YA Weekend: Minecraft: The Lost Journals by Mur Lafferty
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Media Tie-In
Series: Stand Alone/Book 3 of Minecraft
Publisher: Century (July 11, 2019)
Length: 251 pages
My kids are more heavily into Minecraft than I am these days, while for myself I’ve been more interested in checking out the tie-in novels. I had a good time with the first two books in the series (The Island and The Crash) and so my attention was piqued when I found out about a third one coming out, especially when I realized that it was going to be written by Mur Lafferty, an author whose work I’ve enjoyed in the past.
Titled The Lost Journals, this latest young adult novel taking place in the Minecraft universe follows Alison and Max, two friends who live in the blocky, digitized world of the game. In this dangerous setting, both of them have experienced tragedy in the past. In fact, Alison now lives with Max and his family because hers perished in a terrible incident involving a creeper attack. Max himself almost died from drowning while swimming in the cove, leaving his mother paranoid and overprotective. Alison and Max are thus watched closely, never allowed to have too much fun in between doing their chores at the farm.
But the pull of adventure is too powerful. Max, ever the one to look for new fun things to do, comes up with an idea after finding an old and weather-worn journal containing plans on how to craft a portal to a mysterious realm called the Nether. At first, Alison is hesitant about going along with Max’s plans, but then he tells her that the journal’s owner is his uncle Nicholas, also known as the Enchanter. Max clearly has a personal connection to the situation, so the two friends decide to embark on a quest to the Nether in order to find Nicholas. But once on the other side, an accident traps them both in this strange new world along with another girl named Freya and and her wolf dog Bunny Biter.
As you can probably tell, The Lost Journals skews towards younger readers, more so than the previous volumes, in my opinion. The style feels closer to Middle Grade, based on the behavior of the characters and the language used in the book. Lafferty appears to have a good grasp on the audience to write for, creating in Max and Alison a couple of protagonists that kids can relate to. Both of them are thirsty for a grand adventure, but Alison is a little more mature and prudent, while Max is a little more inclined to throw caution to the wind. Despite their frequent squabbles though, their friendship feels innocent, genuine and easygoing, with both of them offering each other a good support system. Their relationship is closer to that of a brother and sister, especially ever since Alison moved in with Max’s family, and even in the face of all the challenges and threats they find in the Nether, their bond remains strong.
If you’re not familiar with the Minecraft world though, I think this book will be somewhat challenging to get into. From the game’s distinctive environment all the way down to its little idiosyncrasies like the crafting and building systems, everything described in it will feel very strange. And while I enjoyed reading The Lost Journals, I can’t really say it really drew me in the same way previous Minecraft book did. Unlike The Crash which takes place in the context of the real world, this one feels like it has more in common with The Island, with its story unfolding entirely in-game so that the world of Minecraft is the “norm” for our characters. Not only is it more difficult to feel connected with a book like this, I also thought its tone and ideas were more simplistic, whereas The Crash dealt with some pretty mature topics and heavy themes like death, grief, or games as therapy.
In comparison, The Lost Journals was more a fluffy fun adventure strictly for kids, offering a very surface level experience. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially if you like a lot of action, the kind involving battling skeletons and pitting your survival skills against the elements. The characters are also so energetic and likeable, in a way it’s like watching a couple of highly imaginative kids playing Minecraft, and it’s hard to have a bad time with that. Still, this book isn’t going to be for you if you’re looking for something deeper and more memorable, and if you’re coming to this directly from The Crash, you’ll feel the difference even more keenly.
In other words, I’d probably only recommend this one for Minecraft enthusiast or for fans of the author who must read everything she writes. It was fun for what it was, but I must also confess that my expectations were raised after the poignancy of The Crash, the deepest and most meaningful of the Minecraft novels thus far. The Lost Journals felt younger and more simplistic in comparison, but Middle Grade age readers who love Minecraft will probably have a blast with it.