Non-Player Character* is a charming, low-stakes, gamelit portal fantasy.
Back when V ran the Kickstarter for this book, I read the first three sample chapters and instantly wanted to read the rest.
It's rare for me to be hooked on a book from the start anymore, but Non-Player Character resonated with me. The main character and narrator, Tar, is autistic with an anxiety disorder, non-binary, fat, asexual, self-deprecating, snarky, and 100% delightful. They are drained by their day job, hide in their room playing video games, and are exhausted by social events. SO RELATABLE.
While Tar does resort to self-deprecation, it's humorous and gentle, rather than harsh or cruel. Tar is often frustrated by their difficulties in interacting with the world, but for the most part this is presented as "ugh SO DIFFICULT" rather than "this is why I suck and/or the world sucks." It's not about judging things as Right or Wrong, it's about coping.
Tar's friends likewise represent a mix of identies and intersectionality: nonbinary, trans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, aromantic, autistic, ADHD, disabled, Black, White, probably more that I'm forgetting. And it all flows naturally: of course these queer, neurodiverse people will be drawn to and befriend other queer, neurodiverse people. They're all gamer nerds, too, even the one who feigns disdain for gamer nerds.
There are a lot of fun little touches. One of the characters, Pauline, has chronic pain and uses a motorized wheelchair on Earth. Pauline's wheelchair doesn't come with them to the fantasy world, so she searches for a new mobility aid. She ends up with a hexclimber, a six-legged one-person vehicle that can negotiate every kind of terrain. It's pretty great.
And I enjoyed that the narrative centered on coping mechanisms and accommodation, rather than cures. (This is not to say that there's something wrong with stories about people seeking and receiving cures; they're just a lot more common.)
The first several chapters of Non-Player Character take place on Earth, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this part of the novel. The scene of Tar doing their day job as a guide at a tiny museum was especially funny. But the entire book is great: lots of heart and humor, full of wonder and magic. Highly recommended!
- Also available at other stores, see Corva's page for the list.
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