Hello everybody. Today I have for you a non-spoilery review of Jennifer Bell’s middle grade book Wonderscape, followed by an interview with the author.
When Arthur, Ren and Cecily investigate a mysterious explosion on their way to school, they find themselves trapped aboard The Principia – a scientific research ship sailing through hazardous waters, captained by one Isaac Newton. Lost in the year 2473 in the Wonderscape, an epic in-reality adventure game, they must call on the help of some unlikely historical heroes, to play their way home before time runs out. Jumanji meets Ready Player One in this fast-paced adventure featuring incredible real-life heroes, from the internationally bestselling author of The Uncommoners series.
My review of Wonderscape
I really liked our main characters, Arthur, Ren and Cecily. Each one of them has something unique that they bring to the team and I really enjoyed seeing them work together to solve puzzles and help each other escape enemies and dangerous situations. I also really liked the beautiful and wholesome friendship that develops between them over the course of their adventures. What I liked in particular about their friendship is how supportive they are of each other and how they are always looking out for each other. I also really liked how inclusive the book is. Throughout the story, we meet different characters and historical figures of various diverse ethnicities, which I thought was really nice. I also appreciated that our main characters were shown to be from very diverse family set-ups. For instance, Arthur lives with his dad, who is taking care of him as a single parent, and Ren has two mums.
The world of Wonderscape
Wonderscape is an in-reality game that consists of various levels known as ‘realms’. Each realm has its own theme which is inspired by a historical hero. I really enjoyed getting to discover all these different realms along with our main characters. It was really fun to see the characters travel from realm to realm and having to figure out the puzzles to be solved in each one. Since the realms all have different themes, the characters have to solve new puzzles every time. I was really impressed by how clever and detailed the puzzles are. Young readers will certainly have a great time trying to solve them along with the characters.
With its action-packed story and its descriptive writing style, the book offers an immersive reading experience that makes you almost feel like you’re in the game too. A lot of detail is given to the gameplay and the in-game functionality of Wonderscape. The characters get to collect items after completing puzzles, including keys that allow them to travel to other realms. They also get to earn Wonderskills, which allows them to use special abilities in the game. I loved how detailed the actual gameplay of Wonderscape is and I’m sure that other readers will also really enjoy discovering all these cool gaming elements scattered throughout the book.
My final thoughts
This book was a lot of fun and one that both children and older readers will definitely really enjoy. It also offers a great way for young readers to discover various historical figures that they might not know much about, such as Wangari Maathai and Tomoe Gozen.
Interview with Jennifer Bell
QaS: In Wonderscape, Arthur, Ren and Cecily have to solve numerous puzzles in order to proceed in the game. How did you come up with all these different puzzles and challenges?
JB: I watched lots of escape room challenges and played video games to give me ideas. I tried to make sure every challenge tested a different skill – some are physical, others require brainpower and wits. Sometimes, research about a historical figure gave me inspiration. Isaac Newton, for example, used to fold over the corners of his notebook to mark points in the text. That spiked the idea to have a hidden message in his notes that the main characters have to find.
QaS: Throughout the game, as the players complete a level and win a key to proceed to the next one, they can earn Wonderskills, which give them abilities and skills that they can use in the game. If you could get a Wonderskill, which one would you pick?
JB: If I had to choose one that the children acquire in the story, I’d pick Amaros Ba’s navigation skill, giving me the ability to know exactly where I am at any one moment. That way I’d never get lost!
QaS: In the game, the different levels that players can visit are called realms, and each one has its own unique theme. What was your favorite realm to create?
JB: Truthfully, they were all fun to create because I got to let my imagination run wild. I loved inventing Amaros Ba’s realm because he’s a fictional hero from the future, so I could add lots of odd details that didn’t necessarily need to make sense. His realm is set in a desert marketplace where traders sell all sorts of wares including timefritters – deep fried balls of swirling pink gas that explode in your mouth when you eat them.
QaS: A cool feature of Wonderscape is that each realm features a historical hero that players can occasionally interact with. How did you choose which historical figures to include as the heroes that our characters meet in the game?
JB: I did lots of research and ended up with a long list of around fifty inspirational people from history, who I thought young people could connect with. I narrowed them down by picking a mix of heroes with different skills, from different places in the world and different periods in history. I wanted to include some lesser-known heroes so that the reader could discover them in the story.
QaS: When Arthur, Ren and Cecily are transported into the game, they soon realize that they have in fact traveled a few centuries into the future. Throughout their adventures, they come across all sorts of cool, futuristic inventions, such as anti-gravity floating hair, which seems to be a beauty trend in the future! What fun, futuristic invention or trend do you wish actually existed?
JB: If you’ve ever watched Star Trek, you’ll know the characters use ‘replicators’ to synthesize food on demand. They just press a button and whatever they want to eat is created in seconds! It would certainly take all the hard work out of preparing dinner!
QaS: Would you potentially like to revisit the world of Wonderscape in another book one day?
JB: I am sworn to secrecy, but watch my socials for an announcement…
QaS: Finally, can you recommend some games that you think fans of Wonderscape would probably really enjoy?
JB: Great question! First of all, if you haven’t played the Wonderscape game yet, definitely give that a go. You can find the link on my website and it only takes five minutes. I’m playing Horizon Zero Dawn on PlayStation at the moment, which would probably have a 13+ age rating if it were a movie. I love it because the main character is a girl and it’s set in a beautiful shifting landscape where you have to investigate an ancient mystery while fighting giant robot-beasts! I also loved the fantasy adventure Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Animal Crossing on Switch. Zelda is more 10+ but Animal Crossing is suitable for all ages.
About the author
Jennifer Bell was born in 1985, in London. She studied Film at the University of Kent and later went on to work at the Foyles bookshop where she became a specialist children’s bookseller. She was part of the team that won Children’s Bookseller of the Year at the 2012 British Book Awards. Jennifer and her colleagues again won Children’s Bookseller of the Year at the British Book Awards in 2017.
Jennifer’s debut novel, The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence, was published in 2016 and became a Waterstones Children’s book of the month and a Sunday Times bestseller. Two sequels were published in 2017 and 2018. Jennifer left bookselling and became a full-time children’s author in 2018. Her new series for younger readers, Agents of the Wild, which she co-created with Alice Lickens, was published in 2020. Jennifer’s latest book, Wonderscape, was published in June 2020. Find out more about Jennifer here.
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