Velde, Vivian Vande. Heir Apparent. San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., 2002. ISBN 0-15-204560-0, hc, 315 pp., $17.00.
(This review originally appeared in Mythprint 39:11 (#248) in November 2002.)
Reviewed by Jane Bigelow
Role playing games have become virtual reality games so real that players can smell the world of the game. A public bus argues with Giannine Bellisario in the opening scene, refusing to drop her off at the Rasmussem Gaming Center because demonstrators in front of the building might endanger her. Technology has changed, but the human problems haven’t in Vande Velde’s new YA novel. Giannine’s parents have had a thoroughly nasty divorce; the fourteen-year-old protagonist lives with her grandmother because neither parent cares enough to make time for her.
The reader has to accept one clumsy plot device in the Virtual Reality game that Giannine chooses to play. In order to make “Heir Apparent” playable by either sex, the game’s creators have set it up so that a girl playing the game is chosen as heir by the dying king in spite of having three older legitimate brothers. Giannine doesn¹t see anything too unlikely in this, and the rest of the book is good enough to make it worth going along.
There’s plenty of action, as you would expect from a role-playing game. It doesn’t take long before Giannine is in real and serious danger because of the Citizens to Protect Our Children (CPOC). They’ve gone past demonstrating to breaking into the gaming center, where they damage the equipment. Since Giannine is already in total immersion when this happens, the technologist on the site believes that it’s dangerous to disconnect her before she finishes the game. She’s stuck there until she successfully finishes, and prolonged direct stimulation of the brain may cause her harm. Because of the damage that the CPOC protesters did, she has a much smaller margin of safety before she risks fatal overload. She knows this because Rasmussem Enterprises has managed to contact her in the game-reality in a wonderfully Monty Python-esque scene.
There are also some hilarious minor characters such as Feordina, who knits herself outfits from dandelions and other vegetation. Saint Bruce the Warrior Poet is also amusing even though he’s dead. The barbarian king is all thud-and-blunder. Sister Mary Ursula has all the dippy sincerity of the ragged fringe of spiritual seeking, and even less sense. Giannine grows during this novel, lighthearted though it is. Her strength and cleverness emerge from behind the hostile, sarcastic mask she wears at the beginning of the story. This is not one of those annoying novels where the protagonist reaches a Deep Psychological Insight in 300 pages or less, but the changes are there. Vande Velde has the good sense not to give us a reunion scene between Giannine and her father, but he’s waiting in another part of the gaming center when she emerges safely. I would not say, as Sister Mary Ursula does, that I am One with all happy endings. This one is believable and satisfying.