This book is a literary, character-driven, exciting and mysterious, quick read! The story is centred around an accident that the main character, Sean Phillps, has when he is very young. To cope, he crafts an imaginary post-apocalyptic world where the Trace Italian is the only sanctuary. The world morphs into a role-playing game played through mail correspondence. It’s similar to Choose Your Own Adventure and Dungeons and Dragons. However, players mail in their next move and the author, Sean, responds by sending back the appropriate scene. Things go too far, however, when two teen players suffer a tragic end by taking the game too far, and trying to play it in real life. The book unfolds in reverse until we arrive at both the beginning and the climax, and we find out the event that has shaped so much of Sean’s life.
I found this book to be beautifully and almost poetically written. John Darnielle has a gift for imagery, and I loved how he was able to make me see and feel Sean's disfigurements with only a slight salt and peppering of clues throughout the book. I wanted to continue reading this book every time I was forced to put it down. The characters that Darnielle paints are rich and interesting, and it also left me wanting to play Trace Italian! I’m a lover of Role Playing Games, so the personal connection to this world likely helped me sink my teeth into it. If you like role playing games, beautiful prose, and/or interesting characters, you’ll love this book!