All the [Micro-verse] Is a Stage: A Review of Rod Rees’ “The Demi-Monde: Winter”

“All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players“~William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Perhaps in this instance, it is better to say that all the computer program is a stage, and all the NPCs—not to mention several humans—are merely players. Because that is the case in Rod Rees’ hugely entertaining, if slightly mistifying, debut sci-fi adventure novel The Demi-Monde: Winter.

The novel revolves around dancer and jazz singer Ella Thomas, recruited by the U.S. military to execute the rescue Miss Norma Williams, a captive in the Demi-Monde, a cyber world developed for the most immersive combat training the not-too-distant future can afford. And inside the Demi-Monde, we follow a cast of characters painted not in the blacks and whites of villainy and goodness (as far as the protagonists go), but in wonderful shades of gray bound to entertain audiences of adventure, science fiction, and revisionist history over the (presumed) planned series.

Built with the aesthetic of steampunk, a mishmash of historical elements ranging from World War II to the American Civil War to biblical times, and a cultural integration intended to be a powder keg, the titular cyber realm is, to this reader, one of the most well constructed fictional worlds of late. It takes the basic concept of The Matrix‘s setting—the ability to enter and exit, to befriend be fooled by the essential artifice of its denizens—and makes it not just the prison of the Wachowski siblings’ films, but also sprinkled with the occult trappings and playfulness of Indiana Jones. And the mechanics feel plausible, which is definitely a plus. We believe that, of couse, Ella would have an implant giving her expository information about most, if not all, supporting characters when she needs it. Of course we believe that she can interact with the Demi-Monde on occasion. We believe these because Rees has the sense to build a world planned so meticulously that even its flaws are there on purpose. Oh, and is that a hint of mysticism there? Even better.

The same applies to the characters—well, the protagonists anyway. Ella is the forthright hero, but susceptible in ways the reader must discover. Norma is the victim, justifiably and annoyingly whiny. Trixibell Dashwood (now there’s a name) the Daddy’s girl who has to grow up fast. Vanka Maykov, the opportunistic drifter who, for now at least, has a heart of gold. They’re fun characters, and great to watch more because of their internal struggles, even though their occasionally predictable plot lines are well written and engaging too. As for the villains? They’re pretty much as mustache-twirly as you can get. But if you really wanted to, you could explain it away as an ingredient that helps produce the book’s pulpy charms.

One element I can’t and don’t want to overlook, however, is a hastiness in the characters’ individual arcs. While the characters all have definable problems that change or escalate as the story proceeds, the actual arc occurs very quickly. This might be intentional, a choice by the author to have his protagonists face different internal obstacles while pursuing a consistent external goal, but the connective tissue between points in the realization of those arcs seems thin, almost non-existant. Put simply, changes in certain characters’ personalities or thought processes are sudden and awkward. It makes the story raise questions when it should be focusing us on the rising suspense, but I have a feeling this is an issue the author will smooth out—or become better at—the longer he stays in his characters’ company in this fantastic and dangerous world.

Bottom line:

The Demi-Monde: Winter is a great start to a promising adventure series in the vein of films like The Matrix and Indiana Jones. However, while associating it with such classic stories is high praise, it still has to prove it’s got the staying power to truly belong in their ranks.

BUY IT: Amazon / B&N

NOTE: This book is technically adult fiction, but could be an awesome read for older teens. Just beware of some strong language and sensuality, if you’re a stickler for that sort of thing.

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2 thoughts on “All the [Micro-verse] Is a Stage: A Review of Rod Rees’ “The Demi-Monde: Winter”

  1. Rod Rees says:

    Many thanks for reviewing ‘The Demi-Monde: Winter’ much appreciated, especially the comparison with Raiders which has never been made before and which I kinda like.

    In writing a book like the DM – which is classed as a ‘SF Thriller’ – one of the most important aspects is the pace of the book. As i originally wrote it, it was 1/3 rd thicker with a lot more backstory regarding Vanka and Trixie,and the genesis of the discord between Ella and Trixie having a quite different arc, but it was felt that this slowed things down so exposition/character building was sacrificed to pace. Some of these ‘deleted scenes’ will be up on the web in the near future and I’m hoping that one day I’ll have an ‘extended cut’ out there so readers can judge for themselves.

    As for the future: things will only get hairier for my protagonists so I hope you can stick with me!

    Once again, many thanks for taking the trouble to read and write about the book. Merry Christmas to you and all your readers!

    Best Wishes

    Rod

    • yavolt says:

      Rod,

      Thanks to you for taking the time to read my thoughts! Plus, it’s always great to hear a writer’s perspective on their work.

      I agree, pacing is a big deal, even for shorter work, so if sacrifices have to be made once in a while, it’s understandable, even if it does cause reviewers to niggle. And like I wrote, it’s something I can forgive as a reader because it’s the first book, and I was so entertained by the rest of it that I simply have to come back for more.

      So again, thanks for stopping by, and please come back! YAvolt! would love to hear from you in the future.

      Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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