UCF alumus Matthew Laurence ’06, is being compared to Percy Jackson creator Rick Riordan thanks to his debut fantasy novel Freya.

In 2014, when UCF graduate and game developer Matthew Laurence was touring his new employer, Rovio Games, he was intrigued by the publishing arm of the Angry Birds company Rovio Entertainment, now known as Kaiken Entertainment. He had a story he wanted Rovio to read.

That story became Laurence’s debut novel Freya. It published last week to positive reviews.

“What hooked me instantly was the witty setup: in the very first sentences we get to know this girl living in a mental hospital claiming to be a god,” said Laura Nevalinna, CEO and head of franchise and portfolio development at Kaiken Entertainment. “And from there the wild ride starts with incredible speed and force.”

The story tells the tale of a young girl who is a forgotten goddess.

Laurence said Rovio’s help was invaluable as they assigned him editors to improve his manuscript, bought the rights to the intellectual property and then shopped his novel to publishers in late 2014. Within a few months, Imprint, a part of MacMillan Children’s Publishing Group, acquired the rights to the book.

It’s a dream come true for Laurence, who graduated from the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, UCF’s graduate game-development program in 2006. Since then he worked for several video game companies but always wanted to write. He wrote the first draft of Freya in 2012 after writing what he called a terrible sci-fi novel. He liked fantasy but wanted something grounded in the real world, so he hatched the idea of ancient gods who are hunted to extinction in the modern world.

Freya, who is hiding in an Orlando mental hospital under the pseudonym Sara, is a god who has thousands of years of history, but she’s also a young girl in this world,” Laurence said. “So finding her voice was hard but fun.”

“Booklist” proclaims in its review:  “Move over, Percy Jackson, there’s a new girl in town.”

With Rovio Entertainment’s help, Laurence got the book published. The agreement, in collaboration with Rovio Entertainment, includes the rights to Freya and, its sequel, Slay: A Freya Novel as well as a graphic novel based on the books.

For Laurence, he said being published by the same group that is home to well-known authors such as Roald Dahl and Eric Carle is still something he can’t believe is happening.

Rovio Books was started in 2011 and focused early on publishing Angry Birds-related books. Since then they have expanded into young adult novels and nonfiction and spun off as a part of Kaiken Entertainment. Kaiken does not print or distribute the books but provides editorial support and collaborates with authors to sell their foreign rights or license to a publisher. To date they have helped produce about 350 titles in 32 languages.

Laurence said that writing novels is more similar to making video games than people think.

“They’re both so iterative. If it doesn’t work or feel good you go back to the drawing board, he said. “There’s also a lot of broken-dream piles that never make the finished product.”

Fortunately, Laurence’s latest endeavor wasn’t one of those.

To hear the author talk about the book, click here.

FIEA is in UCF’s Center For Emerging Media at 500 Bentley St., Orlando. For more information, visit www.fiea.ucf.edu.