It’s All Fun and Games is the first book in a series about a group of LARP (live action role playing) friends. What begins as a fun weekend event, turns into a harrowing nightmare. The premise is interesting, but the book will mainly appeal to LARP fans.
In It’s All Fun and Games, high school student Allison gives into her friend TJ’s pleas to join his LARP group for the weekend. When she arrives in the field where the game is hosted, she meets the rest of their team. Pretty soon, they’re off on a quest, skill cards in hand. But events take an ugly turn, and the friends find themselves battling enemies for real.
The Bad News
First off, let me say I was really looking forward to reading It’s All Fun and Games, by Dave Barrett. It’s the first book published by Nerdist. Nerdist began as a website and has grown into a geek channel, with podcasts, videos, news, convention panels and more. I love the Nerdist brand, so I was psyched when I was contacted by their PR rep about reading and reviewing the book.
Let me also say, I am not into LARP. I know what it is, but beyond that basic knowledge, I have no interest in LARP. So, reading It’s All Fun and Games wasn’t very fun. It’s All Fun and Games is definitely written for LARP and Dungeons and Dragons fans. I say that, because a lot of the focus is on the characters’ skills, hit points, damage points, and the minutiae of the game. Whole paragraphs are dedicated to the rules of the LARP. In fact, approximately the first third of the book is nothing but a “how to” for LARPs.
I think part of the reason It’s All Fun and Games reads like a guide is that Dave Barrett is a new author. New authors tend to have big exposition dumps, meaning, they explain the background of something in one go. A better way to write about the LARP rules and skills and whatnot, is to mention stuff as the story unfolds. Lately, I’ve been reading Liane Moriarity (Truly, Madly, Guilty). She is a masterful storyteller, who can weave a character’s history through the present story. That’s what It’s All Fun and Games needs. A casual reader will not care much that the blue index card means… whatever it means. But they will care that they can’t get through the beginning of the book without a machete.
Also, the characters are thinly written and have little depth. They read like a Sweet Valley High novel. There’s the nerdy kid who has a crush on the girl who pays him no attention. Then we’ve got the jock who’s handsome and winning, but doesn’t know it. Other than Chuck, the thief, the other characters are interchangeable. It’s not that the author doesn’t have a good handle on who these characters are. I think he does. He just doesn’t take the time to write everything he knows about them, so they come off one-dimensional.
Which leads me to how the author writes. Reading It’s All Fun and Games, I can see the book in Barrett’s head. He’s just not taking enough time to really write it. The characters’ jokes are too easy, too cliché. The settings are run-of-the-mill. The dialogue is limited. The chores and duties come from gameplay, not historical accounts. It’s All Fun and Games reads like a first draft. I wish the editor would have pushed Barrett to dig just a little deeper and give his characters, and his story, another layer. I know this is categorized as YA, but so are the Harry Pottter and The Hunger Games books.
It’s All Fun and Games has a lot of repetition. The group of friends is required to set up camp for several nights, but the conversation is the same every time. Here’s where a lot of that exposition could have been covered, rather than repeating the same “is this really happening to us?” thread of conversation over and over.
The Good News
Like I said, there’s a good book in here. The premise if It’s All Fun and Games is interesting. In fact, the best part of the book is about Chuck, the thief. His sections were page-turners that I couldn’t put down. (Seems like Barrett was always the thief when he played D&D.) There’s actual conflict, great setting descriptions, great inner life, and great characterization.
And although I said the book reads like a first draft, there’s something Barrett doesn’t do. Too many times, when I read a new author’s first book, usually at the request of a PR rep, the writer tries way too hard. The writing is so thick with synonyms, descriptions and lengthy sentences, that it’s barely readable. The writer tries so hard to sound like a WRITER that the story is lost in the thickness of stilted prose. Barrett doesn’t do that. He writes clearly and concisely, while still painting a clear picture of what’s going on.
Barrett also clearly knows LARPs. His fondness for D&D type games is obvious, and informs It’s All Fun and Games. Perhaps he will take more time to show us what’s in his head in subsequent books.