REVIEW: “Rabbits” by Terry Miles

A mysterious game found only in the darkest, most obscure corners of the internet. A game that ties together a multitude of conspiracy theories. A game that might be killing its players and lead to the end of the world. It’s a pretty great hook for a book, right? Thankfully, Rabbits, Terry Miles’ debut novel, lives up to its promising premise. It’s a fast-paced, twisty, mind-bending read. But it closest itself some to vagueness and underexplained ideas, resulting in an uneven climax that doesn’t quite bring its mysteries to a satisfying conclusion. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: I received an early copy of the novel from NetGalley and Del Rey. All thoughts are my own.)

“Rabbits”
Written by Terry Miles
Rabbits is a mysterious alternate reality game so vast it uses our global reality as its canvas. Since the game first started in 1959, ten iterations have appeared and nine winners have been declared. The identity of these winners are unknown. So is their reward, which is whispered to be NSA or CIA recruitment, vast wealth, immortality, or perhaps even the key to unlocking the secrets of the universe itself.

But the deeper you get, the more deadly the game becomes. Players have died in the past—and the body count is rising. And now the eleventh round is about to begin. Enter K—a Rabbits obsessive who has been trying to find a way into the game for years. That path opens when K is approached by billionaire Alan Scarpio, the alleged winner of the sixth iteration. Scarpio says that something has gone wrong with the game and that K needs to fix it before Eleven starts, or the whole world will pay the price.

Five days later, Scarpio is declared missing. Two weeks after that, K blows the deadline and Eleven begins. And suddenly, the fate of the entire universe is at stake.

Based on the podcast of the same name, Rabbits follows K, an avid fan of the game colloquially known as Rabbits. After years of trying to play the game, K is approached by a billionaire (and alleged winner of the sixth iteration of Rabbits). K is warned that something is wrong with the game, and if it’s not fixed before the eleventh iteration begins, the world will end. From there, K’s life is a whirlwind of missing people, dead friends, complex mysteries, and conspiracy theories ranging from the multiverse to the Mandela Effect. Before K can stop it, the eleventh iteration of Rabbits begins. And the only way to save the world is to win the game.

If that sounded like the world’s biggest mind-bend, you’re not wrong. Everything about Rabbits—the novel and the game—is confusing. Intentionally so, I think. I mean, how else would you write a story about a game that’s only spoken of in whispers and impossible to understand? Still, it’s impressive how easy the book is to read. Everything happens fairly linearly, even as alternate dimensions and secret organizations come into play. And that’s largely because, underneath all the weirdness and sci-fi gobbledygook about quantum mechanics and parallel universes, Rabbits is a mystery/thriller. The objective is simple—K needs to figure out what’s wrong with the game and how to fix it. The problem is that he’ll have to play the game to fix it. And playing the game is more dangerous than ever.

Most of the book sees K and Chloe (his friend and love interest) looking for clues, following those clues, talking to people who theoretically know more than they do, and repeating the process as they work their way through the narrative. It’s not the most exciting way to execute a story like this, but it gets the job done. There are times, particularly in the middle third of the book, where things start feeling a little repetitive. But Terry Miles keeps the story moving fast enough that it’s pretty easy to power through the more repetitive scenes. Plus, so much of the mystery is incredibly interesting. Who’s behind Rabbits? Why? How is the game managing to change reality? How is K connected to it? I mean, these questions could probably fill up multiple books, and with so many of the scenes dedicated to exploring these ideas, it’s no wonder that the book tends to fly by.

It helps that K is a fun character to spend time with. He’s molded in the same vein as narrators from similarly themed books—like Ready Player One. He’s full of snark and pop culture references. But I wasn’t anywhere near as annoyed with them here as I usually am. Miles was smart and didn’t overly rely on the references. Instead, he uses them sparingly, when they could actually benefit the narrative. K feels like a more nuanced character than expect him to be. He’s prone to mental breaks and has a history of mental illness, which gives him a very unreliable quality. Yet he remains personable. You can see why people like him and it makes you want to spend time with him. It’s fascinating seeing him work through the mysteries of Rabbits, learning how connected he is to what’s going on behind the scenes of the game.

The prose is fairly dry and utilitarian, with K never over describing things and rarely relying on purple language. But that’s what makes the book go by so quickly. The voice feels authentic, and it’s hyper-focused on telling the story and painting enough of the world for the reader to make sense of what’s going on, but not so much that it bogs things down. Everything is filtered through K’s lens, and it shows. The reader only understands as much as he does—which, ultimately, isn’t very much. Unfortunately, none of the other characters are given anywhere near as much attention as K is. At best, they tend to feel two-dimensional. Even Chole, the story’s female lead. But it kind of makes sense. After all, this is K’s story. He’s the one telling it, so he’s gonna be the focus.

Where Rabbits stumbles is when it tries to explain the game and what’s going on. To be fair, it’s admirable that the book tries to make sense of any of this at all. But every time a character starts explaining the game, waxing on and on about ley lines and quantum mechanics and alternate dimensions, my eyes just sort of glazed over. The book tries to explain these concepts and how they relate to the game, but it’s never able to go deep enough with any of them to make them make sense. And I get that the whole point of the game is that it’s unknowable, but if that’s gonna be the case, then I’d have rathered the book not explain it at all. All of these explanations end up distracting from what I think makes Rabbits fun—the actual gameplay.

The novel could’ve used that time to focus more on the mystery and the mechanics of how one plays the game. As a mystery, it’s totally unsolvable. You’re never really able to make the connections needed to solve the mystery. And you also never understand how K or Chole make the connections, either. They just do. And I think the time might’ve been better spent elaborating on the gameplay of rabbits, instead of trying to make sense of these complicated, and ultimately underexplained, scientific ideas. Because the mystery isn’t really solvable, the climax falls flat. We don’t understand how K figures out what he figures out, or how he decides to do what he does in the climax. He just does it. And that’s a shame. I think the more compelling story here is how K is going to play the game and save the day, and I’d have preferred the book focus on that. Having finished it, I still don’t understand how anybody plays the game and that’s a bit of a letdown.

Still, Rabbits is a fun, quick-paced read that I thoroughly enjoyed. It easily lives up to its mind-bending premise, delivering a story that’s as thrilling as it is confusing. I’ve not heard the podcast. Perhaps it may have explained more of the game’s mechanics. But I still feel like I got a complete story that stands on its own with this novel. It’s not perfect, but when it leans into the weirdness of its concept and the excitement of this unknowable game, it’s fun. The time it spends luxuriating in its mysteries and allowing K to shine as brightly and unreliably as he does is deeply enjoyable. It’s well worth a read if you’re into these kinds of mind-bending things.

4 out of 5 wands.

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