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A Journey Into The Rationally Twisted Mind

By Sharkerbob, author of Graven

Aug 23, 2019: What would you do if you found yourself transported to another world? What if being in this world gave you access to strangely game-like super powers? What if this world spent most of its time trying to kill you, and only your quick thinking, analytical strategy, and a handful of stalwart companions was the only thing keeping you alive as you attempt to fulfill a series of quests in the hopes of gaining answers, and perhaps a way home? And, strangest of all, what if this world seemed eerily familiar, because so much of it was based on the roleplaying campaigns you yourself had designed?

Recently, I had come to the conclusion that so-called LitRPG, or Progression Fantasy, or Gamified Portal Fantasy, was a genre I did not enjoy. While the idea can be fascinating, and some of them could be decently written, all too often, I mostly felt like I was just following some nerd oggling stats and brushing over descriptions of generic fantasy tropes for pages and pages, explaining to me how something as bog-standard as a potion worked as though I’d never heard of a video game before, trying to impress me with how cool their magic system is when it really just boiled down to the standard White Mage/Black Mage set I’ve seen in literally every JRPG since Dragon Warrior. Rarely did the tropey characters hook me, and rarely did their adventures feel like anything more exciting than reading a slightly more narrative take on a strategy guide.

Worth the Candle manages to take this premise and elevate it. It is by far the best-written example of the genre I’ve read, not only from the quality of the writing, but in the sheer creativity of the world and the depth of the character exploration.

The teen protagonist finds himself quickly teaming up with two gorgeous women early on, but their relationships are not anywhere close to the typical harem shenanigans. They feel like actual developing relationships between somewhat sketchy individuals who are trying to work together for common interests, but don’t just immediately fall into their stereotypical roles, and have to learn how to trust one another, organically over time.

The world building is great. I have always had a fascination with stories about authors interacting with the worlds of their own creation in a more grounded way, and this is an interesting take on it, where Jun recognizes some aspects of the world, but the world is different enough he’s still thrown for a loop. Three books in, the world feels large and a live, and definitely distinct from the Standard Fantasy Setting I’ve long gotten tired of. Moreover, their are numerous magic systems at play throughout the setting, and its always interesting to see a new kind of magic, and all the clever magical items that get revealed throughout the adventure.

Another nice touch is Juniper’s frequent recollections of his time with his friends, their DnD sessions, and the tragic death of his best friend months before his sudden fall into this fantasy adventure. These flashbacks act as both a way to expand on Jun’s backstory, but also ruminate on the nature of storytelling, dungeon mastering, and campaign building, and literary symbolism.

I’m having a hard time thinking of anything to complain about. The first Book of the story, about 14 chapters, did actually turn me off a little at first, because it does start off as a pretty straightforward "dungeon crawly" trek through an interesting, but kind of gamey arc. Even here, though, this was about the time I was realizing I didn’t like LitRPGs very much, so that bias was probably sinking in. I’m glad I pushed through and kept reading, because Book Two is where the good stuff really starts to hit.

Otherwise, some people might not enjoy how much the main character spends the story analyzing his situation, and characters discussing how to min-max his gamey level-up powers. I admit that was part of the tough sell for me at first, but after the first Book, I feel like it doesn’t come up nearly as much as in other LitRPG stories, and certainly doesn’t feel as intrusive.

This combination of great worldbuilding, rich characters, and ruminations on storytelling, all written with a literary quality above the usual LitRPG/Light Novel fair I’ve read previously, has elevated this to my top three web serials. Check it out if you like a good fantasy story, and definitely check it out if LitRPGs are your thing.

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