My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There are times when a book just speaks to you. It hits the right chords makes you think and more importantly squeal like a little girl given a fluffy unicorn. This books filled me with so much joy while evoking a sense of camaraderie that has yet to be rivaled.
I walked into this book cautious. People had been saying it wasn’t that great. There were people who were disappointed in this outing. There were people who had problems with this story that I trusted. So it makes sense that I was nervous. I was weary. And more importantly than not I was scared. The subject matter already felt like unoriginal ground. While everyone loved Ready Player One, I just really liked it. I was never over the moon. What if I didn’t like it?
The result was that my expectations were rather low. And Armada ended up surprising me. I really enjoyed it.
Here’s the thing, part of the joy about Armada came from how self-referential it was. Yes, for the most part this story is played straight. However, Zach is highly aware of how much like the media he’s consumed is being reflected in what is happening. This is a story about a kid who is living out his Last Starfighter dream in a universe where that exists. It knows it is ludicrous and outlandish and that’s part of what’s great about it.
As I was reading I was constantly blown away by how much I could relate to Zach. Our home life situations are nothing alike, heck even our interests don’t completely align. However, they did align enough that I was able to relate to the conversations he had. I could relate to the references he made. Because I did understand and relate, I never found myself stumbling or wondering what he meant. It just breezed through because it was natural to me. This is one of those things where it could easily lose people. If you aren’t understanding the references or they aren’t clearly explained, that can be extremely distancing. So while it worked for me personally, I can actually see most people not connecting to that. It didn’t help that the references often fell to one of two sides. Either they were obscure and unexplained while lack of knowledge of the subject could make things less clear or the references were explained in such a way that it took away some enjoyment from those who would have already got the reference. This is why references can be double edged swords. The references in Armada worked and connected to me. Whereas the references in Ready Player One I only just understood and didn’t feel connected to those references. It’s all perspective.
Even though I loved the book even I couldn’t deny that the pacing in this story just felt wrong. Like all wrong. Don’t get me wrong, the events that occurred and the reactions made sense. They did, but the flow of the story felt lopsided. The beginning of the story felt like it lasted too long. Then something intense or cool would happen and then the pacing would lag again. Honestly, it was the same issue I had with Ready Player One so I wasn’t that surprised. That doesn’t mean I didn’t hope it would be an element that would be improved upon in his next book. Ultimately, the first half of the novel felt rather slow in terms of plot events happening. Instead it was seeding the story to come, which I enjoyed, but probably took a bit longer than necessary. Especially when you consider that a number of these things were reflections and could have been displayed either while more happened or a bit later in the story.
So yes, I did have some problems with Armada, but that can’t take away the sense of euphoria I felt reading this novel. Usually that post read high from a book fades as you recognize and acknowledge flaws. That hasn’t happened with Armada. I still think about this book and smile. That’s because it’s a novel that I felt some sort of connection and joy while reading that superceded any rational thinking in regard. There are problems, but I still love Armada and would love if a second book came from it.