*Thank you to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for a DRC of this book which comes out on July 17th. All opinions are my own.
Imagine that you and a group of friends get hooked on a fantasy role playing game. But as you enter 6th grade, the group starts to splinter a bit as everyone starts having additional activities and a new group of friends. Such is the situation for Ralph and his friends Jojo, Noel, Persephone, and Cammi. As a last ditch effort to keep the game going, Ralph convinces them all to come over for one final extended game on his birthday. Now imagine their shock when they somehow manage to summon their characters to Ralph’s house!
Dungeons and Dragons has a cult following. Kids (and adults) that are into it are often seriously into it. D&D requires players to create characters and their back stories and then weave them into stories. As one D&D website explains, “The core of D&D is storytelling. You and your friends tell a story together, guiding your heroes through quests for treasure, battles with deadly foes, daring rescues, courtly intrigue, and much more.”
In The Game Masters of Garden Place the game is Reign of Dragons. The first half of the book might be a challenge for readers who are not fans of role playing games or fantasy as it not only shows the characters, their personalities, and how they interact with each other, but it also shows how the game works by having the reader read their stories. When you hit the second part of the book, however, the story shifts as the imaginary RoD characters that the group created appear at Ralph’s front door. The arrival of these characters tests the ingenuity and relationships of the five friends.
One of the things that I loved about the second half of the book is the comedy of how the imaginary characters – a halfling rogue, dwarf cleric, barbarian woman, minstrel, and wizard – see the modern world. Denis Markell managed to put a bit of social commentary into the story by showing how odd the modern world might seem to a different realm. A great example is how confused they are by everyone staring at computers – “These poor people. Who has enchanted them this way?…Each is transfixed, staring into their magic mirrors. I have watched, and except for wiggling their fingers on the little buttons in front of them, none has moved.”
For all of the kids that are excited by fantasy, gamers, and adventure, this is a book they will probably enjoy.