Publication date: May 4th 2021
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
New Liberty City, 2134.
Two corporations have replaced the US, splitting the country’s remaining forty-five states (five have been submerged under the ocean) between them: Stellaxis Innovations and Greenleaf. There are nine supercities within the continental US, and New Liberty City is the only amalgamated city split between the two megacorps, and thus at a perpetual state of civil war as the feeds broadcast the atrocities committed by each side.
Here, Mallory streams Stellaxis’s wargame SecOps on BestLife, spending more time jacked in than in the world just to eke out a hardscrabble living from tips. When a chance encounter with one of the game’s rare super-soldiers leads to a side job for Mal—looking to link an actual missing girl to one of the SecOps characters. Mal’s sudden burst in online fame rivals her deepening fear of what she is uncovering about BestLife’s developer, and puts her in the kind of danger she’s only experienced through her avatar.
Thank you for Saga Press via NetGalley for the free copy! I’ve since bought my own copy to keep forever.
I finished this book on June 10th, and as I write this review, it’s eleven days later. I’m still living inside this book.
The past few years, it’s been difficult to really get into books. Gone are the days where I could stay up all night and read, and feel completely transported by the experience. The characters rarely jump off the page, the plot is usually good but not enough to suck in me; none of the books have been bad, it’s just how my experience has changed as I’ve passed into my twenties. I still love reading—it’s my favorite form of entertainment—but I have had to adjust to a new normal. Or so I thought.
From the moment I picked up Firebreak, I needed to know what came next.
From the very first page, I felt sucked into the story. It wastes no time in getting straight to the plot, which I really enjoyed. So many sci-fis feel the need to explain a lot up front, instead of weaving it throughout the story, and it ends up being a lot to process right away. Kornher-Stace feeds enough info to you to help you understand what’s going on, but not so much that I found myself overwhelmed. It was the exact pacing I needed to be able to dig myself a home within the story.
I’m a huge fan of Ready Player One but I don’t think the comparison is fair. Sure, it has a gamer as its protagonist, but RPO pretty much entirely takes place in the Oasis (at least, the most important parts do). Firebreak does not take place inside its game nearly as much. In fact, the latter half of the book spends most of its time in the real world, and for good reason. I understand the comparison from a marketing standpoint (that is, in fact, what initially drew me in) but do not go into it expecting something similar. Firebreak is a much more serious, higher stakes read that rocked me in a way that Ready Player One never could. Mal is a more likable character than Wade Watts; where Wade clearly develops a massive ego (especially in Ready Player Two) and spends a whole lot of time doing nothing, that’s not an option for Mal. It’s not filled with nostalgia and there’s no grand inheritance. It’s a story of war, loss, and the effects those things have on the people who survive them. The game is just a catalyst to the overarching plot.
As with any story about war, or any actual war, there are senseless deaths that are unreconcilable throughout the story. There are two, in particular, that devastated me. There are events that go unexplained, as Mal has no way to know the outcome, and that I appreciated. In another book, it might’ve annoyed me but when I considered the perspective from which this is written, I found no way for them to be explained. Mal is just a girl, not a soldier. She was thrown into this path without preparation or real knowledge of what it would mean later on. And goddamn did she fight like hell.
When I first finished the book, mixed emotions settled into my brain. I was pissed off; I was beside myself with grief. I wished there was more to the story… I needed there to be more. In the days that followed, I found my mind drifting back to the story until I suddenly just started crying. Like, in the middle of the work day, full on tears. That was the moment I realized that the book was my new favorite. That is what I really desired from books, I realized: ones that leave me thinking, searching for answers to the unanswerable long after it’s over.
I have yet to shut the fuck up about Firebreak. I’m pretty sure that my friends are a little annoyed with me but I don’t mind. I will scream it from the rooftops because this book is too underrated for how absolutely amazing it is. It is, without a doubt, my favorite book of 2021. I’ve read some really good ones this year but this one is really special.
If you’re looking for a good song to transport yourself into the story, listen to the one below! I definitely maybe might have cried when I first listened to it…