Sometimes even a geek can become a hero.
Dennis and his friends have been LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) since high school. Now, in his 20s, Dennis is seriously considering giving up LARPing for good. He’s tired of dealing with his overzealous friend Mark; he’s tired of his older brother Brad’s constant put-downs; and he’s tired of the fact that he doesn’t have a girlfriend.
Not a girlfriend, but the girlfriend. Alyssa–the one woman he’s been pining over for years.
Dennis and his fellow LARPers have never been considered cool, in their small island community of Verona, located off the coast of Washington State.
But all of that is about to change . . .
While Dennis and his friends are attending a big LARP tournament on the mainland, a rogue terrorist group of Mongolians in medieval garb, led by an American madman, invade Verona and take its citizens hostage–including their families and friends.
When the LARPers find out what’s happening in their home-town, they do what any dedicated LARPer would do: they put on their armor, strap on their swords, and fight their way home–LARP-style!
LARP: The Battle for Verona was not a bad read, though there are places where it could be improved. It drew me in because of its premise, which was so odd I had to give it a try, if only because it could provide a few laughs.
Calderone self-published his book, which shows in the writing; LARP could have greatly benefited from the work of an editor. While Calderone’s grammar is good, many sentences would have been cut out by an editor, which would have improved the flow of the novel quite a bit. The writing and dialogue could have done with polishing to phrase things better, read better, avoid redundancy, or sound less awkward; quite a bit of the dialogue, especially in the epilogue, was rather forced for the sake of exposition. Too much detail was given some times, not just in situations, but in characters – every side character with a line got a name and an occupation, which interrupts the flow as we learn about a character who often will never come up again.
Some parts of the book were hard to read, particularly those bits that dealt with the military. Calderone’s lack of knowledge of tactics and strategy showed through in any part of the book that dealt with fighting, which, of course, is quite a bit of it. The excuses the US military gave for not taking Verona back themselves were quite weak and could easily be gotten around, and some wouldn’t even be problems in the first place. Instead, the novel goes out of its way to show us our heroes are the only ones who can deal with Medieval Mongolians.
This leads us to the main drawback of the novel: the main characters must always have validation. At no point do the main characters anything without getting the permission of a higher authority first. The novel twists itself into more knots to do this than it does to make sure the military can’t do anything themselves. The arguments presented by the main characters in favour of them attacking the Mongolians are flimsy and wouldn’t be taken seriously in any real debate; the arguments presented by the military to convince them to stay are logical, strong, and well-thought out; but the military are made into strawmen putting up misguided resistance, because the main characters are right, damnit, and we should know it without the author actually having to tell us why they’re right.
The unfortunate thing about this drawback is that it could be so easily avoided. If the main characters had snuck around behind the military’s back and organised things themselves (which they were quite capable of doing), I would have accepted that. Harry Potter never made sure all his teachers agreed with him before running off to save the world, and the books are all the better for it, because no one in their right mind would let an eleven-year-old run off to get a magical artefact that he shouldn’t even know about. My suspension of disbelief was stretched quite thin when the military put forth their excuses for not dealing with the Mongolians themselves; it snapped when I read the scene when the LARPers were given permission to try to take Verona themselves, and I never quite got it back.
A lesser but just as prevalent drawback that comes out of this was that the main characters did everything. Again, if the main characters had decided to go out on their own without the permission of the US government, it would make sense that the only Mongolian main character goes to spy on the Medieval Mongolian invaders. Since they work with the military, however, it suddenly makes no sense at all; surely there must be at least one Mongolian-American in the army who would have some spy training who could be sent along instead of a civilian who just wants to confirm what everyone already knows.
The villain of the novel was quite hammy, and around the time Calderone started ending his dialogue with four exclamation marks I found it hard to take the villain too seriously as a real threat and laughed at him a couple of times. The Mongolians were treated better; though we didn’t get to hear from them much, they were given more realistic motives than simply being evil. It was recognised that the majority of them weren’t bad people, just victims of circumstance and mislead for someone else’s selfish reasons, and this made them more three-dimensional. The novel goes a bit into the character’s thoughts and reactions to being in battle, but I wish it had gone more in-depth; the way it was done, it seemed glossed-over, like the novel was saying the characters had had their moment of angst, and now back to feeling normal.
There were some strong points of the novel, and some parts that initially appeared illogical turned out better explained later on. The novel was paced fairly well, taking a good amount of time to set up the characters, their relationships with each other, and their personalities. Each character was a distinct character in their own right, with unique motives that fit with their circumstances and character, and each main character had a role to play in the plot. The character development was nice and believable; instead of making complete 180 degree turns in personality, characters with flaws instead acknowledged them and, by the end, were making conscious efforts either to move past them or presented those traits in different contexts that were more acceptable, and all of it was much more believable than a complete change after just a couple of days. What impressed me was that even more minor characters got development, and that this, too, was believable; the characters the main characters had problems with weren’t given development just because everything had to work out for the main characters, but instead got development in ways that fit with their pre-established personalities. I was a bit worried at one point when I found a psychologist was going to show up, as psychology is an area few who haven’t studied it really understand, but the bit that came up was quite accurate, and I admit to being impressed with how the author did on it. There was some good interplay between the characters, which added a bit of fun to the book while reading.
Overall, LARP isn’t a story to take too seriously. It’s a nice light read that readers can have a bit of fun with, ideal for reading a few pages before bed. It’s a nice escapist fantasy with a healthy dose of wish fulfilment thrown in that geeks can appreciate in a light-hearted way, though anyone prone to taking offence at not everything making perfect sense probably shouldn’t pick up this book.
Overall rating: 3/5