Ursula Poznanski
A game with a game plan of its own

A red E on a black ground: Erebos is back. And this merciless game has not been idle these past ten years: not only has it forced old gamers back into the game, it is even recruiting new ones. No one gets away, because the game is smarter than ever – and has a plan of its own.

By Marit Borcherding

Poznanski: Erebos 2 © Loewe
Erebos – Ursula Poznanski broke sales records galore in 2010 with this all-age thriller about a sinister computer game. After garnering awards a-plenty for her successful debut, she’s been able to devote herself full-time to writing, Poznanski told DIE ZEIT magazine recently. And there was good reason for the interview: Erebos 2 came out in the summer of 2019 – and shot right up to the top of the bestseller lists.

No escape

So has her recipe for success paid off again? At any rate, readers all aquiver with expectation don’t have to wait long for the troubles to return: by page 11 it's already clear that Erebos is back with a vengeance – and it's up to Nick, once again, to grapple with this nasty piece of AI work. He’s not a schoolboy anymore, but freelancing as a photographer to pay his way through college. The jobs go well for the most part – until Erebos rears its ugly head again quite out of the blue and compels him to play its game again.

With no mercy, for every time Nick gets shunted back and forth like a chess piece moved by a cyber force and he tries to resist, the game shows him all it has learned since the last time: it swallows up wedding pictures he took – without which he won’t get paid for the job; it sends out e-mails discrediting him to friends and workmates; and even leaves an insulting voicemail with his girlfriend, who summarily dumps him. So what can Nick do but set off into cyberspace once more to fight his battles and solve his problems there?

Teaming up against AI

The same goes for 16-year-old Derek, who is introduced in Chapter 2. Derek’s got issues: with his parents, with some classmates and, last but not least, with keeping his impulses under control. To top it all off, Erebos pops up on his smartphone: “We're going to play together. If you're good, we both win. If not, only I win.” And when Derek asks what if he doesn’t want to play, Erebos makes no bones about the consequences: “Then you lose at once... everything that matters to you.”

From then on, the two boys edge closer and closer to each other without knowing it, both in their real everyday lives in London and in their virtual lives as Sarius and Torquan. They are hounded from one dicey situation, one test of courage, to the next in both the analog and the digital world – whilst ever dreading that their omniscient blackmailing opponent might back them into a corner with no way out. They fear for themselves if, in Erebos’s estimation, they should fail, but also for the people who mean the most to them.

Suspense and surprise

This suspenseful story soon picks up speed. Where it’s all going won’t be clear till the end, and who and what is ultimately behind it all will come as a surprise. The clues lead all the way to Africa and back to England. And it’s not just a matter of exposing a diabolical mastermind of tech, for moral issues are also at stake here.

So Erebos 2 is not a perfunctory sequel. Granted, it doesn't hurt to know the first book, but the follow-up can also stand alone. In this new thriller, Ursula Poznanski entertains us with real and virtual adventures and a for the most part very likeable cast of characters, while denouncing the increasingly tentacular power of digital devices to manipulate us users. This mix goes down well not only with youngsters, but also with adult readers who outgrew gaming long ago, as evidenced by many an enthusiastic review on the online distributors’ sites.

Logo Rosinenpicker © Goethe-Institut / Illustration: Tobias Schrank
Poznanski, Ursula: Erebos 2
Bindlach: Loewe, 2019. 512 S.
ISBN 978-3-7432-0049-4

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