What I gleaned about the story: Jennet reaches the final boss level of this cool new immersive video game. It’s a showdown with the Faerie Queen. But instead of becoming the first person to ever beat it, she loses, and in the process, some part of her soul is taken hostage. Now she’s a slave to the Faerie Queen. For real!
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Analysis: The story starts off with a good premise: a young woman is playing some kind of immersive fantasy video game and wins her way through to a battle with the Faerie Queen. At the apex of the battle, the Queen issues a challenge by riddle, and then offers our plucky young heroine three guesses. That much alone ruined the scene for me. Three guesses? In a fight to the death? This completely killed the pacing and drained away much of the dramatic tension for me, but okay, let’s move on.
The Queen then announces her riddle, and like most readers, I made my guess. Fast forward past three stupid guesses from Jennet, and then, what do you know? My guess turns out to have been right.
So here’s the problem. When I guess the answer right away and the protagonist can’t, I’m left with a sense of uncertainty. I have to decide whether it’s the protagonist who is not very clever, or the author. And in this story, where the protagonist is being made out as smart and capable, that question haunted everything I read from that point forward. I find it hard to stay engaged in a world where the author doesn’t keep surprising me. I get bored and snarky. And when that happens, I’m definitely not immersed.
Analysis: Once the battle is over, our courageous young Jennet wakes up in the gaming chair. But instead of remarking on the unexpected realism of the game, or on some other aspect of her virtual experience, she immediately concludes that it must all have been real, and that somehow the Queen of all Faeries has really stolen her soul.
Excuse me? A real, live, breathing human is going to leap to that conclusion first? Without even a shred of disbelief or any attempt to explain away what she experienced? This was a major eye-roll for me, and immersion was shattered.
Note: The deeper problem is that this revelation is being used as the call to action. We are being asked to accept that the hero now credibly feels at danger of losing her immortal soul. And for me, without better stepping stones to support it, that leap is way too far.
Analysis: As the next scene wears on, Jennet continues to talk about how urgently she needs to recover whatever it was that the Faerie Queen stole. But each time she says this, it calls my attention back to the fact that I don’t buy her desperation, which constantly reminds me that I’m reading a constructed story. Immersion broken. I gave it three of these false notes before deciding that it was significant enough to throw the final flag.