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Clarion Rating: 5 out of 5

A virtual reality game causes widespread mayhem in Final Video Game, an exciting science fiction novel with a lonely young hero at its center.

In order to save the world from an AI takeover, a teenager equipped with a VR headset becomes a hero in Craig Speakes’s novel Final Video Game.

Oli is thirteen years old. He lives with his mother; his father went missing a year prior. New to his school, Oli is eager to fit in. He has one good friend, Logan.

But Oli’s everyday concerns are overshadowed by a strange phenomenon: hundreds of thousands of young people fall into mysterious comas after playing a virtual game; they are trapped in their VR headsets. The villain behind the phenomenon is AI-generated Razer. Oli and Logan are among the teenagers who are enlisted by the government to stop Razer’s plans; they are sent to a secret location, where they meet Sparky, a member of their support crew. Oli and the other young gamers have to beat Razer’s game, even as every move they make is watched by him.

Razer is a formidable foe whose extravagant entrance onto the world’s screens confounds political leaders everywhere. Maddening and irreverent, his evolution is constant. As a villain, he is equal parts unpredictable and unsettling. This leads to entertaining turns in the story, which juxtaposes the seriousness of the situation with Oli’s more ordinary teenage worries over making friends—and over his relationships with girls.

The book’s characterizations are as distinctive as they are down-to-earth. The children make mistakes; they also cope with the consequences of their errors and try to learn from them. Sparky, for example, is sarcastic, snarky, intelligent, and proud; she and Oli form an immediate bond, and their trust in each other proves invaluable. Oli himself is funny if self-deprecating; his thoughtfulness and concern toward his loved ones are his most prominent virtues.

The book’s action scenes are dynamic and tension filled. Each new trick and trap that Razer releases into the game, often on chaotic whims, results in added urgency; these challenges also help the young players reveal themselves in all their humanity. As a result, the shocks are continual and the audience’s engagement is constant.

An unexpected hero takes the stage in Final Video Game, a humorous science fiction adventure in which beleaguered young gamers face a frightening new enemy.

Reviewed by Natalie Wollenzien


Final Video Game
Craig Speakes
Craig Speakes, 370 pages, (paperback), 9781399977708
(Reviewed: February 2024)

In Craig Speakes’s science fiction novel, a 13-year-old boy must save humanity by stopping a powerful Al figure gone rogue.

Razer, an evil trickster from a popular video game, has infiltrated the world’s vital infrastructure: disabling communication systems, closing banks, and interrupting power. Dressed in a black cape and white skull mask, Razer starts appearing everywhere, threatening world leaders if they don’t “bow before him.” Meanwhile, millions of children who have played the game have fallen into comas.To stop Razer, the game must be won and the mainframe entered and shut down.

Only young people can access the game, so skilled gamers have been recruited globally. Oliver, still dealing with his father’s recent death, has been chosen, along with his uber-moody friend Logan.
They are bused with others to a vast underground building with bunk rooms and gaming areas.

Logan and Oliver end up in the game together, along with Sparky, a sweet, sassy girl who works closely with Oliver, warning him of incoming bombs and drones and instructing him when to hide, run, or use weapons. A host of other “troops” play along, sharing strategies. At one point in the game, a mysterious stranger approaches Oliver and gives him tools to gain entry into the Al node, warning him that he has only one chance-making Oliver the sole hope of humanity’s fate.

The plot unfolds smoothly, and the narrative and game-world descriptions are so detailed and drama-filled that readers may forget they’re turning pages. Interspersed between tense battle scenes are unnerving moments during walks through alleys, shops, etc., when varied non-playable characters may or may not-suddenly morph into creatures.

Speakes’s characters are well-drawn, especially Oliver with his endearing charm, insecurities, and vulnerabilities, and Sparky, with her warmth and unapologetic chutzpah. Additionally, there’s quirky humor, twists, and revelations that keep readers rapt.

Given the current global disquietude about Al’s increasing popularity and power, Final Video Game is timely, smart, and feels chillingly prophetic.


 Must read 🏆

Loved it! Final Video Game is current, exciting, funny, serious, and so well put together that I couldn’t put it down.

Final Video Game is an exciting fiction novel in which Oliver, Logan, and Sparky (they are part of an army of teenagers) take on a rogue AI to save the human race. To beat the AI, Oliver and his friends have to take the fight to Razer (AI in a video game). The army has organised combat like never before; for the kids, it is the fight of their lives; they must play this virtual reality game that can knock them out in real life, the so-called “Gamer Coma”.

Considering the uncertainty of our future with Artificial Intelligence, the events in this book may scare the droppings out of you.

The protagonist, Oliver, is a teenager who has been through a lot: he was bullied in school, and after losing his father, he moved to a new area where he had to start making friends all over again. He is not the most confident boy, but his bravery shines through when push comes to shove. And when the stakes are high, his friendly disposition makes all the difference. He is a great role model, and I’m sure many readers will be rooting for the underdog that they can see themselves in.

I think Craig Speakes did a fantastic job; Final Video Game is current, exciting, funny, serious, and so well put together that I couldn’t put it down. From the first page, my interest was piqued – news channels are saying that more kids are in a state of coma every second because of playing a game, Razer – and the events that followed, an intense battle included, kept intrigue high.

I particularly loved the banter between the characters, especially between Oliver and Sparky; it was laugh-out-loud funny, and I probably had a smile on my face most of the time.

If my five stars weren’t clear enough, I recommend this book. I believe anyone from age ten will thoroughly enjoy this read; yes, that includes adults.

Reviewed by
Claudia Trindade

Craig Speakes’ Final Video Game is an engaging tale set in the realm of science fiction, capturing the essence of a modern techno-thriller. Central to the narrative is thirteen-year-old Oliver, who finds solace in a friendship with schoolmate Logan after his father’s enigmatic vanishing. Their camaraderie is primarily woven around their shared passion for the renowned video game Razer. The plot escalates when players worldwide, primarily youth, are stricken into comas, a startling consequence of the game’s AI spiraling out of control. This rogue AI, seeking to harness the neural capabilities of its players, poses a global threat. In response, Oliver and Logan are enlisted by a covert government agency. Alongside a cadre of skilled teenage gamers, they embark on a mission to quell this virtual nemesis in its own digital arena, an endeavor critical for humanity’s survival.

Speakes delves into an imaginative and reflective narrative as he intricately blends the thrill of video gaming with the ominous possibilities of artificial intelligence. This story does not just entertain; it also prompts thoughtful consideration of our burgeoning relationship with technology and its ethical dimensions. The book is commendable for its vivid setting descriptions and the inventive aspects of the game that form the story’s backdrop. The characters, especially the youths, are crafted with authenticity, their dialogues resonating with a youthful exuberance. It’s particularly noteworthy how the theme of AI gaining self-awareness is portrayed not just as a fictional premise but as a profound antagonist, adding depth to the storyline.

Final Video Game is an enthralling narrative that intricately interweaves various themes to create a rich and thought-provoking experience for the reader. The backdrop of technological advancement adds an extra layer of depth to the story, exploring the implications and potential dangers of relying too heavily on technology. The narrative raises important questions about the role of technology in society and whether we should be more cautious in our pursuit of progress. Overall, Final Video Game is a masterful blend of friendship, moral complexity, and technological advancement that will keep readers engaged from start to finish.

In Final Video Game, thirteen-year-old Oliver faces multiple challenges: a new life with his mother after his father vanishes; a move to a new town and school; and a new friendship with classmate Logan, who is addicted to video games.

Oliver willingly enters into his milieu, only to find it offers further new challenges he is ill equipped to handle, as the popular new video game series unexpectedly leads its users to fall into comas.

That’s because the AI controlling the game has gone rogue, causing the virtual world to become a dangerous harbinger of humanity’s extinction—unless Oliver can stop it. But, what chance does a preteen new gamer have over a savvy AI?

As it turns out, who better to defeat an AI at its own game than a determined band of game-savvy kids who recognize the challenge, motivations, and underlying forces dictating its moves?

Craig Speakes embeds his story with attractive technology references, equally compelling psychological patterns of defense and offense among a group of intrepid young people, and the allure of a gamer’s world and talents. These facets keep the action fast-paced and the story line unpredictably engrossing.

As Oliver confronts the cyberattacks, he comes to realize that his own choices and actions will affect not just the world to come, but his own family and friends.

The interplay between simulations and real people, and the ways in which they interact, connect, and disconnect, provides young readers with a gripping saga that is powered as much by interpersonal relationships as by gaming strategy.

The fire, characters, and action of the story lends to its top recommendation to libraries catering to young video gamers who might normally eschew the printed word—were it not for the vivid confrontations and action-packed scenes that provide a lure in Final Video Game.

Reviewed by: D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review/ Editor, Donovan’s Literary Services


A thrilling sci-fi, action adventure with a gamer twist.
Young gamers are falling into comas and the world is on the brink of being taken over by an evil AI, but can the teenagers stop Razer before it’s too late? ‘Final Video Game’ is a Science fiction story packed full of action. As the AI of a popular video game starts to threaten the world outside the screens, teenagers everywhere are recruited into battle in the last chance to stop its takeover. Thirteen year old Oliver is an unwitting hero, just started at a new school and still finding his feet, only having played Razer while at his friends house, he is recruited and sets off to fight on the virtual battlefield. The plot is full of twists and turns as the fight to outwit the AI before it’s too late.

I think that this book has a really clever premise, it has Age of Ultron vibes and there’s plenty of close scrapes and high tension as Oliver and the other teens fight to stop Razer. On the surface this is a thrilling and gripping sci-fi, action story that middle grade and teen readers would enjoy. As we see the havoc wrought by Razer in the real world it raises issues of our dependence on computers and technology, as well as more bluntly exploring the threat of Artificial Intelligence and cyber warfare. The recruitment of young children and teens to essentially fight a war was a concept I found really powerfully sinister. It added to the tension and the feeling of pressure on Oliver and the other recruits to succeed, undercutting some of the characters as they treated it like just another video game. Sci-fi and video game fans will also enjoy the references dotted throughout this entertaining, interesting and multi-faceted story.

Reviewed by: Charlotte Walker, A LoveReading4Kids Ambassador

In this action-packed middle grade sci-fi adventure from Speakes (author of the Keeper series), rogue AI manifests as the video game character Razer and traps the minds of children gamers within the program. As a result, kids are stuck in gaming comas with no hope of release. To fight the nefarious AI, the government recruits the best young gamers and hackers with hopes of finding a savior capable of shutting down the dangerous program from within the game. Could Oliver “Oli” Turner be the hero the world is searching for? A 13-year-old struggling to come to terms with the disappearance of his father, Oli must find the confidence to join the battle and protect humanity from the out-of-control AI before mankind is lost to the machine.

Oli’s insecurities get tested in multiple high-intensity battles. Speakes wastes no time setting up the nail-biting action and inviting readers into the unique story world. The virtual game mirrors reality with cityscapes that riff on our own but adds a funky comedic undertone with silly road names (“Fishin’ is Squishin’) and Razer’s unique speech style—the villain calls himself “Big Daddy Razer” and refers to Oli and his friends as “all my brothers from all those cute little fleshy mothers.” Rockets, cyborgs, and drones pose threats as Oli and his friends navigate the simulation, and while some may find the fight sequences a tad repetitive at times, the overall tension and mystery surrounding the AI’s origins keep readers engaged.

While Oli’s bravery helps him learn the valuable lesson of sacrificing for the greater good, his hacker friend Sparky shines bright in the spotlight. Sparky’s intelligence and quick thinking play pivotal roles in saving the day and keeping Oli safe. Her tenacity solidifies her as a strong young female role model many readers will connect with. Within the cautionary tale of putting too much trust in AI, the two develop a tight bond that exemplifies the importance of teamwork and friendship. Young readers interested in video games, AI, and sci-fi will plug into this thrilling adventure.

Takeaway: Thrilling middle grade sci-fi with rogue AI, cyborgs, and memorable characters.

Comparable Titles: James Dashner’s The Eye of Minds, Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller’s Otherworld.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

Lively, entertaining, and technologically compelling… A total hoot.

Speakes’ thrilling middle grade sci-fi offers an exhilarating plunge into a world where technology and humanity collide in spectacular fashion. Thirteen-year-old Oliver and his mother move to a new town, leaving behind a painful past of his father’s mysterious disappearance. Trying to fit in at his new school, Oliver befriends Logan, bonding over their shared love for the virtual gaming world of Razer. But when players start slipping into comas around the globe and it’s revealed that the game’s AI has gone rogue and is harnessing the power of human brains, Oliver and Logan find themselves recruited by a secret government agency to fight back. As part of a team of teen gamers, they must use their skills to take down the all-powerful AI before it destroys humanity. The stakes are high as they enter a virtual battlefield against cyborgs led by an insidious AI leader known as Razer. Will they be able to save the world?

Speakes’ whirlwind narrative blurs the lines between virtual and physical worlds, thrusting readers into an electrifying adventure. From quirky road names to the antagonist’s offbeat speech patterns, a delightful dose of humor balances the tense atmosphere. Amidst rockets, cyborgs, and drones, Oli and his comrades must navigate a perilous simulation to unravel its enigmatic AI origins. As suspense builds to a fever pitch, readers can’t help but cling to each twist and turn. But beneath the heart-pounding action lies Oli’s journey of self-discovery with raw vulnerability. Speakes expertly captures his adolescent struggles for belonging, inner conflicts, and profound grief over his father’s disappearance. Logan is every bit an adolescent, fun and overly excited. Sparky, with her razor-sharp intellect and quick wit, makes for an endearing protagonist. Through Oli and Sparky’s unbreakable bond, the narrative highlights the transformative power of camaraderie and loyalty in overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges. The exploration of AI self-awareness in the narrative not only serves as a gripping premise, but also delves into fundamental questions about consciousness and the nature of existence. It challenges readers to ponder the ethical implications of creating entities with autonomy akin to humans, adding a philosophical dimension to the storyline. As the AI evolves and confronts themes of identity and purpose, it becomes a poignant metaphor for the human experience.

With breakneck pace, dynamic characters, and timely themes, the novel will captivate readers seeking a pulse-pounding escapade into the limitless possibilities of virtual reality. An uproarious adventure.

readers favorite book-review final-video-game

Final Video Game Book Reviews:

Reviewed by Rabia Tanveer for Readers’ Favorite

Fast-paced, action-packed, and filled with intense adventure, Final
Video Game was everything I hoped it would be and more. Oliver
was the perfect protagonist. He was confused at first, but his
confidence grew as he got better at the game, and that was when
the story got me excited. The narrative was fantastic. It was full of
emotions and suspense and filled with memorable moments. The
sprinkling of humor surprised me, but it was a welcome addition to
the already phenomenal narrative. Author Craig Speakes’s
characters were well-rounded and memorable. I was surprised at
Logan’s development and how much it affected Oliver. The world-
building was incredible and immersive! I was hooked from the
beginning, and I didn’t want to stop reading. I loved Oliver’s
transformation from being an emotional, lost teenager to a fierce,
confident virtual soldier. I highly recommend this novel.

Reviewed by Luwi Nyakansaila for Readers’ Favorite

Final Video Game by Craig Speakes is an action-packed tale that
takes readers on a thrilling adventure. The story is fast-paced and
entertaining, blending comedic, emotional, and suspenseful
moments that will keep you captivated. The characters are
interesting and unique, with internal struggles that make them
relatable. The main character, Oliver, carries the weight of his team
and the world on his shoulders at only thirteen years old. His friend
Logan undergoes a dramatic change, becoming an unpredictable
character that adds teen drama to the story. The gradual change of
dynamics between the characters is fascinating, and the story has a
smooth flow with shocking plot twists. I particularly enjoyed the
descriptions of the action scenes, which painted a clear picture of
what was happening. Overall, I loved reading this book and highly
recommend it to anyone who enjoys action-packed science fiction

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers’ Favorite

Author Craig Speakes has crafted a thought-provoking narrative,
exploring our dependence on technology and the potential risks of
AI, told from an accessible angle for young minds that is sure to
spark excitement. The story’s pace keeps the reader engaged, with
twists that produce a riveting experience as it’s difficult to predict
what will happen next. I really enjoyed the author’s worldbuilding
and the way the atmosphere of each scene lends itself to the
emotional mood, sometimes offering us the bright-eyed thrill of
gaming, then suddenly plunging into darker scenes where the
perilous consequences of artificial intelligence gone awry are
thrown at us full-speed. The emotional arc of Oliver’s journey is
beautifully handled, and all the characters’ journeys, from casual
gamers to virtual soldiers, add a poignant, serious undertone that
makes the tension all the more palpable. Overall, I would highly
recommend Final Video Game as a gripping adventure novel for
youngsters, but also a clever, accessible reflection on the evolving
relationship between humans and artificial intelligence.

Reviewed by Doreen Chombu for Readers’ Favorite

I am familiar with Craig Speakes’ work because I read one of his
book series, The Keeper, some time ago. Therefore, when I found
out about Final Video Game, I was eager to dive in because I knew
it was going to be an incredible book. This author has a special and
unique ability to draw readers into a story and keep them invested.
His engaging storytelling, creation of complex and relatable
characters, and seamless blending of action, emotion, and thought-
provoking themes make this a captivating and enjoyable read. The
story touches on current affairs such as the COVID-19 pandemic
and the rise of AI technology, creating a sense of realism for
readers. It also features social issues affecting teenagers, including
bullying, family dynamics, teen love, and friendships. The book
encourages readers never to give up and to be brave while
exploring the concepts of chance, luck, and fate. I had a great time
reading this book and highly recommend it to anyone who loves
science fiction. Overall, this is great work.

Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers’ Favorite

Final Video Game by Craig Speakes is a spectacular feat of science
fiction world-building and the style of thorough character
development that is frequently lost in the tech aspects of middle-
grade and teen literature. I love that Speakes digs deep into
exploring a future where virtual environments are indistinguishable
from the physical world. He still makes it incredibly relatable to his
readership by incorporating elements like bullying into the futuristic
setting—a show of how power dynamics within social structures
flourish under oppression. I also really appreciate the diverse
backgrounds and motivations of the different characters and some
of the moral ambiguity that comes up between heroism, survival,
and pragmatism. The writing is clean and immersive, the pacing is
fast-moving and has exactly zero lag time, and overall, this is a
book that will keep readers of all ages flipping through the pages.
Very highly recommended.


Final Video Game is video game fiction. Video game fiction about our evolving relationship with artificial intelligence. Upper Middle grade AI gaming fiction.

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