Blog Tour: Pixeldust – T.K. Arispe

*I received a free copy of this book with thanks to the author and Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources blog tours. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*

Blurb: Maria Elena thought she’d sworn off gaming forever. But she hates her new internship, so her brother Balt convinces her to play Heroes of Avonell, a cutting-edge virtual-reality video game with such complex programming that it’s like the non-player characters are self-aware.

Disappointed with the usual cliché job class offerings, Maria Elena’s character Quinny stumbles through a glitch in the game and ends up in Caed Dhraos, a strange city populated with friendly monsters. Quinny decides to work for the resident dark lord as part of his magic personnel, but she can’t tell anybody she’s playing in off-limits areas of the game—not even Balt. Soon Quinny finds herself getting to the bottom of a mystery surrounding an ancient demon and why Caed Dhraos is suffering from the Blight.

But the artificial intelligences in the game really are self-aware, and some of Avonell’s so-called “heroes” have decided they don’t like humanity very much. The game has gone out of control, and Maria Elena and her new friends have to find a way to set things right. Can she save Avonell – and Earth – while juggling her real job and trying to salvage her crumbling relationship with her brother?

Pixeldust is a dive into a fantastical, fun virtual world where the universe may be made of data, but the dangers, friendships, magic, and lessons learned are very real.

T.K. Arispe gives a fresh perspective on the typical RPG tropes, in a sci-fi/fantasy adventure that gamers – especially fans of The Elder Scrolls or World of Warcraft – will enjoy and identify with.

The story follows Maria Elena as she re-enters the addictive world of online gaming and finds herself drawn more to the virtual world she uncovers than her own day-to-day drudgery. Any gamer will recognise her insistence that clocking in to work her daily magic practicing and herb collecting tasks is much more appealing that the spreadsheets and team meetings of the average office job! But Maria’s fantasy world presents her – via her avatar, Quinny – with some very real dilemmas. What if the bad guys want to be good? What makes someone a ‘real’ person, as opposed to a line of code or a bag of cells? With everyone keeping secrets, trying to do the right thing is getting harder and harder, and Maria is starting to realise that this particular game could hurt more than feelings and stats.

There is no graphic violence here and no romance, so it is perfectly suitable for middle-grade to teen upwards, even though the main character is a young/new adult. Maria actually comes across as quite young in outlook and experience, despite her job and living situation, and her close-but-still-bickery relationship with her younger brother Balt, reinforces that feeling of innocence. This plays well as she brings her open mind and heart to a world set up with inherent prejudices and planned storylines, and is able to see a different way to play things.

I absolutely love the concept of sentient NPCs, and reading this story made me long for my own favourite RPG series (The Elder Scrolls) to have this sort of complexity, in spite of – or perhaps because of – the problems it brings to Avonell! Imagine being free to change sides or play against the set storyline, seeing the whole world from the other side of the screen. It is the same sort of reason I adored Pratchett’s Only You Can Save Mankind, but with a setting that appeals to my adult aesthetic more (swords and sorcery, instead of space invaders).

Fellow gamers will enjoy this virtual adventure into morality and magic, and will definitely identify with Maria’s urge to sack off the day job to go questing online. In fact, I’m off now to save Vvardenfall from the Blight, again, but maybe I’ll play as an orc this time!

As soaring music played, the camera swept over a massive white castle, mysterious woodlands, and craggy valleys, all rendered with exquisite artistry. Their colorful landscapes seemed worlds removed from rainy old Settle. Then the scene cut to monstrous-looking troops marching on a medieval-style town, their armor and weapons glistening threateningly in the sun.
In back of the troops, a grizzled, battle-scarred orc shouted orders as the creatures laid waste to the town. Black-robed magicians shot fire spells at buildings before holding up mechanical devices that seemed to vacuum up sparkles from the air, storing the shiny stuff in glass containers.
A world threatened by darkness, the trailer said. Warriors who must band together to protect their homeland. The trailer showed a bunch of quick cuts of fight scenes against these dark forces. An elf unleashed a flurry of impossible martial arts moves. A catlike creature shot glowing arrows that exploded into a tangle of vines. And a human wearing heavy armor let out a shout as she swung an ornate sword, her cape billowing behind her. Will you be one of them? Avonell needs heroes!

– T.K. Arispe, Pixeldust


Find more from T.K. Arispe at her website here, or follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Goodreads.

Pixeldust is available on Amazon right now!

Don’t forget to stop by the other blogs on this tour (see the poster below for details) for more great content and reviews!

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