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Adventures in the Existential

By Mariner, member

Oct 18, 2017: Disclosure: I’m good friends with the author. That said, I like to think I’m more honest because of it, rather than less.

Dirge is best viewed as a philosophical allegory set in a dark but fantastic world of magic, technology, and existential horror, told through the eyes of a clever and questioning protagonist alongside a strange and appealing side-cast, all of whom have a part to play in the grand scheme of things.

My strongest praise goes to the writing of the cast, which is as lovable as it is diverse. There are no flat characters to be found, and no black/white morality. The author also has an amazing knack for doing a lot with very little. Everyone, down to the 3-liners in the side-cast, is given a life of their own, and some of them are as lovable as protagonists in other works. This is very much a character-driven story, and the beliefs, feelings, and actions of these characters ultimately end up affecting everything in a very grand sense.

The story those characters are dropped into is a deeply thought-out one. The questions Dirge poses, and which it’s heroes (and villains) attempt to answer, are large ones, and the plot handles them well. If you’re looking for lighthearted fantasy this is the wrong place. The story can be dark at times, but it does so without ever feeling oppressively pessimistic. Everyone has their motives and their beliefs, and Dirge is nothing if not a written example of how powerful a thing a clash of beliefs can be.

The plot itself is a bit of a puzzler, which is a plus in my opinion, but may not be for everyone. The concepts explored are embedded deeply into the story, so there’s no avoiding them. It can feel confusing at points until things start to click, and for full enjoyment, some readers may want to have a tab open to a wiki page for existentialism/metaphysics while reading.

I have personally read through Dirge twice, and I’ll tell you now that while I enjoyed it both times, I understood it notably better the second.

STRENGTHS: Very well written. Dirge skirts the edge of purple masterfully when it comes to scenery, while the action is quick and tightly written. The setting is well built, the magic interesting, and the characters are compelling. The scale of the story flows beautifully from start to end, ranging from interpersonal conflicts within a small team, smoothly up to planetary battles. The story itself is incredibly philosophically minded, and it’s clear the author put a lot of thought, heart, and research into it.

WEAKNESSES: The story was written over the course of two years, and while the writing is solid throughout, you can feel a touch of inexperience in some of the earlier arcs. There’s are a few moments where events are explained instead of shown, and a few Chekhov’s guns which are shown but never used. The storyline meanders a bit at points through the second arc. That said, it picks up with vigor as it draws closer to the end.

CONCLUSION: All in all, Dirge is a well written and thought-provoking tale which takes some work on the reader’s part to keep up with. It is currently finished, and takes about a solid day of devoted reading to get through. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for great story that keeps the noggin’ joggin’ while still providing a healthy dose of action, adventure, tragedy, space-magic, and epic battles of the human spirit, giant AI’s, abyssal horrors, and conceptual god-beings.

8.5/10 on the first read, 9/10 on the second.

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