This review was undertaken based on the Jack Black narrated audiobook.
If you are browsing this website, if you know anyone who plays video games or if you have consumed any sort of pop culture over the last ten years, then you know the word Minecraft. The video game which, for some reason, took a blocky landscape to heady heights, expanding from a small PC only video game to multiple releases across all consoles, to merchandise, to videos and now, to official novels.
The first of these novels is Minecraft: The Island. Written by Max Brooks (of World War Z fame – amongst many others) and published by Del Rey Books, this novel is aimed at children, young adults and families. At the same time as its written release, two versions of the audiobook were released. One, narrated by Samira Wiley, and the other, on which this review is based, narrated by Jack Black.
I should jump in to highlight my background with Minecraft. I myself have enjoyed Minecraft in myriad ways. I started with the early PC Beta release. I moved on to mobile. Then console. Now I get the enjoy Minecraft through the eyes of my son as he explores this world and builds whatever he can imagine. I get to teach him ways to play, give him ideas and solutions, and watch with awe as he shows me that my “skills” pale into insignificance next to the mind of a child.
We listened to this audiobook on a family holiday. My wife, my son (9) and I spent a lot of time traveling. We took the opportunity to delve into the world of Minecraft, told through the emotive voice of Mr. Black himself. Suffice to say, this was a wise decision.
The book tells the story of an unnamed character. Waking on an island, this formally human entity finds themselves with no hands, simply blocks. They find themselves stranded, with only a cow, a sheep and a chicken (or duck?) as friends. This story explores from those first waking minutes in the world of Minecraft right through to the construction of an all singing, all dancing home of luxury. It explores the basic and complicated mechanics of the game, explores block types and explores survival. It contains happiness, sadness, excitement, and frustration. This is a very good book.
Listening to it made me feel that Brooks had spent some time in the game. He had loaded it up and took notes. His fresh eyes on the game allowed him to regale the reader (or listener) with some very real observations on the world in which he found himself. Having played the game, I could genuinely see through his words. I could feel what he described, taste what he tasted and experience those same emotions at the same time.
A lot of these sentiments will stem from the narration. As I have previously said, we listened to the Jack Black version of the book, and my, he can emote. His voice acting was evocative, descriptive and genuinely entertaining to listen to. He gave life to the character, despite being only a voice in our ears. He expertly managed the prose, and alongside the occasional sound effect and musical interlude, he led the listener on a journey, one which we were more than happy to follow.
It is worth noting that there is a second version of the audiobook. As a single character on an island with only animals and mobs, there is absolutely no need for the character to be defined. Are they male? Female? Non-Binary? It doesn’t matter. You can choose the voice you hear, and at no point do you hear a gendered pronoun. It simply doesn’t matter. The story doesn’t suffer at all for this decision, and it reaches a much greater audience as a result.
As a family, we enjoyed this story. Weighing in at 6 hours 17 minutes or 269 pages, this is no short story. It explores some interesting themes and pits its moments of peril firmly at the 7-11 age range. Not to say that younger listeners won’t enjoy it, it is something to be aware of. Similarly, grown-ups can enjoy this book too. It prompts conversation and discussion and has reignited a desire to play Minecraft in both my son and me.
In summary, this book is a very real look at the Minecraft world. For the initiated, you can genuinely feel that Brooks has taken a fresh look at the game and has told the story using that unsullied outlook. There are no references to past incarnations, no mention of cloud saves and no reference to the fact that this is unreal. It is a survival story of a person, landed on this strange island who needs to survive. For anyone who enjoys the game, or has children who enjoy the game, this book is an absolute must-listen (or read… the choice is yours).