By: Astrid Knight
Genre: Portal Fantasy
Publisher: Self Published
CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNINGS: Shown on page: Depictions of mental illness (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide/suicidal ideation); Animal violence (involving fantasy creatures); Child abduction and harm (involving two thirteen-year-olds and fantasy creatures)
Alluded to: Childhood sexual assault; Alcohol abuse; Child death
Astrid Knight’s Perception Check was a good and unique fantasy. While on it’s surface it’s a fantasy about a group of gamers who play a Dungeons and Dragons-type game called The Mages of Velmyra who become swept into this world, it also deals with serious issues that arose from a friend being taken 10 years prior. The main protagonist is Violet Spence, a college student in her twenties who lives with her best friend Eddie. Violet suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Ten years before the book takes place, we find out that one horrifying night, Violet and her friend May were attacked by “monsters”. Violet was severely hurt, and she witnessed May being dragged through a portal and it was the last she saw of her. Of course, no one believes her story of May being taken, but obviously something happened. Years of therapy and in and out of hospitals have not helped Violet come to terms with her missing friend. Eddie and some of their friends play the game Mages of Velmyra every week. While Violet is obsessed with the game, she does not play. She studies everything about it, because one of the characters described is exactly like May. Is it possible that Velmyra is real? Could May have been dragged into another world? Violet has a few episodes where she envisions herself in this world, but brushes it off as her trauma until Eddie and another friend, Jackson, experience the same thing. When they find the maker of the game, Adrian Inoue, they learn that Velmyra is indeed real, and they are able to travel there with him to try and rescue May. Once there, Violet, Eddie and Adrian, embark on a journey with Kai (Kindred Folk), Gren (a troll), and Melandrich (a half human/elf), to recover 4 relics. When put together, they will make a knife that will enable them to kill the Mages, the most powerful entities in Velmyra, and the Crystalline Mage has May. She is the one they are truly after.
The strong point of this book is the character development. Ms. Knight has created characters that have strong chemistry and wonderful interaction. There is inclusivity of the LBGTQ+ community as well, which I find so important. Jackson is transgender, as it was revealed when he took his shirt off and Violet saw the scars of his top surgery. Eddie and Violet are best friends and they have great conversations and banter. While in Velmyra, Violet exhibits an affinity for magic. The other characters are in the element, and Jackson adjusts well. Eddie feels useless on this journey and expresses his frustration to Violet. They have a very real friendship, and as with all, they have some unresolved issues that unfortunately come to the surface. As friends, and as adults, they are able to deal with it. Jackson and Violet do not get along, and this also comes to the surface. May and Jackson were friends as well, but he accuses her of being self-centered about feeling her loss. He went through it as well, all while dealing with his gender identity. These are very real issues, and I feel Ms. Knight dealt with it all beautifully.
All of the characters had their own personality and were fully developed. I really enjoyed their journey and hearing their stories, going to the towns in Velmyra, Eddie telling tales of Earth, and the overall comradery they developed along the way.
The prose was excellent. It is a well told story from the first-person perspective of Violet. We see the others through her eyes, and feel her experiences. I felt this was a good choice for the narrative. Violet does seem stuck 10 years in the past and cannot seem to move forward. As a reader, we can see this, though she cannot. Her obsession with the game and finding May seems to have stalled her life. It takes Jackson and his anger at her to make her realize that she is not the only one who has suffered. When it is pointed out, she does realize that she has internalized her trauma to the extent of blocking others out. While it is a fun fantasy adventure, the story also deals with very real-world issues and tackles them head on.
Where I ran into the issue with the book was the pacing. It took me quite a bit of time to really start to get into the story. There was quite a bit of set-up that was needed, but it lost me a little along the way. The first part moved slowly as they try and find a way to Velmyra. Once in Velymra it picked up more. It really picked up the pace towards the end. It became fast-paced and heart pounding. There were quite a bit of twists and turns, and one wild ending. I would recommend this book, and I think gamers would really love it. I will look forward to the second book because of the ending of this one. I think we are in for a wild ride in the next installment.
Perception Check by Astrid Knight is a fun and unique fantasy. Built around a role-playing game, The Mages of Velmyra, a group of friends set out on a quest to find 4 ancient relics that will form a knife capable of killing the powerful mages. Ten years prior, Violet Spence, the main protagonist, and her friend May, were attacked one night by creatures from another world. Violet was severely hurt and witnessed May being dragged into a portal. The portal was to Velmyra. Now, ten years later, Violet, her best friend Eddie, Jackson, and Adrian Inoue, the game maker, have found a way to travel to Velmyra to rescue May. Perception Check deals with real world issues of post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide, and gender identity and handles it all beautifully. It is woven seamlessly into this great fantasy adventure. The characters were wonderfully developed and had their banter was fun and lively. My only issue was the pacing of the book. It is told in the first-person narrative of Violet, which was a great choice. However, it took time for me to get into the story. I felt it moved slowly in the beginning, and even when they first get to Velmyra. When the pace does pick up, it is exciting and fast moving, and I didn’t want to put it down. I will say that even though I felt much of the excitement occurred more towards the end, the ending is fantastic. There are many twists and turns. I would recommend this Perception Check. I think gamers will love it, and that ending ha made me certainly want to continue with the series.
Summary (from Escapist Tours)
Her favorite tabletop roleplaying game is real, and her kidnapped childhood best friend is trapped in a far-off land. Will she be able to save her? Let’s roll initiative!
Violet Spence wants nothing more than to have a normal life. After witnessing her childhood best friend get abducted by monsters, that’s easier said than done. At twenty-three years old, Violet cannot seem to move past that fateful night ten years ago. Her only solace is Mages of Velmyra, a tabletop roleplaying game filled with goblins, fairies, and all-powerful magicians. But of course, that’s all fantasy.
Or so she thought. As it turns out, the land of Velmyra is very real and the home of the monsters that took her best friend.
With the help of her friends (and the creator of the game itself), Violet must navigate the once-fictional creatures and powerful mages of Velmyra to retrieve a set of ancient relics—all in the hopes that the journey will lead her back to her friend. But for Violet, fighting monsters and magic workers doesn’t seem nearly as terrifying as confronting her own demons. And she’ll soon realize fighting the battle within herself can be just as tough as those fought against demigods.
Perception Check is the magical first installment of the Mages of Velmyra Saga, great for fans of Dungeons and Dragons, Critical Role, and The Magicians. With endearing and hilarious characters, an exploration of mental health and trauma, LGBTQ+ representation, gut-wrenching twists, and a whirlwind of an ending, you will never want to leave the world of Velmyra.
My sincere thanks to Astrid Knight for a copy of the book.
My sincere thanks to Escapist Tours for providing me with both copy the eBook.