When I found out that Ernest Cline had a second book coming out, I was incredibly excited. I loved Ready Player One, and I wanted to see what he came up with next. Armada follows in the footsteps of Ready Player One, setting up a story that has a heavy video game focus. This time, instead of most of the action taking place in a virtual world, the video game comes into the real world. Zack, the protagonist, is a high school senior obsessed with the video game Armada. It is one of the many science-fiction themed things that he consumes in his spare time, his desire to escape into those worlds and have an adventure filling his brain. Even so, when he sees an alien spacecraft straight out of Armada, he questions his sanity. But he does have his call to adventure. He just doesn’t know what being a hero may cost him.
Armada frustrated me early on. It’s divided into three phases as Zack goes on his journey, and the first phase and a half were so incredibly boring that it was a chore to read. The fact that I really enjoyed Ready Player One was the only reason I pushed myself so hard to get through those very snooze worthy pages. There was a lack of action. I understand that Cline wanted to give us as much information about the Armada game as possible, but far too much was included. The book became more of a manual about Armada: how to play it, its history and the history of its production company, and the history of video games rather than plot. There was little story thrown in. It stagnated and I was very unimpressed. This is my biggest complaint about Armada by far. My eyes glazed over any time a ton of lingo or step-by-step how-tos for the fictional games of Terra Firma (the ground based game set in the same world as Armada) and Armada (air based) were included. It took ages for me to actually get into the book because the adventure didn’t occur right away. There are hints, but it wasn’t enough. I made a note that the story only started to get interesting in chapters 10 and 11. That’s far too late, but I still trudged through because of the author.
I also couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a more in-your-face/upfront retelling of Ender’s Game. It does end up being slightly different, but the entire time I was reading I had that little thought in the back of my mind. I’m not sure if Cline wanted certain things to be a twist, or if the “twists” were meant to be an homage to Ender’s Game and therefore not twists at all, but whatever it was, there were no surprises. I was able to predict too many things, which I won’t discuss because of possible spoilers. Again, they may have not been twists at all, but I like having some surprises while I read a book and I didn’t feel like Armada had any.
I did feel emotionally connected to the main character, whose loss of a father from a young age really shaped how he grew up and saw the world. I think he felt that he had to be stronger because he didn’t have a father figure in his life. Although his mother supported him, it was clear that he always hoped his father had somehow managed to survived the accident or that he had another father figure in his life to support him. I think that’s why he was so eager to be the hero. When he answered the call to adventure, he went from this annoying kid that had anger issues to someone who was able to work on a team to get things done.
Ultimately, I did enjoy Armada. When the story finally started it was very fun to read and I couldn’t put it down. However, if it had been a book by an author that I had never read before, I would have put it down before I got to the truly exciting parts. It was only Ernest Cline’s name that got me through it. I’m disappointed that the beginning was such a flop for me when the middle and ending were very engaging, even if the ending was a bit too tidy.