DEiFIED by Justin Dillon-Shallard is set in a future in which virtual reality is a…er…reality! The book follows two stories: a story set in the real world and story set in a VR gaming world, The Third Realm. As the book continues, the two stories entwine and the reader discovers just how dangerous online gaming can be and how it can cross easily into real-life. It’s undoubtedly science fiction but with a touch of fantasy and a drop of thriller thrown into the mix. Imagine that with a black-ops military team, hard-core gamers, and a small-but-still-there side-order love story and you’re about there with DEiFIED. It’s got a bit of everything, and that’s not always a great thing to have.
This book is trying to be a lot of things and the question of whether it manages it is a good one. The phrase ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ may come to mind. Actually though, that phrase is one that most definitely cannot be applied to this book, because it is masterful and Dillon-Shallard manages to wind the genres together seamlessly – quite a clever talent that. Having said that, whilst it may be a bit of everything to everyone, it is worth noting that if you don’t really like sci-fi, this probably isn’t the book for you.
Speaking of which, the sci-fi elements were done really well. The novel is not set too far into the future to be completely unrelatable and the developments in technology weren’t so outlandish to be not believable. In fact, I could easily see how the world we live in today could become the world of DEiFIED. What makes it all the more credible is how well world politics is dealt with. For the first half of the book at least, each chapter is prefixed with a paragraph about a particular country’s world standing and/or governmental control. There’s consistency and authority in the infrastructure of the world that Dillon-Shallard has created and that, in itself, is something to be in awe of. I have an image of an author so ingrained in his own-built political system that he has a basement (or better yet, an old bunker) littered with notes that are linked with strings and pins, with red circles and different coloured highlighters. Okay, so that might be a bit far-fetched (a girl can dream…) but in reality, the depth and consistency with which Dillon-Shallard has created his infrastructure can only possibly point to excellent note-taking or an awesome memory!
I did wonder, though, for at least the first third or so of the book, whether his own detailed knowledge of his world led him to forget that actually, the reader is coming to it with complete ignorance. It took me a good while to work out what was going on and with the introduction of all the different characters, I’ll admit I was a little blind-sided for a bit. It didn’t help that each character was actually two (or should I say that each pair of characters were actually one? See, I’m even confused now)! What I mean is that for every character, there was the person they were in the real world and then a whole new persona for them in the game – with different names, different looks, and different skill-sets. That can take some getting used to but the good news is, you do get used to it and ultimately, to write the characters in any other way would have been unrealistic. That’s what people often do, after all, when playing online. They create a new life for themselves. Once you get used to it, it’s great too because it creates a whole extra dimension in the novel and adds to what I shall now always refer to as that Dillon-Shallard Depth!
The story, too, was a little confusing if I’m honest. I’m still not entirely sure that I fully understand what happened (although I think I’ve worked it all out now, and there is good chance I was just having one long brain fart). There are lots of twists and turns and revelations that make for an exciting tale but my brain just couldn’t cope! That didn’t make me dislike the book though. Quite the opposite in fact – I relished the challenge and along with the great writing, the fantastic characters, and the roller-coaster ride, a bit of confusion was worth the effort.
It’s true that this is a complex novel but actually, the story was engrossing, the writing was peppered with humour and emotion throughout, and the characters felt real to me (even the fictional fictional ones – the gaming personas!) Dillon-Shallard has an amazing ability to create tension, at least one of the twists made me gasp aloud (to the surprise of my dog), and DEiFIED includes one of the best battle scenes I think I’ve ever read. I was genuinely rooting for one team over another and I felt their rousing spirit (not a great way to get yourself off to sleep, I can tell you now). It was one of those books that I was desperate to finish so that I could find out what happens, yet I was desperate not to finish so that it would carry on for longer but that’s okay, because I’m on my way to Amazon right now to download the next in the series!