tl;dr: Ready Player Two is unable to recreate the same magic as its predecessor.
Ready Player Two starts with Wade Watts discovering a new Easter egg, hidden by the dead James Halliday, the creator of the online world 'OASIS'. This puzzle unlocks a new technology which has the potential to save the world or accelerate its ruin. Along with this new tech comes a new quest and a new villain. What will Wade Watts do with the revolutionary technology? Will his team save the world?
Before we get into the review, I want to look back at Ready Player One and see what made it work. Ready Player One was full of pop culture references, which made it nostalgic and fun to read. It was also one of those books that fulfil the nerd hero fantasy - an introvert who is only capable in the fictional online world, but who saves the day and gets the girl. The focus on the basics of storytelling, like compelling characters, exciting puzzles, fast pacing, and incredible world-building, made the book stand out.
Unfortunately, Ready Player Two doesn't just check many of these boxes, but it regresses in some of them.
The first problem is the over-emphasis on pop culture references. Yes, that is possible. It feels like 90% of the book is devoted to exposition and retellings of pop culture. The amount of space dedicated to the references comes at the expense of the plot and pacing. I like 'Prince', 'Lord of the Rings', and so many other icons out there, but I don't want to spend the entire book reading about them. If I want 'Prince', I will listen to his music. If I want a dose of fantasy, I will read the LoTR trilogy. I came to Ready Player Two to read its story, not something else's.
There are so many places in the book where Ernest Cline gets into descriptions of that reference or this trivia, that it gets boring. These sections also bring down the already slow pacing. The author tries to infuse some life and urgency into the plot by using the artifice of a timer. But, unlike a movie like 'The Peacemaker' which makes the countdown so tense, it is just another thing in Ready Player Two. The timed countdown doesn't live up to its said purpose, and it feels shoehorned in.
The plot is also not that interesting for a sequel. Being held hostage by an AI is an overly done trope, and if you are going to reuse it, then you better make sure that there is something unique about it. That is not the case here. Again, like the pop-culture reference and the pacing, it feels formulaic, with no thought to the overall picture. Being so bland, I didn't find the villain menacing or original enough.
But I think what kills the book are the lacklustre characters. I couldn't get into them, unlike the first book. Wade Watts spends the first third of the book being unlikeable. He whines about how life as a multi-billionaire sucks. Yes, yes, we know money doesn't buy happiness. But we also know that money can't compensate for you being an ass to your friends or a stalker who abuses their power. Then there is the contrived break-up and even more contrived reconciliation, none of which is remotely believable by the way. The characters haven't progressed from the first book. There isn't much of a character arc for them in Ready Player Two either.
This book could have been better if Ernest Cline had either stuck faithfully to the formula of the first one or willing to experiment more with its structure. For example, the LOW Five could have been the actual people on the field with Wade & team acting as support. But the author chooses to make Wade perform all the courier quests again.
But let's be real, Ready Player One is a one of a kind book, with devices and a structure that will work only once. Trying to replicate it is going to end in tears.
In conclusion, Ready Player Two is a pale imitation of Ready Player One. You will be better off re-reading the first book instead of this one.
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