Playing Tyler by TL Costa – Advance Review [Bane of Kings]

Playing Tyler

Bane of Kings writes an Advance Review of TL Costa’s first Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot Imprint) novel, Playing Tyler, that asks the question: when is a game not a game? It’s released on 2 July 2013.

“Realistic and entertaining, Playing Tyler is a strong debut, reccommended for the right audience.” ~The Founding Fields

After the appalling Inferno, I needed something that would be more enjoyable. And It’s clear that Playing Tyler, despite being a completley different genre, and having a completley different target audience, is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than Dan Brown’s latest novel, which I was reading along with this book. To put it into perspective, in the time that it took me to finish Inferno, I finished Star Wars – Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void by Tim Lebbon (Review Here) & Playing Tyler in the same time that it took me to finish Inferno. It was only due to a tight deadline and a long journey that I managed to finish the latter when I could. But this isn’t a review on Inferno. It’s a review of Playing Tyler.

And you’re probably starting to wonder – did I enjoy this book? Well the answer is yes, and no. I liked it, for sure – but it was only to a certain extent.

When is a game not a game?

Tyler MacCandless can’t focus, even when he takes his medication. He can’t focus on school, on his future, on a book, on much of anything other than taking care of his older brother, Brandon, who’s in rehab for heroin abuse… again.

Tyler’s dad is dead and his mom has mentally checked out. The only person he can really count on is his Civilian Air Patrol Mentor, Rick. The one thing in life it seems he doesn’t suck at is playing video games and, well, thats probably not going to get him into college.

Just when it seems like his future is on a collision course with a life sentence at McDonald’s, Rick asks him to test a video game. If his score’s high enough, it could earn him a place in flight school and win him the future he was certain that he could never have. And when he falls in love with the game’s designer, the legendary gamer Ani, Tyler thinks his life might finally be turning around.

That is, until Brandon goes MIA from rehab and Tyler and Ani discover that the game is more than it seems. Now Tyler will have to figure out what’s really going on in time to save his brother… and prevent his own future from going down in flames.

The blurb pretty much introduces you to the centeral characters that hold the storyline in place. Tyler McCandless & Ani Bagdorian are the main stars of Playing Tyler and TL Costa manages to make them sound very believable and authentic characters, who develop over the course of this book. The book itself is captivating, and the characters who this book will live and die by, are likeable and rootable.

Playing TylerCosta’s prose is easy to read, fast paced and relentless. Rather than just focus on Tyler’s perspective, the added viewpoint of Ani really helps flesh out the characters and create an even split between the book. Both are flawed, and are far from the perfect characters that everyone wants to be. They’re realistic, human – and neither, as so common in YA books not published by Strange Chemistry, are they at the centre of a prophecy dictating their future as a Chosen One (hint, hint – Eragon), because after all, this book is grounded and apart from a few crucial issues – such as the whole unmaned drones angle of the book, it could be a contempary YA novel.

Which is what at first, when I started reading – I thought it was. The first half of the book could easily be a Romance novel – the building of friendship between Ani and Tyler, threw me off a bit as you’ll probably know that there are two main genres that I avoid – Romance and Erotica. But thankfully, Playing Tyler steers clear of that (and I’d be slightly worried if I did stumble across Erotica in a Young Adult novel) and stuff really kicks off in the second half of the novel, after we’ve taken our time to know our characters.

The book itself is mainly focused on Tyler, who’s given a chance by Rick to beta-test a new flight simulator, allowing a pilot to control drones and provide air support for missions in the middle east. Ani was developed so well that she didn’t feel like an obligatory love interest, and the split between the POV of the two characters was handled nicely, and Costa has managed to make it so that you care about them equally. The characters are fleshed out well and the teen dialogue is believable.

I think the main reason why I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I did was the whole romance angle that seeemed to dominate the first half of the book. But I think, for the right target audience – you’ll enjoy Playing Tyler even more than I did. I’m not saying it’s a bad book though – it’s one of the stronger YA debuts that I’ve read. It’s fun, and has a nice cover that fits in with most of Strange Chemistry’s books. I’ve read a couple of their releases through NetGalley and have loved pretty much every cover that they’ve put out, so I think I need to get around to picking up one of the publisher’s novels in print at some point. Probably Kim Curran’s Shift, as that’s been high on my to-read list ever since it’s been released.


Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer