This short story is a prequel to a series of novels, that I haven’t read, about a computer game that actually transports you to a magical realm, but the author, Anthea Sharp, promises a stand alone story with no cliffhanger.
I don’t think she quite delivered. There were scenes and details (specifically the time spent at school) that seemed superfluous to the story. Why do we care about Jennet’s social life when it has little bearing on what she does in the game? And what bearing it does have is somewhat confusing. The Queen wants to get to the human realm, but is locked in the game world, except for the servant she can send to Jennet’s school. And since that servant is also in the game realm… well, the time at school could have spent actually interacting with this character, instead of just mentioning her in passing. Which would have enhanced the story, since this character is important to the plot.
Or Jennet’s discussion of boarding school vs moving with her dad. The story ends before a decision even gets made, and the struggle between the two choices has no bearing on this story at all.
And I know, as an author, why those scenes are there: to titillate readers of the novels with these little tidbits, but as a new reader they didn’t feel like part of this story. They barely influence the choices Jennet makes. I can’t even say they influence her decision to play the game as she was already doing that and had no intention of stopping.
Even the title has this problem. The Queen and her court talk about ‘the other one’ coming into the world. If someone is already coming to the realm when Jennet first starts then this isn’t the first adventure. Okay, sure, it’s Jennet’s first adventure, but then why not call it that?
But truth be told, all my gripes are minor stylistic and language choices. The story is an easy read. The characters are well-rounded, the imagery is nice, and the world building is solid. I liked the sense of being maybe a decade or so into the future. Things are different enough to be intriguing but not so different as to need a glossary to understand what’s going on.
I can’t say that I’d recommend this, or that it made me want to read the main series, but neither is it something that I regret reading, and I didn’t want to chuck it against the wall. Most likely, if I wasn’t an author myself (with definite ideas on shorts, tie-ins, and prequels) I’d probably gobble this up.