The Demi-Monde: Winter HC by Rod Rees HarperCollins Books Virtual Reality


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Demi-Monde: Winter, The (The Demi-Monde Saga) Hardcover by Rod Rees (Author)

“You can’t help getting caught up in the smartly-paced story…which is served up with lashings of steampunk relish.” —SFX (UK)

“Rees makes the book work: the world he’s created is a psychopathic nightmare.” —The Guardian

In the Demi-Monde, author Rod Rees has conjured up a terrifying virtual reality, a world dominated by history’s most ruthless and bloodthirsty psychopaths—from Holocaust architect Reinhard Heydrich to Torquemada, the Spanish Inquisition’s pitiless torturer, to Josef Stalin’s bloodthirsty right-hand man/monster, the infamous Beria. The Demi-Monde: Winter kicks off a brilliant, high concept series that blends science fiction and thriller, steampunk and dystopian vision. If Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson, James Rollins, and Clive Cussler participated in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, the result might be something akin to the dark and ingenious madness of Rees’s The Demi-Monde: Winter.

Already published to acclaim in the UK, this highly imaginative novel, the first in a projected series, blurs the line between reality and computer-generated fantasy until the line simply ceases to exist. Ella Thomas, an 18-year-old jazz singer, is recruited for a dangerous and mind-boggling job, to go inside the Demi-Monde, an elaborate computer program designed to train combat soldiers, and bring out the daughter of the president of the U.S., who has become stranded inside it. Like Philip Jose Farmer’s classic Riverworld series, the novel features an assortment of historical characters from various eras (its primary villains are the Nazi Reinhard Heydrich and black magician Aleister Crowley), and the Demi-Monde, a computer-construct with its own geographical, political, religious, and social structure, may remind some readers of the film The Matrix. Despite similarities to genre classics, the book stands on its own two feet. It’s elegantly constructed, skillfully written, and absolutely impossible to stop reading. It ends on a beauty of a cliffhanger, too, pretty much guaranteeing that readers will be biting their nails until the sequel appears.

“Explosively creative barely defines Rod Rees’s The Demi-Monde Winter. It blew me away as the novel skated on the razor’s edge between where we are today and where we’re headed tomorrow. As much a cautionary tale as a gripping thriller cut from a digital cloth.” (James Rollins, New York Times bestselling author of The Devil Colony)

Hardcover: 528 pages

To train soldiers for different high-stress combat scenarios, the U.S. military has developed a virtual reality game called The Demi-Monde. The game world is divided into different sections with boundaries like spokes on a wheel. These adjacent sections are overpopulated and made up of different mixtures of races and cultures that should clash and create wars. In addition, scientists have used the DNA of real historical people to create “Dupes” (duplicates) of actual historical tyrants and other bad guys to populate the Demi-Monde with the kinds of people who are likely to initiate conflicts. These dupes think they are real people and that the people who come in from the real world are “Daemons.” To make it as realistic as possible, when U.S. soldiers are in training in the Demi-Monde, their brains are completely immersed — they are not aware that they’re only playing a game. However, this leaves their consciousness separated from their bodies so that if they are killed in the game, they slip into a vegetative state in real life.

When Norma Williams, the U.S. President’s daughter, is kidnapped and held hostage in the Demi-Monde, the government must figure out how to rescue her. They hire Ella Thomas, a black jazz singer, to go into the game and bring Norma out.

Author Rod Rees takes a supremely cool premise in “The Demi-Monde: Winter” and runs with it, creating one of my favorite action/adventure epics in quite some time. Simply put, I loved this book. It has a relentless pace, an ingenious setting, and an intriguing historical element–all of which appealed to me immensely. But more than anything, it was just fun. Yes, dark, disturbing, and violent–but fun! Perhaps that’s a strange (and inappropriate) way to categorize a novel populated with some of history’s most brutal and reprehensible villains, but I found myself tearing through the pages of this book to see what would happen next. I’m certainly not a particularly effusive person, but something really connected with me here.

The concept at the heart of “The Demi-Monde: Winter” is easily its most salient selling point. The Demi-Monde is an artificially constructed, fully immersive simulation model used to train soldiers for impending combat missions. The virtual environment has been stacked to make it extremely volatile and unpredictable with a global climate of racial, cultural, and sexist inequality and hatred. To further complicate matters, the world is filled with accurate replications of some very evil, unscrupulous, and/or notorious historical figures. From the bloody reign of the Third Reich to appearances by or mention of notables representing Robespierre, Borgia, Shaka Zulu, Marx, Trotsky, and Empress Wu among numerous other personages–the book provides a fascinating alternate reality that I simply loved. I won’t divulge too much of the story, but the main plot point revolves around the president’s daughter who gets trapped in this make believe, but very real, dimension. A daring rescue is plotted and an ordinary young woman must enter the Demi-Monde to navigate its dangers and find the missing girl.

Once we enter the world of the Demi-Monde, the action is non-stop and the plotting moves at a breakneck pace. There are a lot of interesting characters, some emerge as unlikely heroes and some descend into power-hungry egomania. The main action set piece of the story plays out in the Warsaw Ghetto as German troops move to annihilate the trapped community. This fantastical blend of factual elements with over-the-top fiction really works and the real aspects of history provide an unexpected gravitas to an atypical adventure tale. It is important to note, however, that as the planned first novel of a series (one for each season, I would presume), the story leaves things hanging. I found this to be a truly invigorating and involving read, and I will be the first in line when Spring shows up. Great fun, but especially intriguing if you have an interest in or knowledge of history.


First U.S. Edition. Near mint condition.