It's said that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and an eccentric billionaire has set out to prove it by building an island retreat that brings the fantastic to life. Vaughn asks what happens when a bunch of tech geeks and fantasy nerds don't realize the game they are now playing is for real.
... a glorious hybrid of mash-up and homage ... Vaughn has always brought a winning clarity to her writing, and Questland is no different ... If this all seems like a pastiche of Michael Crichton's work mixed with a little bit of Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, well, that wouldn't be an inaccurate starting point. But Vaughn is careful to subvert and transcend the very subjects she's celebrating, rather than slapping them upside the reader's head ... Vaughn executes her swift, action-stuffed tale with the understanding that you can be an ultra-fan of anything while having a bit of fun with the sources of your fandom at the same time — and in fact, the ability to relish the absurdity as well as the awesomeness of D&D or Harry Potter might actually reflect the true spirit of geekdom ... But does Questland go overboard with its geek-culture Easter eggs? That all depends on how leveled-up you are. Do the phrases 'Cloak of Invisibility' and 'Great Dwarf Hall' strike a chord? Does the interplay between Arthurian legend and Monty Python make you weak at the knees? Do the words 'critical fail' send you into a panic? If so, Vaughn's book is a cornucopia of sly references, winking asides, and not-so-hidden meanings...These layers upon layers of references can, at times, definitely veer toward the impenetrable ... Even a passing familiarity with the mainstream spectacles of, say, The Lord of the Rings or Blade Runner, however, is enough to gain a sufficient foothold in Vaughn's fantasy realm. And if you're unable to hear every one of Questland's dog whistles, that's okay. It's still a pleasure to lose yourself in the story's playfulness, thrills, endearing characters, and surprising emotional core. This is, after all, a novel about how our obsessions can help define us, for better or for worse — and how they can heal us. Vaughn's novel is not just a tribute to its many beloved influences; it's her love letter to the very human and universal need for fandom itself, no matter what it is that we stan.
Carrie Vaughn uses the formula of the hero’s tale to craft a layered story about the difference between what is real and what is true. Her Addie Cox is a competent woman whose PTSD and related grief stand in the way of her owning her heroic-ness. Questland lifts unrepentantly from nearly every fantasy trope out there but does so in a knowing way that shows why these tropes work so well. The structure of Vaughn’s story is familiar, yes, but simultaneously fresh and new.
... easy and immersive style ... As our point of view character, Cox...has the skills to figure out the invented fantasy realm that the mercenaries that are her escorts are much less familiar with. The novel does slip a bit here, I feel, the mercenaries feel a little more of an older generation, and a little more mundane than I would have expected. That just makes Cox all the more valuable, because this IS a situation and problem that guns can’t always solve (although the power and problem of guns are treated like dread magic weapons). But for that, Vaughn has Cox grounded ... The novel gives us a whirlwind tour of the three realms: the Realms of Sword, Shield and Arrow. Not least for reasons of copyright and rights in the book itself, but also within the world of the novel, Insula Mirabilis attempts to create a fantasy world and landscape from public domain and invented fantasy materials rather than trying to precisely be 'Tolkienland.' That said, the three realms definitely lean on existing properties or generic ideas from the same original materials pretty heavily ... Reading the book and following Cox’s travails is immersive, but wouldn’t you want to see Robin Hood’s camp for yourself? Or visit a dwarven hall? See a unicorn? Vaughn taps into that, with her easy and page turning writing style, with delightful results. One thing that the novel does delightfully address, is that Cox might be a geek’s geek ... Questland charmed and ensorcelled me, and while I left the island, I recognized that the book stands alone, a complete and satisfyingly immersive story complete in a volume. That, too, is magic.