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Fantasy fun with ‘More Fun and Games’

December 19, 2018
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What would you do if your fantasy became your reality?

That’s the question being asked by local author Dave Barrett in his new book “More Fun and Games,” the sequel to 2016’s “It’s All Fun and Games.” It’s the continuing story of a group of high school friends whose weekend of role-playing winds up turning into a life lived in a world far beyond anything they ever thought possible.

Allison, T.J., Jimmy, Chuck and Stu are regrouping following their desperate battle – a battle that claimed the life of one of their own. But they can’t live among the goblins forever – there’s an evil wizard out there with just two primary goals: to take over the world … and to kill the five of them.

They make their way east, toward the relatively bustling Providence City. But it turns out that there’s plenty of trouble waiting for them there as well, from forces known and unknown alike. Whether it’s blackmail by city leaders or uneasy interactions with the thousands living in the tent settlement just outside the city walls, the friends have a lot to deal with and no one to trust but each other.

And all the while, they’re realizing that with every day that passes, they’re becoming less the high school kids that they were and more the rolled-up role-playing characters that they now are. They have their share of inner conflicts there – Allison’s healing powers are growing and her connection to a religion she now knows thoroughly; T.J. the wizard is drawing more and more memory of his training; Stu, an apartment-dwelling city kid, has become a ranger so connected to the forests that he’s come to hate sleeping indoors; Chuck the thief’s general amorality and self-serving nature bubble more heartily to the surface; and Jimmy … well, Jimmy just wants to smash stuff.

These five friends wind up embroiled in a scheme that not only threatens the city, but the entire realm. They’re in a strange place with no allies to speak of; they’ve nothing to rely on but their own abilities – abilities that they themselves still don’t fully understand – and each other.

Full disclosure - I broke one of my cardinal critical rules with this one: I reviewed a sequel without having read the previous installment. It’s something I’ve learned over the years; usually, leaping into a series in the middle is only going to leave you confused and unsatisfied.

But for “More Fun and Games,” it’s actually OK. Yes, there’s some nuance that you likely miss. Backstories would obviously be fuller. But the crux of the story – the concept, the characters, the plot – those all work without that earlier reference point.

And it is a great concept. Crossing that line between reality and fantasy opens up a lot of potential paths, paths that Barrett is gleefully exploring. What we get here is a look at both the highs and the lows – these kids have been granted great powers, yes, and grand adventures, but they’re also dealing with constant danger and the looming truth that their own personalities are fading away, to be replaced by fantasy archetypes. We see this world through their eyes, which lends itself well to more engaging expository elements.

It’s a breezy read, but it never condescends – a tough balance to strike. And as far as capturing the tone and cadence of teenaged conversation, Barrett seems to have an ear for it, managing to land on that specific mid-teens tone of exasperation, eye-rolling and embarrassment more often than not.

“More Fun and Games” is, well … fun. It’s a quick, clever read, driven by engaging characters and an intriguing premise.

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