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By Syphax, author of Stone Burners

Sep 13, 2015: Have you read that Evil Overlord list? The one where it gives a 100 point list of things to do when you become an overlord to avoid the pitfalls of those who came before you? A Practical Guide to Evil is that, in story form, and quite clever about it, too. Hell, the Empire’s armies are literally called the Legions of Terror, subtlety apparently not a quality that empires possess.

Anyways, the setting. In this world, Heroes and Villains come about due to roles, which in turn grant them powerful abilities. The way you get a role is by . . . well . . . so far as I can tell you grow into that role based on your life choices. A person spends their life defending the kingdom, they become the Commander, for example. It’s a lot more complex than I’m making it out to be, but the story explains it a lot better than I ever could.

In the prologue, the good kingdom has been crushed, and the Villains spend their time hunting down potential Heroes before they can challenge the conquering Empire. This aspect essentially fuels the entire story, as the Empire must be pragmatic about its villainy.

In this former kingdom of good, an orphan by the name of Catherine Foundling lives in an Empire run orphanage, the unspoken reasoning that orphans are less likely to become heroes if they don’t grow up on the streets and develop a grudge against the Empire. She hates the Empire that conquered her homeland, but in no way has the power to do anything about it. So to that end, her plan is to join the Legion, work her way up the ranks, and change things from up top.

Her reasoning seems to be "Let’s use evil’s power against it." Because, you know, that always works out swimmingly. Then, late one night, she runs into Black, the warlord of the Empire, who offers her a job as his pupil. Black is very much aware of her motivations, and throughout the story Catherine is always at risk of overstepping her bounds and getting her head lopped off for her troubles. It is fun to see how she dances around and reconciles good and evil.

This also falls into the category of "very funny, but not a comedy." There’s a certain dark humor that pervades the story, and I can’t remember a chapter that didn’t (that’s right, double negative time!) elicit at least one wide smile from me. And, happily enough, not every character is a snark machine, so they don’t all feel like the same person.

The world is complex and very detailed, though the story has a bad habit of dropping large infodump paragraphs on the reader, with a good amount of telling over showing. Kat seems to have had a very good history teacher in that orphanage. However, these infodumps are reasonably spread out throughout the action, so I was able to overlook it. As well, the history and world they show is actually very interesting, with distinct nations, cultures, and races, inside and outside the Empire.

Are there technical problems? Well, yes. There are a good number of formatting errors, like different chapters being in different fonts. Sometimes a line would be a couple font sizes larger. Typos were present, but I was able to skim past most of them, although at one point the marker denoting a change in scene was missing, so mid conversation the characters teleported somewhere else and everything stopped making sense for a bit. Other than that, nothing was enough to totally take me out of the story, but some proofreading wouldn’t go amiss.

At the end of the day, this is a story that keeps me on the edge of my seat. While I’m reasonably confident that the main character won’t be killed, everything else is fair game. I, personally, hope that some sort of equally pragmatic heroes will show up at some point rather than the purposeful ‘love conquers all’ stereotypes we’ve seen so far, but now I’m getting into mere speculation. Anyways, read this.

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