The Daily Monocle

Critical book reviews from a literary skeptic.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Fortuna by Michael R. Stevens

Posted by J. P. Wickwire

Don't forget to check out our interview with Michael R. Stevens, author of Fortuna, here!

When you don't have any actual money (and even if you do), books are an excellent way to take a cheap vacation. But if you've read all the books on your shelf, and something astronomical has happened to keep you away from the bookstore, perhaps virtual lives are the most convenient solution to this fatal monotony. But imagine a virtual life so sophisticated—so complex—that it's run entirely by machines. Imagine a world where the lines between the game and real life begin to blur, until they're almost impossible to distinguish.

Welcome to Fortuna.


Computer science major, Jason Lind, is looking for an escape from his boring life, when he happens upon Fortuna, an incredibly sophisticated online role playing game set in renaissance-era Florence, Italy. Playing as Father Allesandro da Scala, Jason finds himself seduced by this wild world of relationships, politics, and greed that extends beyond the virtual walls of his computer.

When he incurs an in-game debt that flows over into his real life, Jason is forced to seek the attentions of his estranged computer-mogul uncle, Frank Stocker. Under his uncle's employment, Jason begins to remember and realize the secrets of his family's past, and to uncover the realities of his future.

The first word this book brings to mind is "detailed". Michael R. Stevens' Fortuna captures the essence of renaissance-era Italy with an artist's eye. From the social hierarchy, to the dangers of every day life, to the confessional at Father Allesandro's church, the historical aspects of this book are as engrossing as they are beautiful.

I also loved all the technological references. The code-speak isn't difficult to understand, but geeks like me still feel like they're getting a crash course in the antagonist's program-of-choice (of course, my knowledge is a little outdated now…). Fortuna is truly a technological thriller, but, for the casual reader, the historical elements help to balance this out.

Now, normally I'm a stickler for interesting characters, and—let's face it—Jason Lind's life is pretty boring. He and his friends are all freakishly normal, but for once, I think this enhances the book. The plot here is front and center; our eyes are ever drawn to the lush and beautiful world of Fortuna. I like it; a lot.

Michael R Stevens' writing style is very straight forward, and easy to read. I didn't find myself clamoring over the letters, or getting that 'red pen' feeling. Fortuna would make an excellent airplane book, or passenger-seat-of-the-car kind of book; both fast and engaging.

The biggest negative I have for Fortuna, would be its predictability. I know I can almost always predict the ending of a book within the first forty pages, so maybe it's just me. But I did find Fortuna to be highly predictable. That isn't to say I didn't like it—because I did. I just guessed the ending.

Fortuna is a book that grabs you and won't let go. I'm proud to have it on my bookshelf.

An afterthought: After reading Fortuna, I decided I needed to try some online gaming. Stevens' website said that the game Fortuna most closely resembles Second Life in the games available today, so off to Second Life I went. After spending about an hour creating my character (I named her Ink), I began interacting with people… and promptly got off. It was too much for me. The actual voice chatting with people I've never met; the humongous community. I think I'm internet paranoid or something, because it just made me all kinds of nervous interacting with people that way. So I want to congratulate Jason Lind on his bravery—he made it farther than I did.

Read an excerpt at the Author's website

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