Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted at Angieville that focuses on reviewing books from the past. These can be old favorites, under-the-radar treasures that deserve more attention, woefully out-of-print books, and so on. Everyone is welcome to participate!
These days I carefully curate my reading based on recommendations from fellow book bloggers and award lists. In the past (before blogging), I used to leave book selection method up to chance. I’d wander the library shelves or browse the bookstore tables until a title called my name or an intriguing book cover caught my eye. That’s how I discovered Vivian Vande Velde’s Heir Apparent.
In Heir Apparent there are as many ways to win as there are to get killed.Giannine can testify to how many ways there are to die—it's about all she's been able to do since she started playing. Now all she has to do is get the magic ring, find the stolen treasure, answer the dwarf's dumb riddles, come up with a poem for the head-chopping statue, cope with the army of ghosts, outmaneuver her half brothers, and defeat the man-eating dragon.If she can do all of that, why, she just might save her own life!
Giannine is a fourteen-year-old with distant parents, a penchant for gaming, and a gift certificate burning a hole in her pocket. She’s also living in a not-too-distant future where buses are automated and ‘gaming’ means fully immersive experiences in a virtual world that doesn’t seem, well, virtual. When she chooses to play the game Heir Apparent, she enters an alternate medieval reality where survival (and being named king) depends on making the right choices. To complicate matters, protesters in the real world have damaged the machinery, and unless she can play her way out of the game, Giannine is facing her last adventure – virtual or otherwise.
Heir Apparent is based on that ubiquitous staple of middle grade years – the choose your own adventure book. Of course, it’s also based on RPGs (role playing games), but in its 'infinite ways to solve the puzzle' I always thought of it in relation to the choose-your-destiny books. Which I hated, by the way. But what I DO like? Watching someone else making the choices and gleaning hints about their character from their choices. Which is probably why I once watched a roommate play 50+ hours of Zelda, without once ever taking a controller myself. I like watching. Weird, I know.
In any case, what we learn about Giannine is that she’s plucky, stubborn in her determination to succeed, a problem-solver, and a mean strategist. She’s also just a young girl who is having a hard time of it – but you get the feeling that with her skills and attitude, she’ll find a way to win in life. The rest of the characters receive less airtime, as it were, but each add interesting elements to the game (and the book).
Though I know the ‘ending,’ I’ve enjoyed reading Heir Apparent multiple times – and I continue to appreciate its clever plotting, Giannine’s resourcefulness, and the bit-by-bit reveal that marks a well-written fantasy/mystery.
Recommended for: fans of choose your own adventure novels and gaming, young adult and middle grade fantasy and science fiction enthusiasts, and anyone who likes a good adventure, admires quick-thinking, and recognizes that sometimes you don’t get it right – on the first, second, or even third time – but the important thing is to keep trying. Enjoy!