This is going to be a short review:
Read this book.
Well, maybe that’s too short. Let me try again:
a) Stuff to like: If you happen to like virtual reality, there’s that. If you’re into characters who are believable and easy to identify with, there’s that. If you’re into complex mysteries threaded through a SF setting, there’s that.
Taia is a great protagonist. AKH said on Twitter that she wanted to do something different than the semi-standard “zero to hero” VR plot. She does. Taia is a perfectly nice young woman, and when playing the game, she’s . . . a nice young woman who’s about number 7000 to achieve her most desired goal. Not the first, not special, pretty okay at important tasks, but not the best.
She works hard, but not the hardest. She takes leadership roles, but not in a pushy way. She is loyal to her friends and has a good relationship with her family — well, maybe not her grandmother so much.
She’s suspicious of her “alien overlord supervisor,” Dio, but she doesn’t figure out the truth before the end. (Neither did I.) She’s not sure Dio’s a real person, of course, for quite a while, since the game is supposed to be purely a VR game, it just seems too advanced to be true. (It is. )
I like the secondary characters too. Especially, yes, Dio, but also most of the others. And the worldbuilding, most of it. The VR stuff is reminiscent of the Touchstone technology, but not the same.
b) Stuff not to like: This is a slow-paced story for most of its length. There is tons of worldbuilding given the VR game. Tons. I didn’t mind this, but this is not a story that hurtles out of the starting gate.
Nor is this a particularly intense book, until the end. Remember how Cassandra was really thrown off the deep end and in an intense situation right away? Not here.
c) Stuff not to worry about: Don’t play massive online games yourself? Don’t really play computer games at all? No problem! You will see some reviews that imply it helps to have some awareness of the online gaming world. Maybe so, but I have zero experience with any of that and didn’t feel like anything was hard to follow.
Also, this is a self-contained book, more or less. The big reveal happens, so we have that. We’ve got the set up for the next book. Big things are about to happen, but the fundamental mystery — that is solved.