Author Joseph Sale is at it again, a master of creating worlds and putting his readers slap bang in the middle of them – one would say that Sale’s signature is a deranged mix of Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, infused with the cinematic brilliance of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, garnished with the rich tapestry of George RR Martin’s brilliant epic that is Game of Thrones. But having mentioned these titans and drawing comparisons with them, it is also doing a disservice to Sale; as his work is always fresh, always breathtaking and always uniquely original.
If the world he created in Gods of the Black Gate and Beyond The Black Gate are his best to date (and trust me they are) then – Save Game is his magnum opus.
Save Game follows the life of Levi Jensen, a protagonist, if we’re all honest with ourselves we can all identify with, not just because he is written superbly by Sale, but because he’s a loser, he failed sixth-form and never got off to university (okay some of us may have achieved this but what a difficult time it was… that late teenage angst). Levi works in a dead end job with no prospects, the only thing he’s good at, is gaming, and that doesn’t pay, well not at the moment anyway.
Sale delivers a story that is bang on with popular culture, only last week I was reading about children going nuts over Fortnite crashing and parents threatening to sue the games makers for allowing this to happen, and the subsequent disruption of this causing adverse affects on their child’s emotional well-being (here’s a little tip – why don’t you limit the amount of time your kid plays on the computer, maybe even engage them in a conversation or turn the bloody thing off once in a while, or better yet give them a book to read) – but anyway, it’s the immersive world of gaming that Sale focuses on, and now with fully immersive Virtual Reality Games (to quote my Nana ‘Where will it all end?’) – Sale is painting a picture of a very dark and a very relevant future, you can honestly see what he’s writing coming to pass in a few years time. Like the great Philip K Dick – Sale has his finger on the pulse of technological advancements and paints a future we can literally see, if we take the VR headset off or look up from our phones once in a while!
As the story continues under the masterful stewardship of Sale we soon discover that Levi’s father has been struck with an affliction, a new type of cancer, that is only treatable privately and at an impossible expense for someone that’s working a dead end job. Levi’s only hope of saving his father is by winning the million-dollar cash-prize of the dark-fantasy video-game ‘Fate of Ellaria’. A fully immersive game that has swept the globe and broiled competitors up into a frenzy of determined gamer’s each one with their own reasons for winning the cash prize, and each one willing to do anything they can to win, even selling their own soul.
Again Sale has brought the real life into this most beguiling of reads, and has quite possibly predicted a near future – I first read this book a good year or so ago, and Sale’s writing, his predictions seem to be coming to the fore – again I cite the recent world cup of Fortnite, a global competition which offered a winning prize fund of $3 million – that’s crazy money, but gives an added edge to the things Sale writes coming to pass – and grounds the story in the here and now.
The key to Save Game is the fully realised and rich cast of characters that Sale has painstakingly given life to, not only the real life characters (outside of the game) that we grow to love and follow with a deep yearning, but also their online avatars – each are so deftly created that they become almost one with their hosts bodies. It’s a bit like the way we portray to the world a different us via social media profiles, or online gaming profiles – heaven forbid we show we are fallible, or weak, or not as pretty as the rest.
But it’s these deep characters, their relatability and the connections that the reader makes with them that make Save Game that much more enjoyable, the scope and the mastery that Sale has breathtakingly administered gives the book a quite epic scope – things will never be the same again.
Sale also moves at ease from science fiction to fantasy, and really showcases his writing chops – offering us breathtaking imagery, insanely rich set pieces and a stunning line up of characters (the breathtaking visuals that Sale weaves reminded me at times of the film The Fall with it’s beautifully constructed set-pieces and epic / iconic feel) – from the love interest, to the sacrificial pawn, to the evil son-of-a-bitch that is destroying everyone and everything in their pursuit for the cash prize – but all of this is wrapped up in a stunning visual masterclass of cinematic proportions!
Save Game is triumph! One of the most richly woven pieces of fantasy that I’ve ever read. Sale’s mastery of the genre in Save Game is startling, his characters both fresh and unique, his plot sharply woven, intricate and beguiling in equal measure. All of these things contribute to making Save Game an arrestingly earth shattering experience – true unadulterated brilliance on every page!
Joseph Sale is an editor, novelist, writing coach and co-host of Monaghan & The Mindflayer. His first novel, The Darkest Touch, was published by Dark Hall Press in 2014. Since, he has authored ten novels, including his duology Gods of the Black Gate and Beyond the Black Gate. He grew up in the Lovecraftian seaside town of Bournemouth.
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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