Warning: This review contains spoilers for “The Game Masters of Garden Place” by Denis Markell. If you want to avoid spoilers, please head to a different book review.
I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reviewing “The Game Masters of Garden Place” by Denis Markell! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:
“What if your favorite fantasy game characters showed up on your doorstep IRL?
Sixth graders Ralph, Jojo, Noel, Persephone, and Cammi are hooked on fantasy tabletop role-playing games. When they somehow manage to summon their characters to Ralph’s house, things take a truly magical turn!
The five are soon racing around town on a wild adventure that tests their both their RPG skills and their friendship. Will Ralph and crew be able to keep their characters out of trouble? Trying to convince a sticky-fingered halfling rogue not to pickpocket or a six-foot-five barbarian woman that you don’t always have to solve conflicts with a two-handed broadsword is hard enough. How will they ever send the adventurers back to their mystical realm?”
Worldbuilding Development: 4 out of 5 stars
I definitely felt, while reading, that it definitely caters to an audience that is familiar with tabletop RPGs, especially Dungeons & Dragons (D&D for short). For those of you familiar with D&D-related media such as Critical Role and Life Of The Party, this will definitely speak to you and make a lot of sense, when reading this book in regards to the worldbuilding. For those that haven’t played any tabletop RPGs nor consumed any D&D-related content, as the game the main characters play in the book is based off Dungeons & Dragons for the most part, it might be a bit harder for the reader to understand, but the book does a pretty job of explaining how the gameplay generally works, as well as the established worlds, characters, etc. that are involved.
Plot Development: 3 out of 5 stars
Character Development: 3.5 out of 5 stars
I think the overall plot was the weakest element in this book. This is mainly because there isn’t a lot of things going on in the plot. Yes, the characters our main protagonists created come to life. It’s definitely fun to read all the shenanigans the protagonists and their created characters get into (bonus points to Jandia scaring away two real-life harassers), but there isn’t much plot development until the last fifty pages of the book otherwise. I also felt that the actual ‘gameplay’ parts of the book, which made up the bulk of the first third-to-half of the book, slowed down the whole plot, even if it was vital to establish the worldbuilding. However, I do think that the plot was consistent and made sense, overall.
As for characters, Ralph is protagonist that felt relatable to me as a reader. He has his friends, but they’re slowly drifting away (or at least it feels like it) due to other developing interests they have. All of them are in Grade 6, basically on the cusp of being teenagers, and I can definitely understand him trying to find a group he fits in with, especially since he’s not as sociable as, say, the rest of his friends. I found Jojo, Persephone, Noel and Cammi fun to read, but since the book is focused on Ralph’s point of view, we don’t see as much development from them as there is in Ralph.
As for their in-game created characters, I found all of them interesting. Jandria was personally my favourite, mainly because of how she was unapologetic about who she was and she really felt alive to me as a character. I also found it funny how the cultural values the various created characters clashed with what they experienced in the modern world, as well as how the real-life protagonists had to explain many simple-world concepts and things to them.
Overall, I’m rating this book 3.5 out of 5 stars!
If you’re a fan of tabletop RPG games, as well as Dungeons & Dragons in particular, you’ll enjoy reading this book for the worldbuilding and character aspects.
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