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By SovereignofAshes, author of The Vorrgistadt Saga

May 6, 2018: Disclaimer: This review was done as part of a review swap.

First Impressions: Imagine yourself crawling through the streets of Shinjuku City at three in the morning. It’s raining cats and dogs, you’ve been cooped up in a coffin apartment for two days watching the likes of Blade Runner, Mute, Altered Carbon, Johnny Mnemonic, and Dark City. You have your music player blaring a selection of vaporwave and retrosynth as you emerge bleary-eyed and hungry into the shining neon lights of a city that never sleeps. Your brain is rattled, there might be some kind of designer drug still in your system, and all you want more than anything is a bowl filled with spicy ramen. Welcome to the surrealist cyberpunk world of Chosen Shackles.

The first thing you’ll notice about this fiction is the care and style that the author has built with their site. You’ll feel like you just loaded yourself into some neo-80’s darkweb site that may or may not be trying to devour your soul while selling you a bag of super-flavored, energy-upping NERPS. Stylish ‘easter eggs’ are hidden around, yet not entirely obtuse. The atmosphere that is built fits perfectly with the atmosphere of the story. You’ll find yourself wonderfully lost on this site for hours reading the story, checking out the artwork, and wanting more of this world. Just don’t try to debug the errors. You might find yourself on the other end of the Red Door.

Content: Prepare to be booted up into the consciousness of a man named Frode. He’s not a forgiving host, but he’ll grow on you like a self-replicating bio-augment. You’ll be plunged headlong into his life seeing what he sees, feeling what he feels, and getting to know this expertly crafted world the author has conjured up. You’ll get to meet other characters and learn some dark secrets along your journey.

The story is written exclusively in the first-person immediate. The narrative runs fast and clean, with chapters of normal length. You’ll find yourself being pulled into the scenes happening to the protagonist and wanting more. The chapter titles pull you in and reveal nothing as you hurriedly click them to find out what fresh horrors Frode will have to face. The whole story is entirely binge-able within an evening (at least up to the current release).

Particulars: This is an experimental work of art as much as an ongoing web serial. The atmosphere is heavy and the author’s passion bleeds through their writing. The story is surrealist like many of Shaeor’s other works and is a spiritual successor to their previous Dirge story. For some this can be just what they’re looking for, but for others who enjoy a lighter or more casual read, this might not be your bowl of noodles.

The website is dark with light text making it easy on the eyes and great for night-time reading. The text is easy to read; the website is clean and stream-lined. The author updates twice a week and has a fair amount of chapters up thus far. The chapters are great for quick reading if you’re out-and-about, but also work well with a long binge-read at home in the dark if you have the time.

The spelling is top-notch like all of Shaeor’s work. Some of the grammar can be fiddly at times given it is set in a first-person narrative with events happening immediately to the character. The author catches any errors and fixes them quite quickly. Newer uploads may have a rough edge at times, but will get fixed soon after. The character of Frode can seem a bit detached at the beginning of the story, but you’ll get used to his perspective very quickly. The dialogue between characters fits the atmosphere and the characters in the story quite well, but it could be different than what some might expect if they read a lot of high-action yarns or sultry romance tales.

The story is dark in theme and in atmosphere. The protagonist won’t hold your hand in the story and you’ll need to read further to get access to more information from the world and situations you’ll find yourself in as a reader. For many, this is a godsend, and for those wanting a more light-hearted read, this might turn you off. The story grows as you read the chapters and things that might have felt alien become familiar, while whole new vistas of weirdness open up to you.

Conclusion: I have to admit that I’m a huge fan of atmospheric fictions set in well-formed worlds. This kind of story is exactly one I’ve been waiting to read for quite some time; a dark, surrealist, deep, stylish, cyberpunk/vaporpunk mash-up. This story fills a very interesting niche between science-fiction and fantasy that will appeal to anyone who has gotten caught up in the neo-80’s synth-revival that is happening lately. It’s one part Dark City, one part Blade Runner, and one part Stranger Things. Shaeor has won me over once again and I’ll be watching this fiction until its finished.

If you haven’t yet, you need to check this one out. It pushes the web serial artform to new heights and plunges you into nightmare darkness at the same time.

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