When the real world is emptied of all that you love, how can you keep yourself from dependence on the virtual?
Larissa Kenders lives in a world where the real and the virtual intermingle daily. After the supposed death of her soulmate, Andrew, Larissa is able to find solace by escaping to Nirvana, a virtual world where anything is possible – even visits with Andrew. Although Larissa is told that these meetings are not real, she cannot shake her suspicion that Andrew is indeed alive. When she begins an investigation of Hexagon, the very institution that she has been taught to trust, Larissa uncovers much more than she ever expected and places herself in serious danger. Her biggest challenge, however, remains determining what is real – and what is virtual.
I received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The review for the updated version of the book can be found here. The following review is not representative of the final book.
There are good books, bad books, and then there are disappointing books. Disappointing because you have so much hope for them and you believe they can be good, but they ultimately fail in one way or another. Nirvana was unfortunately a disappointing book. And what a crying shame, because I firmly believe that Nirvana could have been an excellent book.
Nirvana is a book brimming with potential. A character burdened by a loss that she refuses to let go, thus an opportunity to thoroughly explore grief and the depth of her despair; an apocalypse that is attributed to a plausible scientific reason rather than the onset of fantastical, otherworldly beings; a world controlled by a powerful corporate entity, providing commentary on neoliberalism and monopoly, something that is very relevant today. There is no shortage of poor ideas in Nirvana. The first portion of the book is a constant stream of ideas and ideological propositions that have an introspective and provoking quality. I was constantly asking questions because it aroused my curiosity; it encouraged me to think. At first, it is engaging. Later, it is tedious.
There comes a point in storytelling when exposition should stop or otherwise be curtailed so that actual storytelling can take place. Herein lies my problem with Nirvana: the exposition never really stops – it just assumes new forms as the story progresses. First, it is the narrator describing and explaining Earth’s decimation, later it is continued conveyed by dialogue between the two antagonists. Yet, despite the quantity of the exposition, the story and overall conception remains frustratingly vague to the extent that it seems intentionally obfuscating. Names In Capital Letters To Allude Its Importance are thrown around, and though it may keep the reader guessing, there should be some level of understanding or substantial hint as to what theses names refer to. Essentially, the exposition misses its mark; it is dedicated to factual and evidential things that do not further the plot.
The biggest disappointment with Nirvana is its execution. In extension to my qualms with the book’s exposition, there were multiple times I felt that the narrative strayed from its direction. The purpose and its themes felt to diverge in every direction possible. For what began as a romance, it soon grew into something that had elements of science-fiction and dystopia with commentary on corruption, power of corporations, the blur between virtual reality versus reality, the commodification of academia, and the death of idealism. All of these ideas and themes interest me immensely, and there were moments where I enjoyed its exploration, but the book became too big and too wild for the story. The writing was disorientating. It lost subtlety. It was so disappointing because – and I cannot emphasize this enough – the book and its themes and ideas hold so much potential, but are left underdeveloped, explored, left mulling in a lost in-between.
Interestingly, I thought the romance, well, sweet. Sure, the protagonist spends a large portion of her time feeling and dwelling on a great sense of loss following the disappearance of her husband — but wouldn’t you feel that way if that happened to you, especially if you had no idea of your loved one’s fate? (I shamelessly admit that I certainly would.) The main character, Larissa, and her narrative manages to evoke a deep sense of loss, denial, and heartache, and it permeated to my heart. The ever-present grief and loss overhangs the story, but rather than be a detriment, it raises other ideas also, such as the psychological effects of loss, the five stages of grief/mourning, and the vulnerability that entails.
After my disappointment with The Leveller, I was also pleased that Nirvana explored the psychological implications of being in a virtual reality. The idea of virtual reality is a subject that has a wealth of potential in terms of depth and scope of exploration – where is the line between reality and virtual reality? Is there any realness and authenticity in virtual reality? How do we distinguish what is real and not real? Can feelings felt in a virtual reality be real? Nirvana explores this, and the ideas postulated through the characters was richly fascinating. I wish Nirvana invested more in the reality versus virtual reality aspect of its narrative and forwent its lesser ideas.
Nirvana could have been more. From its undertones and what the story touches on at times, Nirvana comes off as a book that I would love if the writing and direction was stronger. Its essence is there, but its execution is what fails. There was little substance for me to feel connected or invested in the characters and themes, despite its potential. Though a disappointing read, I have my fingers crossed that Nirvana will be tuned and refined before its publication.
Book Name: Nirvana
Book Series: Nirvana Series #1
Author: J.R. Stewart
Publisher: Blue Moon Publishers