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Emmy Levels Up Review plus Author Guest Post

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

Written Helen Harvey

2021 just got a whole lot brighter thanks to this fun, fresh, five star fabulous debut by Helen Harvey!

Emmy is brilliant at the computer game, Illusory Isles. Her avatar is a powerful fire elemental with magma claws and flaming breath and taking on the ultimate online baddie, the Mulch Queen, is a point-scoring, no-damage breeze. But life outside of Illusory Isles is far from exciting. Emmy is friendless and bullied by Vanessa AKA the Queen of Mean. But if Emmy can take on the Mulch Queen online, perhaps she can also find a way to take on Vanessa too? But levelling up is a whole lot easier when you have a little help from some friends.

Honestly, it's so exciting to have another girl gamer on the scene in kid’s literature (there aren’t nearly enough!! See my booklist for my top 10 girl gamer children's books here) and Emmy is a character who shines brighter than any crystal spell or full power magic bar. I kinda wish I could spend the afternoon gaming with her, although her superstar skills would put mine embarrassingly to shame!

And Helen Harvey has created not one, but two, beautifully authentic, dazzlingly inventive worlds that run seamlessly side by side. Online, Emmy is a fiercely confident, skilled heroine who uses her voice and impressive battle tricks to connect with other like-minded users, and it's this exact reason that makes Emmy Levels Up such a noteworthy, relevant read. With so much negativity surrounding the online world, Harvey has used her literary platform to portray gaming as a positive, uplifting and empowering avenue that offers an escape and where your confidence can sparkle and you can express yourself in a community of friends who appreciate you and share your interests and quirks.

"But what if one real-life person - just one - knew the other me? The me who plays games and makes videos and fights Mulchbeasts and wins?"

Parallel, but far from subordinate to this online world is Emmy's real life that is clouded by bullying, isolation and powerlessness from school, coupled with family tensions and hardships. Written with delicate precision, sensitivity and empathy, Harvey has crafted a thoughtful, moving narrative that echoes the likes of R. J. Palacio, Stewart Foster and Zanib Mian.

From an exciting new talent, I'm genuinely so excited to see what Helen Harvey has in store for us next.


Welcome to the Illusory Isles by Helen Harvey

When I started writing a book about a gamer, I got to do something really fun. I got to invent my own video game: Illusory Isles. This was exciting, but it was also really hard to get right.

Most of my bedroom carpet is taken up with a cardboard model of the Illusory Isles that mum and Ryan helped me make. There is the star shaped isle of Shimmer, the smallest, with its enchanted forests and silver wolves. There’s Sheen, the biggest island, with its bustling city and big lake. And then the last island, Shade, the one we don’t know much about.

Puzzle Island

My first idea was to invent an adventure game in the style of Grim Fandango or Broken Age. I created a haunted house on a gothic island with a series of elaborate logical puzzles to solve. I was planning to include these puzzles in the book for readers to solve themselves.

I thought this sinister mystery game was really cool, but it was totally wrong for the book. I soon realised it was way too complicated and I was asking my reader to pay attention to two stories at once. So I came up with a new plan.

The Mulch Queen

I realised that the battles Emmy faced in the game should echo the problems she faced in real life. In real life Emmy’s ultimate challenge is beating her awful bully, Vanessa. In the game it’s beating the evil final boss, the Mulch Queen.

The Mulch Queen is a slimy, four-armed horrifying monster. She has hundreds of mutant mulch beasts to do her evil bidding and she is determined to take over the Illusory Isles by turning everything good and beautiful into sludge. Soon Emmy starts to see her real life that way too.

Each step I take, I hear Lila’s voice in my head saying my trainers have Emmy disease. The mulch is right behind me, swallowing the street, and even though my bright orange trainers shoot fireballs to stop it, the mulch is too powerful.

How To Beat The Queen of Mean

It’s hard to stop a bully from bullying. Bullying works for the bully when other people – bystanders – ignore it or even condone it. It stops having the desired effect when those bystanders speak up, call the bully out and stand beside the victim.

For Emmy to beat the Mulch Queen, she needs a party of brave and daring heroes, each with unique skills that will be crucial in the final battle. For Emmy to beat Vanessa, she needs the help of her friends.

For each of Emmy’s friends and allies, I invented a character in Illusory Isles. Wise healer Tia Treekeeper is her teacher Miss Monday, mystical moon-fairy Ilva of the moon is Emmy’s friend Lila and grumpy wizard Roghod Humph is her moody big brother Ryan. Although the details explicitly linking these characters to their real-life counterparts did not make the final cut, I know (and now you know too) that when Emmentine faces the Mulch Queen in the final arena she is surrounded by her best friends in real life and in the game too.

Inventing the right game for Emmy Levels Up was the hardest bit of writing the book...

...because I kept getting carried away. With complete freedom to invent any game I wanted to, I created a series of elaborate ideas, detailed mechanics and strange scenarios, but each one was wrong. In the end I needed a straightforward game with recognisable features: a party of heroes, side-quests and spells and a boss to beat.

Helen Harvey

Helen Harvey grew up in a wild and unruly corner of the internet, where she dodged flames, crafted websites and led a guild of magical wolf-tamers. From a young age she realised that technology gave children superpowers.

Helen completed the Bath Spa MA in Writing for Young People with Distinction and won the United Agents Prize for Emmy Levels Up. She lives in Bristol with her gaming partner and two furry writing buddies. She likes adventure games, stormy seas, rock climbing and cats.

Twitter: @HellionHarvey.


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