In the year 2519, people on Earth don't grow old and die any longer; their bodies are frozen and they start a new life in the virtual reality of the global Game.
Jex is almost eighteen, working twelve hour shifts, and dreaming of when she'll be legally adult and begin her long-planned idyllic life in one of hundreds of wildly differing virtual worlds. When a bomber attacks a server complex, one of the virtual worlds crashes, and eleven thousand immortal players die during emergency defrost. Death has struck for the first time in centuries, and Jex is questioned as a suspect in the bombing.
With this on her record, Jex will never be allowed to enter the global game, but then a 400-year-old legendary player offers her the chance to join his investigation into the bombing. Jex must help Hawk catch the true bomber to protect the global game and save her own future. She joins a chase that will lead through real and virtual worlds, but the bomber has good reason to call himself the Reaper, and the heroic Hawk has his own secrets to hide.
- Artificial Afterlife: People no longer age when they go into Game, so they have functional immortality. Some people have been rushed into Game to save their lives due to health problems, some of them will die if they're unfrozen, and in some cases their bodies are already dead, making them a very literal Virtual Ghost.
- Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Founder Players. As Hawk/ Michael points out, while they may be considered legends to everyone else, they are in fact a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits. They're mainly people who couldn't deal with the real world and so chose to live in a video game (like himself), with some who were suffering from illnesses and injuries and at least one sociopath who has to be kept under house arrest.
- Brain Uploading: At eighteen, people leave their physical bodies behind and are uploaded into Game, a massive multi-world artificial environment where they can custom-make their bodies and have adventures, like fighting monsters, living as fantasy beings, etc.
- Cessation of Existence: What the deletion weapon does; literally deletes players' minds from Game, leaving their frozen body as an empty shell. For a time, Jex is concerned that the Reaper has used it to Kill and Replace Hawk. In fact, he's replaced another Founder Player, using their position to take Jex hostage and almost use the weapon on her.
- Cryonics Failure: When the server for Avalon is destroyed in the bombing, every player there is dumped back into their body, resulting in eleven thousand of them dying from shock.
- Death Is Cheap: Death in Game is temporary, but painful; there have to be stakes in an adventure, after all. However, Immortal Life Is Cheap is averted.
- Disappeared Dad: Played with. Jex's dad is certainly this by our standards, but as everyone's parents are in Game, standards are different and Jex's father is considered unusually good by calling her every week and offering to sponsor her Game membership. Until he's killed by the bombing.
- Dude, Where's My Respect?: Turns out to be the Reaper's motive. He's one of the original Game Techs, and once Game opened to the public he expected to be a celebrity. But instead, it was decided to make the Founder Players celebrities and for the Game Techs to be anonymous behind-the-scenes figures, plus a load more were brought in to cater to the increased number of players, making him feel doubly passed over. He targeted Avalon because it was the first Game world made without him, and planned to bomb the Celestius server to get revenge on the Founder Players.
- Earth That Used to Be Better: When Hawk is put in charge of investigating the bombing, he's shocked by how much Earth has changed in the four hundred years since he last paid it any attention. He's especially shocked by the way children leave school to work at ten, every aspect of their lives is based around entering Game and they're casually treated as if they're not people until they do. Meanwhile, vast areas have been turned into long-term storage areas for the Human Popsicles who are in Game.
- Exact Words: In Chapter 1, Jex and Nathan discuss the newly-applied Leebrook-Ashton Bill, which redefines nineteen as the age of majority, so it'll be another year before they can enter Game. Jex notes that the bill was "agonisingly-carefully worded" so that eighteen-year-olds who have temporarily left Game will still be able to go back in.
- Fantastic Naming Convention: People choose new names when they enter Game. The Founder Players, like Hawk, have a single name. The First Wave who joined after the experimental period have two names. When all the variations available have been used, people started taking three names. By Jex's generation, they're on four names.
- Human Popsicle: People are frozen prior to going into Game, and remain that way as long as they're in. Some people come out temporarily for various reasons, e.g. women coming out to have children, or Hawk coming out to investigate the bombing.
- Immortal Life Is Cheap: Averted. As people no longer die, the attack that kills eleven thousand people on Avalon causes shock and outrage throughout society, so much so that even being questioned - and found innocent - is enough to make someone a Game reject and social outcast.
- MayDecember Romance: Hawk (or Michael) is four hundred to Jex's eighteen, although as people's development ceases when they join Game he insists that the centuries between them don't count. Due to the ways society has changed since he went into Game, he says she's much more of an adult than he is.
- Missing Mom: Played with. Jex's mother is not good at dealing with reality. She has a habit of, for example, saying she'll call next week, then not calling for a month but still expecting Jex to be up on all her news. However, this is in a society where someone who calls every week from inside Game is seen as an amazing parent, so she's barely below average in comparison. Her talking to Jex about the stalker she once had when she believes Jex is in a similar situation is seen as a big step for her.
- No Social Skills: Michael, a.k.a. Hawk, does not know how to deal with people, especially girls. That's why he entered Game, as one of the very first players. Hawk is his public persona, and only the other Founder Players know Michael. At least until he draws Jex and Nathan into his investigation, falls for Jex and wants her to know the real him.
- Police Are Useless: Unilaw are now the global law enforcement agency, and they stink at their job. Jex and Nathan are drawn into the investigation when every teenager who worked in the body stacks (where the frozen bodies of Game players are stored) who had a player die is pulled in for questioning. At one point, they're on the point of arresting a baby whose identity has been used to hack something. Justified Trope as they are dealing with an unprecedented attack, and most of them are teenagers because of the way society is shaped around Game.
- Running Gag: Becomes a plot point. Hercules keeps needling Hawk about "cutting Jex's head off" in their sting operation. So when the Reaper has Jex hostage, threatening her with the deletion weapon unless Hawk surrenders to him, Jex shouts, "What Hercules said. Make it real!" Hawk decapitates her, killing her in Game so she wakes up a few hours later in her house and leaving him free to deal with the Reaper.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Michael, as Hawk, delivers an epic one of these to the inhabitants of Game. When word gets out that he left Game to investigate the bombing, and was injured, people respond by turning on the newest players despite knowing they can't possibly be involved; they're simply the closest they can get to the people they assume to be responsible (teenagers, angry about the Leebrook-Ashton Bill). Hawk calls them out on this.
- Unequal Pairing: Jex and Michael/ Hawk. He's the most-visible and universally loved Founder Player, who's lived in Game for four hundred years and done pretty much everything. Jex, opposed on principle to relationships where she can't be an equal partner, is reluctant to begin a relationship with him for this reason; for one thing, she's hero-worshipped him for years and has his poster on her wall. Hawk defrosting himself so she can meet the real him and see that, on a personal level, they're really not so unequal helps. As does Jex being made an honorary Founder Member for her part in preventing the bombing of the Celestius server.
- You Killed My Father: Jex's father is killed in the Avalon bombing.