Apr 29, 2012: There have been few reviews of this story in the past two years, so I registered to write one. And maybe a few others. We’ll see how this goes. A word of warning: Tales of MU is extremely long; to write a review which does not adequately address the full body of this work would not do it justice, so this will likely be a long review.
There’s not much I can say about early TMU which hasn’t been said: it’s long (took me almost a full week to read), extremely detailed, and has tons of characters. You either love them or you hate them, and this will determine your enjoyment of the story since the plot is very character-driven.
I haven’t read all the reviews here, but I glanced over some of them. They were written during what I now think of as "the build-up years". This period occurred from roughly the start of the story in 2007 until early 2011. At this point, the author decided to make a radical change which dramatically increased my enjoyment of the story. But I’ll back up to start from the beginning, since that’s what reviewers must do.
Mackenzie Blaise is a character who embodies almost every character trait that I despise. She starts off as selfish, self-serving, repressed, insensitive, and intolerant. This changes somewhat over the five year course of the story, but it’s a change so slow that you can literally watch paint dry faster than you can spot changes occurring. This may sound harsh, and it is, but keep in mind that this story has over 600 chapters: and I’m not talking about short, two paragraph updates either. These are huge chapters, and up until 2011, the author meandered through every single second of Mackenzie’s life without skipping anything. Literally every second of her first two months of college life is accounted for over roughly 500 chapters; it’s no wonder that other reviews cite waning interest, reading about teenage angst for four years is just too damn much!
So, two months over 500 chapters set in a richly imagined world, at a school where magic runs wild, every imaginable fictional creature roams the dorm hallways, and the main character is making a journey of self-discovery: sounds like a great setting to read about a rite of passage story. Unfortunately, here’s where things went a bit wrong for me. Mack is, as I mentioned, not a likable character for me. This is intentional on the author’s part, I imagine, as it allows for her to develop into a more likable character over the course of the story. But when 60 long chapters gets you through, at most, a week of story time, there’s not much chance for real change to occur without it seeming hopelessly contrived—which the author DOES avoid. On the downside though, it means I got stuck reading about a character who I really did not like and who was surrounded by other characters who I liked less for a really long time.
As I’ve mentioned, there are a huge number of characters in this story. I find a good number of them to be repulsive and disgusting; some of these are intended to be hated, and some of them are the "good guys" that we’re supposed to like (I think). There are also, by contrast, some incredibly awesome characters who I wish got more page-time instead of being relegated to side plots and subtexts while the main character goes through yet another episode of extreme self-doubt. Regardless of my feelings on any of the characters, every one of them is more than adequately characterized, and they all come alive as you read. The "villains" are despicable without being mustache-twirling caricatures, and the "cool" characters are hugely badass when the times call upon them to do so.
Setting is a factor here: this is a vividly imagined and described world. Every detail is explored with seriousness and realism, and it’s easy to imagine everything taking place. The author really excels here, though at times it gets a little tiresome with the extra stories and lore that are never again (or at least not yet) referenced.
Maybe the biggest issue I had in this story is its focus on sex. I’ve read more than my fair share of regular books as well as erotica: Tales of MU should definitely spend less time on the sex and more on the plot, because that’s what ends up being the most interesting. While the sex scenes are well-written, I spent most of the time wishing they’d be over either because I disliked the participants or I was just uncomfortable for various reasons. One thing I will say as a huge positive is I never thought I would find a "sex" scene with a mermaid as hot as the ones in here, or as . . . strange.
So far I’ve been pretty hard on Tales of MU, so you might be wondering why I’ve given it 4 stars. This is a complicated matter, but I suppose it can best be summed up with this: Tales of MU shows huge improvement over its lengthy run, and, despite hating a lot of the main characters, I can’t help but cheer for them as they face their current challenges. What started out as a story that muddled through small, occasional plot points has turned into an epic which spent four years developing a vast world filled with characters who are now chasing real goals and regularly running up against truly dangerous opposition.
In a sense, I really do see most of the first 500 chapters as worldbuilding. Every minute detail of each character is explained with, at times, a painful amount of clarity, and from this you end up being far more attached to such characters than those of other stories because you feel like you’ve lived a life right alongside them: which you essentially have from reading about every second of it.
The author recommends that new readers start at the beginning of Mack’s sophomore year (early 2011); this is a good choice, since it’s when the consistent and recurring plots begin, and focus is finally drawn away from what I view as awkward, though realistic in the context of the story, sex lives. The downside is that such a reader would miss out on some truly breathtaking events, such as a certain horrifying stay in a hotel suite, an intensely terrifying meeting with MU’s vice chancellor, and, of course, more backstory about the only successful god and dragon slayer in the world; the unlikely crime of attempted deicide is forgiven if you succeed.
Overall, Tales of MU was a challenging story to read through from the beginning. It had its ups and its downs, but, having finally caught up, I’m definitely glad that I read the whole thing. Even the parts that I didn’t care for helped to give me perspective on the rest of the story, just like real life. Kudos to the author for creating and continuing a truly monumental story, one that I am definitely looking forward to reading more of.