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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
Virtual War by Ryan LeKodak operates in both the real and virtual worlds as the crew of survivors works to confront and shut down the autonomous AI opponent, Helene, once and for all. In the virtual world, Manar adapts to the digital landscape with new capabilities. CJ also enters this realm, encountering avatars and intricate code structures to confront Helene. At Sparta Headquarters in the real world, DJ traces back Ndidi's steps to before she was taken captive by Helene. Ndidi and Bethany strategize an escape under the crush of Helene's mind influence as DJ, Hermione, and Christy start planning a rescue operation despite the belief of potential betrayal. There is confusion over who is under Helene's control and what side individuals are now on as Manar and CJ, in the virtual realm, battle bots, outdated software, shifting abilities, orbs, security constructs, the dark web, and even a bomb. Liz, Karla, Chloe, and others vacillate between multiple undertakings, all while the stakes mount and the fight takes place on these separate but intrinsically linked fronts.
I know that sounds like a lot, but it's not even a fraction of the action and black-hat thrills that Ryan LeKodak wraps into Virtual War. I have read books one and two, which are necessary to follow exactly what is going on. It's unlikely a new reader would get far starting with book three, and they'd be robbing themselves of the build-up in the first two installments of this acclaimed series. Ndidi has been and remains the most intriguing character to me. There's a moment in the storyline where her dedication to autism research is met with a radical cure, but the ethical dilemma—to which she's no stranger—makes for an otherwise impossible internal conflict. LeKodak incorporates genre-bending non-human capabilities in the human characters operating in the virtual realm, and there are even nods toward the metaphysical, which is a fascinating construct and one that requires the courage of a skilled writer. LeKodak delivers an ending that is satisfying in how he ties up all the loose ends but also lets us know that there could, and should, be more to come. Exceptional.