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by Michael R Stevens
Oceanview Publishing, May 2010
296 pages
ISBN: 1933515775

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Stanford graduate student Jason Lind finds himself lured into the world of online gaming when he stumbles on Fortuna, a virtual world that is set in Renaissance Florence. Letting himself coast in his computer science studies (despite prompting by friends and the Stanford professor for whom he is working), he is increasingly drawn into this elaborate counter-world of Italian politics and economics online.

The game itself (Fortuna) is based on extensive understanding and available records of historical events from the Renaissance period, and as author Michael Stevens draws his character into this alternate universe, so too, will readers be captivated. This is no doubt the strongest part of the book. The first half of the thriller is positively engrossing. Readers are made to feel the allure and excitement of the game, even as Jason moves deeper into it and further and further away from reality. It's practically impossible to put the book down in its early stages.

During the second half of the book (by this time Jason has decided to leave school and find a "real job" to pay for his online game playing at Fortuna), things remain interesting but much less driven. The pace slows as readers are taken into the history of Jason's family, his father's success as a computer genius, and his death, which may have sinister implications. As the game and real life begin to overlap, things become increasingly dangerous for Jason and those around him. By working at his father's former company, Jason has uncovered secrets that threaten his own life, as he naively tries to fix the mistakes of the past.

Eventually Jason must decide whether or not to believe the message he has received via Fortuna. This intersection of real life (RL to gamers) and the fantasy of Renaissance Florence is a creative commingling of the unresolved history within Jason's own life and the turning point for his future.

What's clear is that, like life, the game is a muddy world where there are no sure answers. Even as readers come to see the whole arc of the storyline, they soon realize that the happy ending remains elusive, there is only a continuing of the game in a different way. Readers may not be happy with this conclusion to the novel, but it does give hope that perhaps there will be more adventures set in Fortuna or other virtual worlds in future novels by author Michael Stevens.

What Stevens has done most successfully in FORTUNA is shown the allure of living another life, but the impossibility of escaping one's own.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, April 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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