Kobo has ventured into new territory, creating an alternate reality game called The Descent for a three-week contest to help promote the launch of Dan Brown’s new novel Inferno.

The Canadian-based company enlisted U.K. self-published author J. F. Penn to write three original short stories in a similar style to Brown’s mysteries, which can be downloaded for free. Clues, puzzles, signs and symbols that readers can follow and solve have been embedded within the e-books to allow readers to play the role of Brown’s protagonist, channeling their "inner Robert Langdon" Kobo is offering more clues on Facebook and Twitter. The first reader who solves the mystery will win $5,000 and a Kobo Glo e-reader signed by Brown. (Four other runners-up will also win signed e-readers.)

"To my knowledge, this is the first time the world of e-books and e-reading has collided with the world of experiential games," John Gareau, Kobo’s director of online marketing, told PW.

The alternate reality game is an experiment for Kobo, but similar games have been used in other industries, to promote movies. Elaborating on the move, Gareau said this seemed like a natural step in the evolution of e-reading. "We have the platforms that not only deliver the reading experience, but now you can also be reading on devices that allow you to websurf, so you could very much be playing a game at the same time as reading."

So far, Gareau noted, response to The Descent has been positive, with several thousand downloads of the first book in the first week. The contest, which launched in late April, will run until May 14, with the last book being released on Monday, May 9.

Gareau, who spearheaded the development of The Descent, said that the concept had its genesis in conversations within Kobo about how to capitalize on the energy and excitement surrounding Brown’s new book. The thinking, he explained, was: "Why don’t we create our narrative, our own experience, complete with puzzles and mysteries, and why don’t we ask the reader to assume the role of a Robert Langdon?"

J.F. Penn immediately came to mind as the ideal writer, said Mark LeFebvre, Kobo’s director of self-publishing and author relations. "She is a Dan Brown fan, and got into writing specifically because she was inspired by what [he] had been doing," LeFebvre said, adding that her Arkane series is similar in style and structure to Brown’s fiction featuring Robert Langdon. "It’s just a matter of time before Joanna takes off into the stratosphere, and I was delighted that we could be involved with giving her a little bit more exposure so that Kobo customers can discover her early in the game." And Gareau noted that the Sin series of stories she wrote for Kobo align neatly with layers of the Inferno in Dante’s writing.

"I’m really excited to partner with Kobo on this imaginative contest," Penn said. "As a reader, I've studied Dante and I'm a huge fan of Dan Brown. As an author, this is a fantastic new way to connect with readers and bring the stories to life."