting and realistic tale with a protagonist that is actually someone you want to root for. I think perhaps I would have liked to have seen Max in his real life more before he is transported to 1471. To jump pretty much straight into suspending my disbelief was a bit much- I would have liked the time to warm up to the concept.
Once Max is more thoroughly rooted in the story and more accepting of the idea that it isn’t really just a game, the story begins to fly by. Oppenlander is a gifted writer and her attention to the smallest details really allows her world to come to life. She has clearly done a hefty amount of research into this time period and even my finely-tuned ‘historical inaccuracies in fiction’ radar didn’t ping. The world that Max enters is the medieval world of the peasants- harsh, gruelling, relentless, unhygienic, smelly, really bloody hard! The realism of the world was a definite strength and helped to make what could have been a silly concept exciting.
Some of the characters were real historical people and there is an author’s note at the end to expand on this, and I think that this may have been the reason why some of the characters didn’t feel very well fleshed out. The highlight though is the character of Max. He feels very ‘teenagery’ but not in a cliched way. He just seems like you really could meet him on the street and he wouldn’t seem any different from any other teenager you may know. His trails and tribulations are pretty dire at times and you find yourself rooting for him all the way. This is not the type of book that could have worked with anything less than a strong protagonist.
Overall I thought this was a decent read. I think I perhaps would have enjoyed it a bit more had I been younger- given that this book is aimed at the YA market, I don’t consider this to be a criticism.