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Literature / Heir Apparent

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Heir Apparent is a 2002 young adult fiction novel by Vivian Vande Velde. Seventh-grader Giannine Bellisario receives a gift certificate to Rasmussem Gaming Center, an arcade that specializes in virtual reality, from her estranged father. Upon her arrival, she chooses the game Heir Apparent, where she is the illegitimate child to King Cynric, the ruler of the kingdom of Shelby. Unfortunately, an anti-fantasy Christian organization breaks into the gaming center and severely damages the gaming equipment, trapping Giannine inside. The only way Giannine can get out is to win the game before 'overload' occurs.

It has two companion books set in the same universe, Deadly Pink and User Unfriendly.

Not related to the fourth Guardians of the Flame book The Heir Apparant, or the Science Fiction Short Story "Heir Apparent" by C. L. Moore.

Provides Examples Of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Computer-operated buses, genetically engineered mini-dragons, full-immersion virtual reality games...
  • Action Survivor: Giannine.
  • Actually, I Am Him:
    • Janine goes to the home of Xenos' father and sees a little boy. She asks to see Xenos Sr. only for the boy to reply "That's me" and get angry when she initially doesn't believe him.
    • Giannine freaks out when she wakes up and sees Kenric holding her, and has to be reassured that it's Nigel Rasmussem. He lampshades the fact that he used an image of his uncle to warn her about what happened.
  • Anti-Frustration Features: How Giannine finishes the game. It's programmed so if the player/players start crying or showing signs of hating the game, at least one game character will go Out of Character and tell the player what they need to do to win the game. Though in her case, she was crying and feverish because the VR machine was overheating. Kenric notices and helps her remove the last obstacle (the Queen) to the game's ending.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Especially from the perspective of when the book was first published (2002), the NPCs display a highly sophisticated ability to interact with human players in a natural-seeming way. They engage in naturalistic conversation, pick up subtle cues in body language, adapt to unexpected narrative shifts from the players' choices, and show apparent understanding of new concepts as they arise.
  • Author Avatar: Within the book, Kenric is based on the head of the Rasmussen corporation.
  • A Birthday, Not a Break: Inverted; Giannine was just going to the VR place for the fun of it, but she ends up literally having to fight for her life when the mob that attacks the arcade sabotage her machine. She lampshades it.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Giannine finds this out the hard way as Janine, trying to spare a peasant boy who was caught stealing and trespassing and her choices affect the game run. On top of that, she has to feed an army, placate an enemy tribe head, and survive her murderous (fictional) family.
  • Church of Saint Genericus: Giannine quickly discovers that Sister Mary Ursula, despite her name and appearance, isn't identifiably a Roman Catholic nun, as she speaks only about "Oneness" rather than God or Christ. When Giannine asks her about it, she briefly goes Out of Character and issues what sounds like a disclaimer that the company wants to avoid offending anyone by being too specific as to the Sister's exact denomination.
  • Culture Police: The mob that attacks the arcade.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Being hooked up to VR for too long can fry your brain. Normally there are fail-safes to prevent this and users aren't allowed to play anywhere near the length of time it would take to cause this, but the protesters smashed them up.
  • Death by Childbirth: The player character's mother in the game.
  • Disappeared Dad: Giannine's father never shows up for her birthday; the story starts because he sent her a certificate for a VR experience. He seems to avert this, however, in the end, as when he heard she was in danger he came as soon as he could.
  • Doppelgänger Replacement Love Interest: Giannine develops a bit of a crush on the NPC Kenric. For obvious reasons, they can't exactly be together once she's escaped the game. Luckily, he looks just like the game's Teen Genius creator, who shows up to apologize to the heroine personally and seems flattered that she liked the character based on him...
  • Draco in Leather Pants: In-universe example with Kenric, who, despite his appearance and attitude, ends up being the most helpful brother to Giannine. The company owner even says that picking him is almost always a bad choice.
  • Dragon Hoard: The protagonist needs to sneak into a dragon's lair to steal its treasure.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Giannine, as Janine of St. Jehan, just can't seem to get on anybody's good side, no matter how hard she tries.
  • Dumb Muscle: Abas, the second oldest of the queen's sons.
  • Everything Is Trying to Kill You: Including your family in the game.
  • Failsafe Failure: What traps her in the game. In the designer's defense, the failsafes only failed due to an angry mob of overzealous moral guardians smashing the device to hell and back while Giannine was using the VR machine.
  • Golden Path: The best way to win the game is to give the ring to Ursula, meet and befriend Grimbold at his camp, and get Xenos' father to take on the dragon. While Janine doesn't do these in her final run, she still makes it to coronation as a near-Universally Beloved Leader and had Kenric be the good guy for once.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: Justified, because Janine has to start over every time she dies from the same time and point.
  • Hot Witch: Orielle who specializes in magic potions and is a Head-Turning Beauty that attracts men's attentions and women's envy.
  • Hypocrite: The Citizens To Protect Our Children kick off the main plot by breaking into the Rasmussen center and smashing up the equipment, while a child is hooked into it. Great job protecting, guys.
  • Holodeck Malfunction: Done by outside forces, causing the game to malfunction and slowly begin to cook Giannine's brain.
  • Knight Templar: The angry Christian mob that destroyed the device. Subverted in that later on, a real-life character says the group destroyed any chance of their being taken seriously once they nearly killed the young Giannine by incidentally destroying the failsafes in their rampage of destruction.
  • Maybe Ever After: Giannine and Nigel Rasmussem after she wakes up, as the story ends just after their first meeting.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Wulfgar — "wulf" means "wolf" in Old English and he can transform into a Wolf Man
    • The most muscular of the princes is named Abas.
  • Moral Guardians: That turn into Knight Templar Hypocrites when they break into the gaming center and smash up the equipment, endangering Giannine's life. Sister Mary Ursula also has very strong anti-magic views, despite almost nothing bad ever coming of them.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Part of the reason Giannine chooses to play Heir Apparent is because she found the male characters on the game's display attractive, particularly Kenric.
  • Nausea Fuel: In-universe, the strength potion that Janine takes while climbing Mount Hag. Its flavor is described as licking toothpaste out of the (undoubtedly hairy) armpit of a sweaty construction worker.
  • Nintendo Hard: Janine has one hell of a time trying to get through Day 1 of the game. Partly because most people would probably wait to say goodbye to their father, but Janine had issues with her real-life dad, so...
  • No Ending: As soon as the player is crowned king of Shelby, the world "dissolves into a shower of glitter" and the player wakes up - after three days of perceived time minimum that the player had to put into it.
  • Noble Bigot: Sir Deming doesn't hide his contempt for the lower classes but he's an Honest Advisor and shows proper respect when Janine proves herself worthy of the throne.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Giannine's father never shows up for special events, but Giannine knows something is up when he comes after hearing that she nearly died playing a VR game.
  • Present Absence: Nigel Rasmussen is the founder of the company to the game Giannine is trapped in, and he briefly communicates with her in the game early on, but he does not show up in the flesh until the very end.
  • Punished for Sympathy: Giannine's refusal to order the execution of a peasant boy caught stealing (aided by her modern Western view on the matter compared with the medieval setting of the game) has devastating consequences for herself.
  • Reality Subtext: In-universe example; the reason it takes Janine forever to figure out that she has to wait to say goodbye to her father to get a very important and useful item is because Giannine is estranged from her father and wouldn't think to do that in real life as a result.
  • Really Royalty Reveal: The virtual reality game "Heir Apparent" starts with the player character learning that their birth parents were a servant woman and the now deceased King Cynric, who has named the player the heir to the throne.
  • Red Herring: The two clues that Nigel Rasmussem gives to Giannine—don't forget the ring, and Kenric doesn't work well with Sister Mary Ursula—turn out to be basically irrelevant. In the final iteration of the game, Giannine makes no use of Ursula, and she doesn't use the ring at all until the very end when it's already clear she's won. Indeed, Ursula and the ring end up as somewhat of a distraction for Giannine in her attempts to win the game, and she probably would have won sooner if she'd totally ignored those elements. Nevertheless, she later learns that the commonest method for winning the game involves giving the ring to Ursula, something Giannine never even considered.
  • Rich Bitch: The royal family, but Queen Andreanna is the most notorious for this trope.
  • Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: Janine unfortunately learns that St. Bruce remembers every poem the player gives in each playthrough, so they always have to make up a new one in every run.
  • Royal Bastard: In the VR game the main character is playing, she's the illegitimate daughter of a king by a servant woman, and his designated heir to the throne.
  • Save Scumming: Sort of; Giannine uses knowledge from previous playthroughs to make her decisions.
  • She Is the King: Andreanna, the former king's wife, is referred to as "Queen", but Janine aims to become the king rather than the queen. Implied to be because the game was designed with a male player in mind, and the designers didn’t bother to adapt it for other genders.
  • Ship Tease: Janine and Kenric during the game, Giannine and Nigel in real life given he's holding her as she wakes up.
  • Spinoff: The protagonist, Giannine Bellisario, was a secondary character in User Unfriendly.
  • Split Personality: Sort of. Giannine becomes Janine, complete with Fake Memories designed by the gaming center.
  • Standalone Episode: There are no direct references to the events of the first novel, even though it features one of the same characters, and it isn't even clear whether it takes place earlier or later. Vande Velde has said the books from this trilogy can be read in any order.
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: Whenever the player uses anachronistic terms, none of the characters will question it, such as understanding that "Poker" is a some gambling game.
  • Take That!: The entire book is a giant Take That! at Moral Guardians who think fantasy is going to corrupt our innocent children.
  • Teen Genius: Nigel isn't that much older than Giannine, and he's the head of his own corporation.
  • Think of the Children!: The aforementioned parent-groups rallying cry. Yeah....
  • Unfortunate Name: Nigel Rasmussem. He even says that it's his motivation for starting the company to make a name for himself.
  • Warrior Poet: What was Saint Bruce, again?
  • Win to Exit: Thanks to those failsafes being broken, along with a lot of other equipment in the arcade, Giannine can't manually close the game and people can't shut the equipment down to get her out. She has to clear the game in order for it to shut down.
  • Wolf Man: Wulfgar in wolf form.
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: 3 days in the game, 1 hour in the real world
  • Yet Another Stupid Death: The game is full of these, some of it possibly due to the player, but other deaths are just mean.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: Abas, whose dialogue almost completely consists of him bragging about his various martial achievements and would seem the obvious choice to fight the dragon... doesn't "do" dragons and refuses to even try, forcing Janine to find a way to take it on herself.