Ashes of Foreverland by Tony Bertauski

The first book in Tony Bertauski’s Foreverland series intrigued; the foundation was effectively laid for an expansive story with engaging characters and nuanced worldbuilding. The second book, Foreverland is Dead, achieved the rare feat of being as good as (if not better) than the first book. And now this third and final installment brings the series to a very satisfying conclusion. For once, we have a story with YA-aged characters that doesn’t deteriorate with every book and instead builds upon the story and deepens the plot. Very smart choices have been made throughout and each book, once started, was very hard to put down.

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Story: Introducing a new character, Alessandra, but bringing back the leads from book one and two (Danny and Cyn, respectively), our characters find there is an even bigger game at stake. Reality and the VR begin to bleed as everyone from the Ballard parents to those trapped in Foreverland begin to realize that Reed was much more than any one realized. And despite evidence to the contrary, may not actually be dead. Danny and Cyn will be led on a race against time to save Alessandra from the Ballards; she is their key to a permanent Foreverland.

I really respect the decision to use a different character in each book – it brought a fresh perspective to the story but the main plot and mystery built with each POV. Cyn and Danny each had very different problems to tackle – as did Alessandra in this third book. Because so many plot points converged, we were given more than just those three POVs; if I had to nitpick, I didn’t feel all were necessary. But at the same time, the book is so well written that it is a breeze to read and the time goes very fast.  Bertauski does an amazing job creating realistic characters.

We clearly have a writer who truly loves to write; that is evident in the care and precision that has gone into the entire series. What we don’t have is a case of kids distractedly (and without emotional consequences) fighting a system and then having a soppy romance throughout(thankfully, no romance here though there is a beautiful love story to punctuate so many of the ideas presented). Instead, Bertauski gives us pathos and philosophy but tempers that heaviness with likeable characters readers want to follow. And for once, a somewhat dystopian, near future feels very grounded in a way so few authors in the YA genre are able to achieve. It feels limiting to place this in the YA genre since it is so well written and has such a universal appeal. Stories based around VR-gone-wrong are a dime a dozen (pick an anime out of Japan and that’s the plot lately) but Bertauski truly gets it right here in the Foreverland series.

I don’t know if the author had the overall series arc plotted in advance or built upon the first novel cleverly afterwards; but the result is a great read, hard to put down, and seamlessly consistent throughout. Expect as good a plot in the third book as the first (and second, too – no sophomore slump here).  I have greatly enjoyed all three books and appreciated the intelligent ending that explained so much of the mystery but avoided an anticlimatic happily ever after.  Highly recommended.  Reviewed from an ecopy provided by the author.

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