With the drama from Asta City in the past, Tayler is ready to build a new life with his lovers in Cradle Edge. Then, he gets news from his friend Carter that the social-media based mind control that had plagued Astra City is also running rampant in Beta City. And it is being run by his old nemesis, Stuart. Ready to fight the good fight once more, Tayler heads to Beta City. What he finds when he gets there is so far beyond what happened in Astra City. The evil Social Media Central has brainwashed the population using a VR game called “Enemy Alien.” And the insidious thing is that they have convinced the players that Tayler himself is the enemy to be hunted.
Tayler finds himself locked in an unfamiliar world where everyone is a vicious enemy. He needs help, but with his friend Carter nowhere to be found, Tayler finds allies with a new cast of characters, including Sage. Their attraction is powerful and instant, but their emotions are in turmoil. Not the least of which because both of them are well aware that Tayler is in no position to settle down. Not with Stuart hot on his heels, trying to capture Tayler for an evil scheme. What they come to find, however, is that Stuart may not be the one calling all the shots. Someone is determined to have Tayler lead their city into a new, depressing future. Will Tayler, Sage, and their friends be able to avert the crisis?
Virtual Insanity, from author Kevin Klehr, is the second book in the TAYLeR series. The book can ostensibly be read as a standalone, according to information from the author, but I didn’t think it worked well by itself. I loved the almost indefatigable sense of absurd whimsy in the other Klehr books I’ve read. In those books (The Midnight Man and Midnight Masquerade), it felt like the reader and the main character are plunged into a fantastical world and enjoy the journey of discovering what is what together. Virtual Insanity has all the bizarre world building, but none of the joy. I was sorely disappointed by the feeling that the eccentric characters in outlandish situations didn’t coalesce into a bigger, coherent whole. For example, I was on board with the idea that the general population of Beta City was obsessed with an AR game to the extent that they lived, ate, and breathed the game. I even thought it was fine that these people seemed to spout nothing but nonsense to Tayler, since the citizens had special immersive suits to patch them into the AR world. Yet even when Tayler has a suit of his own and is patched into the game as well, he’s still Tayler trying to find the bad guy, and the regular citizens are still spouting incoherent nonsense.
Overall, the story barely pulls together enough momentum to shuttle Tayler into a hero-esque role. He’s not pining for the two lovers he made during the first book; he falls easily enough into Sage’s arms for comfort and release. Somehow, these two end up falling in love with each other. The quiet moments between Tayler and Sage were arguably my favorite parts. Their dialogue felt more emotional, more intimate, even as they knew their connection was likely only going to be in the heat of the moment. Tayler has a lot of conflicting feelings about Sage; when push comes to shove, I didn’t feel like Tayler was fighting to build or save what he and Sage managed to scrape together in terms of romance. So Tayler as a romantic lead was a confused fuzzle, even with a perfectly adequate partner ready and available.
Then there was the framing of the conflict in the story. Tayler has gone to Beta City to try to free the citizens from a mind-controlling social media enterprise. Initially, Stuart is unquestionably the villain. There’s an attempt at building intrigue into Stuart and Tayler’s relationship. There’s…nonconsensual food play. For all that Tayler wants to find and defeat Stuart, and Stuart seems to find and torment Tayler, these interactions felt surface-deep. Ultimately, the idea of obsession gets brought up, but after a few accusations and passing ruminations, Stuart is The reveal did not inspire an “aha” moment in me, nor have me tittering with recollections about events in the book so far. The lack of throughlines was hard enough. But with the
All in all, this was a pretty disappointing book. The concept of an AR-obsessed general population was interesting, but the execution just didn’t work for me with all the nonsense-spouting side characters and their unfathomable impact on the MCs. I found it impossible to connect with the main characters; despite having interesting quirks, most of them seemed ineffectual in the context of the story. The killed the small amount of coherency and momentum the story had going for it.